Cecilia Aragon

Professor Cecilia Aragon
Associate Professor
Human-Centered Design and Engineering
Interview Date: 
Mon, 07/14/2014

Cecilia Aragon is an Associate Professor of Human Centered Design and Engineering (HCDE), Senior Data Science Fellow at the eScience Institute, and Director of the UW Human-Centered Data Science Lab. Her primary research focuses on how humans interact with very large data sets—human-centered data science—an area that melds several academic fields such as computer science, data science, and social psychology. Her interests include visual analytics, human-computer interaction, emotions in text communication, collaborative educational games, and data-intensive scientific collaborations. Prior to joining the UW faculty, she worked for 15 years as a software developer in industry (including the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and NASA) and three years as the founder and CEO of a company.

Why did Dr. Aragon transition from industry to academia? In part, because she had always wanted to work with students. While working in industry, she volunteered for as many teaching opportunities as possible. In her current faculty position, she greatly enjoys the creativity, collaboration, and questions that her students offer on a daily basis.

The following are questions and responses from an interview with Dr. Aragon:

Q&A: Gender, race, and ethnicity in engineering and career accomplishments

Q: What are the benefits of being a woman in engineering?

A: Dr. Aragon recognizes that she is a “double minority” in her field as both a woman and a Latina, and elaborates on the many benefits of greater diversity in engineering during our interview. She believes that engineers solve critical societal problems and that diverse perspectives fundamentally produce more creative, productive, and profitable ideas and products. She laments that most engineering fields have not yet reached equal representation of women and underrepresented minorities and argues that we must create more welcoming and inclusive communities. Students, she says, choose their majors and professions based on their emotional experiences, and will continue to choose other fields if they sense hostility in their environments. Dr. Aragon has committed much time and energy to diversifying computing through her role as a founding member of three programs, including Latinas in Computing, Berkeley Lab’s Computing Sciences Diversity Working Group, and Women in Science Council. She has also served as a mentor for many female engineers and as a board member and reviewer for diversity-related committees, conferences, and organizations across the country.

Q: Do you have any accomplishments that you would like to highlight?

A: Dr. Aragon cites her Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding engineers and scientists beginning their independent careers, for her work in collaborative data-intensive science. The award was presented to her at the White House in 2008. She also highlights her efforts in diversifying computing-related fields as described above. She has mentored a wide range of students and professionals, including preschool, middle school, high school, and undergraduate students, as well as underrepresented faculty members. During our interview, Dr. Aragon shares that one of her female faculty mentees had just accepted a tenure-track faculty position in a prestigious computer science department.