IE Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Sara Riggs

April 28, 2015

Industrial-Engineering_068In her younger days, Sara Lu Riggs used to play school and create worksheets for the neighborhood kids to complete and study.  This innocent child’s play turned out to be a stepping stone in a path that has led her on an academic journey that culminated when she earned her Ph.D. and came to Clemson University as the newest assistant professor of industrial engineering at Clemson University.

As an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, Riggs honed her technical skills as an adept engineer and reaffirmed her childhood passion for teaching.  She also discovered that she was interested in pursuing the collaborative and advising opportunities available in the academic world, which led her to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for her doctoral studies.  She completed her Ph.D. in Industrial and Operations Engineering last year and is about to complete her first-year as an assistant professor here at Clemson. Her chosen area of expertise and research lies in human factors and ergonomics, and her first two classes taught at Clemson have been IE 4910/6910 – Investigating Human Error in Complex Systems, and IE 8150 – Research Methods in Ergonomics.

As a researcher, Riggs’ interests focus on cognitive ergonomics and display/interface design.  She targets challenges associated with data overload and attention management in data-rich domains – e.g., in healthcare, military operations, aviation, and automotive applications – which are becoming increasingly complex with the advent and adoption of new technologies. The goal of this type of research is to create displays/interfaces that take into account cognitive/perceptual capabilities, tendencies, and limitations of the users to improve system performance and safety in these environments.

Riggs is in the process of designing and establishing the Cognitive Ergonomics and Systems Engineering Laboratory, also known as the Riggs Lab, in Freeman Hall.  The new lab in 132 Freeman Hall will feature:

  • Two rooms dedicated for experimental studies
  • Computer workstations for student researchers, supporting future Creative Inquiry and Honors Thesis students
  • An eye tracking system to monitor visual attention
  • Tactors for tactile research (i.e., presenting information using the sense of touch)

Students and researchers in the Riggs Lab will develop simulations of complex domains to be used in the research studies. Work has recently begun on developing a virtual Intensive Care Unit control room and an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle simulation. In addition, students not affiliated with the Riggs Lab may have the opportunity to take part of various research studies as participants. The findings from the studies will ultimately be used to inform the design of displays, interfaces, and systems in various domains.

Riggs maintains a healthy balance in her life, which carries over into her work persona.  She enjoys running and is an avid sports fan, which incites a competitive nature about her.  This competitiveness inspires her to challenge herself and to challenge the students she works with.  Her talent as a leader and scholar is immediately obvious to her colleagues, as is his her creative and entrepreneurial spirit: she equates her role as a professor and researcher to that of a small business owner striving to make a startup venture successful.  Clemson IE is extremely excited about Riggs’ optimistic mindset, competitive spirit, and what she adds to the industrial engineering faculty portfolio.