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Multimillion-dollar gift to advance study of human-computer interaction

Multimillion-dollar gift to advance study of human-computer interaction

A new $5 million gift from Patricia Bao ’13 Ph.D. will advance research at Northwestern University that examines the future of technology and its ability to enhance the lives of people around the world. Bao’s gift will support Northwestern’s Center for Human-Computer Interaction and Design (HCI+D), a collaboration between the University’s McCormick School of Engineering and School of Communication (SoC).

Established in September 2020, HCI+D brings together researchers and practitioners from across Northwestern to study, design and develop the future of human-computer interaction at home, work and play. The gift will expand the center and strengthen its ability to conduct innovative technology research that leads to a more collaborative, sustainable and equitable society.

“This generous gift from alumna Patti Bao — the largest ever for the Center for Human-Computer Interaction and Design — is making the exploration of technology’s true potential possible,” said E. Patrick Johnson, SoC dean and Annenberg University Professor. “I want to thank Patti for her remarkable philanthropy, which will enable this important research for years to come.”

Specifically, the gift will endow the Bao Family Professorship in Human-Computer Interaction at SoC, with funds earmarked for an exceptional faculty member. The gift also will provide aid for the center’s administrative costs and create an endowed fund to support the center in perpetuity, including but not limited to areas such as staffing, student recruitment and retention, travel grants and cutting-edge research initiatives.

“Patti’s inspiring gift solidifies Northwestern’s position as a global leader in a research area of monumental importance,” said Darren Gergle, professor of communication studies and a co-director of HCI+D. “The center’s work establishes the University as the place where leaders in government, technology and business from around the world — not to mention prospective undergraduate and graduate students — come to first for answers to the growing number of challenges in the field.”

Gergle, who leads the center alongside fellow co-directors Elizabeth Gerber and Bryan Pardo, served as Bao’s adviser when she was a student at The Graduate School at Northwestern. Bao’s philanthropy was inspired by her connection with Gergle and confidence in his leadership as well as her belief in the center’s work and a desire to give back to her alma mater.

“Darren took a chance on a bunch of new grads and built a space where we could explore any idea, form lifelong bonds and help advance the field of human-computer interaction,” Bao said. “To have found such a mentor is priceless, and I can’t think of better hands to help guide the future of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction and Design.”

A former UX researcher at Google, Bao holds a Ph.D. in technology and social behavior from Northwestern and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research involved designing tools to help people interact more effectively with visual information, with a special focus on multilingual applications and visual analytics. She currently resides in the Bay Area with her family.