Sarah A. Douglas

Sarah A. 

January 25, 1944 --

Sarah Ann Douglas is a distinguished computer scientist, known for her work in human-computer interaction (HCI), a topic she has helped pioneer in computer science, and, in particular, for her work on pointing devices and haptic interactions, WWW interfaces and bioinformatics, and visualization and visual interfaces. She is a Professor Emerita of Computer and Information Science and a member of the Computational Science Institute at the University of Oregon.

Sarah A. Douglas was born in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1944; her father was a captain in the U.S. Navy and later a professor of civil engineering at Stanford University, her mother a homemaker and avid hiker. Sarah lived in the Bahamas, the Philippines, as well as in many U.S. states, while her father was in the navy. After her junior year in high school in Palo Alto, California, she was recruited to learn how to program a computer; thus began her life long interest in computer science.

She began her undergraduate career at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, thanks to a full scholarship, transferred to University of California, Berkeley, in her junior year and graduated in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Upon her graduation from college, during the turbulent Vietnam War years, she left the United States and lived in Europe for 18 months, settling in Majorca, Spain, for much of that time. Returning to the United States, she worked in the computing centers of Cabrillo College and San Jose State University, as director of computing systems and manager of software development, respectively. At San Jose State she created a digitized college admissions system for all the California campuses, one of the first systems in the country. She served as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Educational Data Processing from August 1972 to September 1980.

Douglas returned to school for graduate work in computer science at Stanford University in 1978. Stanford awarded Douglas an M.S. in 1979 in engineering and a Ph.D. in 1983 in cognitive ergonomics, an interdisciplinary degree integrating computer science, psychology, and engineering. She worked as a research intern at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the Cognitive and Instructional Sciences Group and wrote her dissertation under the supervision of Thomas P. Moran. This Xerox PARC group ushered the field of human-computer interactions into a place of importance in both the academy and industry.

Dr. Douglas arrived at the University of Oregon in fall of 1983 as an assistant professor of computer and information science and member of the Cognitive and Decision Sciences Institute. Douglas held a Fulbright lectureship in India, 1991-1992; she taught at the User Interfaces and Artificial Intelligence Centre for Science and Technology in Trivandrum and the College of Engineering in Quilon, India. She was awarded the EDUCOM 1992 Distinguished Natural Science Curriculum Award for the Cardio-Vascular Construction Kit: Software, student laboratory manual and user's manual, a joint project with University of Oregon biologist Dan Udovic; the widely used kit went through 7 editions. She received the NSF/CRA Distributed Mentor award in the summer of 1994. In June of 1995 the University of Oregon honored Professor Douglas with the Charles E. Johnson Memorial Award for “contributions to the University exemplifying advocacy of free speech and assembly without which the objective of nurturing, promoting and fostering new knowledge and the learning process cannot be achieved.” She served on the Human Sciences Special Editorial Board of the British journal Interacting with Computers from 1996 to 2005. Dr. Douglas served as chair of the Human-Computer Interaction Knowledge Focus Goup for the ACM-IEEE Curriculum 2001, during the major revision of the computer science curriculum. She was elected to the European Academy of Sciences in 2002.

Dr. Douglas created and nurtured the human-computer interaction program at the University of Oregon. She supervised 8 doctoral students at Oregon, all of whom still work in the field and seven of whom have academic careers. Her broad interests led her to collaborate with colleagues in biology and neuroscience. She served as Director of the Cognitive and Decision Sciences Institute, 1995 - 1998, and as head of the Department of Computer and Informations Science, 1999 - 2002, one of the very first female heads of a computer science department at a major research university. She has authored or co-authored over 60 scholarly publications, five book chapters, and a research monograph. The monograph The Ergonomics of Computer Pointing Devices (with her student, K.A. Mithal) reported on her evaluation of human performance with various isometric joysticks, a foot-controlled mouse, a trackball, and a wearable computer with head-mounted display. She was the creative force behind the Zebrafish Information Network (ZFIN), an innovative database which introduced a method to store and share visual as well as textual data. This work was generously supported by the Keck Foundation and the National Institutes for Health.

Douglas worked tirelessly in the academy and greater community to ensure the rights of LGBT members. At the University of Oregon (UO) she co-chaired (with Cheyney Ryan) the President’s Task Force on Lesbian and Gay Concerns (1989 - 1990). After spending 9 months investigating and documenting instances of discrimination based on sexual orientation, in October of 1990 the Task Force issued a report “Creating Safety, Valuing Diversity: Lesbians and Gay Men in the University,” which made over 100 detailed recommendations to the UO President and campus community, many of which were implemented. In November of 1990, Douglas defended UO Law School Instructor Greg Johnson, who was forced by the Dean of the law school to apologize to his Legal Research and Writing Class for coming out as a gay man and member of the Radical Fairies on National Coming Out Day on October 11, 1990. Douglas was “outed” in the local Eugene, Oregon, newspaper The Register Guard after she protested the law school Dean’s actions and called for his resignation.

Professor Douglas was a founding member of The Advocates for Women Faculty at the University of Oregon, a self-organized group of 13 tenured female faculty members that advised two presidents on issues of concern to women on the UO faculty. This group was responsible for writing and enacting the UO Consensual Relations Rule, which prohibited romantic relationships between faculty or others with a supervisory position over a student or employee of the University.

Professor Douglas retired from full-time teaching at the UO in 2010 with the title of Professor Emerita of Computer and Information Science. She continued to teach part-time and supervise undergraduate and graduate students until the end of 2015. She was elected to the Board of Directors of Breast Cancer Action, a national grass roots and advocacy organization headquartered in San Francisco, CA, in 2015.

Selected References

  1. The Cardio-Vascular Construction Kit: Software, student laboratory manual and user's manual. The BIOQUEST Library CD-ROM, University of Maryland: First edition (1993), Second edition (1994), Third edition (1995), Fourth edition (1996); Academic Press: Fifth edition (1998) (with N. Peterson and D. Udovic).
  2. The Ergonomics of Computer Pointing Devices, Springer Verlag, ISBN 978-3-540-19986-1,, 1997 (with K. A. Mithal).
  3. User-centered design for widely-distributed scientific communities,Proceedings of Third Conference on Human Factors and the Web. June 12, 1997, Denver, CO (with E. Doerry, A. E. Kirkpatrick and M. Westerfield).
  4. An On-line Database for Zebrafish Development and Genetics Research. Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology, Vol. 8, 1997, pp.477-488 (with M. Westerfield, E. Doerry, A. E. Kirkpatrick and W. Driever).
  5. Out of the Closet and Into the Classroom, CSWS Review: Lesbian Issues in Oregon, Center for the Study of Women in Society (CSWS), University of Oregon, 1993, 4-7.