UB Today Alumni Magazine Online - Spring/Summer 1998
FeaturesAlumni ProfilesClassnotesCalendarThe MailFinal WordEditor's Choice
Howard Kurtz, B.A. '74

Ann Bisantz, M.S. '91 & B.S. '89

James Ailinger, D.D.S '25

Henry A. Panasci Jr., B.S. '52
Going Home Again
Ann Bisantz, '91, returns to UB to realize her earliest dreams of an engineering career

Ann M. (Amy) Bisantz, Ph.D. (M.S. '91 & B.S. '89), is living proof that you can go home again.

Ann Bisantz, an accomplished quilter, has focused much of her research on analyzing the role of technology in various work systems.

(Click to view larger image.)
Photo: Frank Cesario

A September 1997 addition to UB's industrial engineering faculty, Bisantz spent the previous six years earning her doctorate at Georgia Institute of Technology. She and her husband, Albert Titus, a professor in electrical engineering whose academic career has paralleled that of his wife, welcomed the chance to return to Western New York from Atlanta and – in Bisantz's case – to return to UB, where the couple met on the first day of their freshman year, as colleagues in the honors program and residents of Roosevelt Hall.

Hers is a homecoming not only to her alma mater, but also to her family and the area where she grew up – and where her earliest dreams of being an engineer were shaped.

"We knew she'd be successful at everything she did," says her father, John W. Bisantz, of Kenmore. "When she was just six or seven, we'd talk to her teachers. . .and they said she would do well at anything she put her mind to."

They were right. By the time Bisantz entered Kenmore West High School, she had already demonstrated strong skills in science and mathematics.

"I was a good student, and my teachers told me I'd make a good engineer," she recalls. "So I entered UB in industrial engineering, and stayed there."

Bisantz was influenced throughout her childhood and adolescence by her aunt, Sara Czaja, who was an industrial engineering professor at UB. (Czaja has since relocated to Florida, where she teaches at the University of Miami.) Her father, a safety engineer in the insurance industry, also played a role in her choice of professions.

As undergraduates at UB, Bisantz and Titus were among 75 students in the engineering honors program. From day one, Bisantz was right at home in an academic environment.

"We were a cohesive group, and I had an excellent set of instructors," she says. As a member of that faculty today, she notes that "I'm working with really interesting people all the time. And it's fun."

Bisantz and Titus, who earned their bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in the same years, married in 1995. Titus joined the faculty at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) six months before Bisantz returned to UB. They recently purchased a home in Batavia, midway between their workplaces.

Her husband echoes Bisantz's sentiments that teaching was her destiny.

"It was obvious to me since freshman year that Amy would go on to graduate school. She was well suited to academia because of her interest in learning and in continuing to learn," Titus says. "She really does enjoy interacting with students. She taught in Georgia and she really liked it."

Much of Bisantz's work has focused on human factors, decision making, and analysis of the role of technology in various work systems. While at Georgia Tech, she was a researcher on a case study of computerized decision aids in the fast-food industry. Her research team went into restaurants, talked to workers, observed and conducted interviews and focus groups to determine whether computers designed to provide specific cooking instructions were being used effectively. She subsequently published a paper with Sally M. Cohen and Michael Gravelle of NCR Corporation entitled "To Cook or Not to Cook: A Case Study of Decision Aiding in Quick-Service Restaurant Environments."

"My research interests and classes have been in the area of human factors, specifically cognitive engineering, human decision making and system design. . .I am interested in decision making under conditions of uncertainty, developing models of complex systems, analyzing the role of technology in work systems, and conducting field studies of complex, cooperative work environments," Bisantz reports on her World Wide Web page.

The basis of "To Cook or Not to Cook" was an investigation of a computer program designed to simplify the task of determining how much food to prepare, via minute-by-minute cooking instructions for restaurant employees. After three months of research, Bisantz and her colleagues concluded that the computer was less than successful because it did not embody accurate theories of actual workplace activities and fell short of supporting team decision-making processes.

Discussing her work, Bisantz explains that "we try to fit computer systems and tasks together. We look at the capability of people, the conditions they perform their jobs under, the requirements of the job itself, and the tools we give people to do their jobs. We try to make sure that computer systems are providing people with the information they need in a form they can understand to do their jobs effectively, efficiently, and without error.

"In different projects I've done, a consistent thread has been determining how the tools we give people and the situations they're working in shape their behavior," she adds. "In the case of the quick-service restaurants, we looked at what factors caused people to use or not use technology. We looked at how these factors affect how people make decisions."

While completing her doctoral dissertation, entitled "Modeling Environmental Uncertainty to Understand and Support Dynamic Decision Making," Bisantz sought a relaxing creative outlet for her natural talents in mathematics and design. She found it in the art of quilting.

While completing her doctoral dissertation, entitled "Modeling Environmental Uncertainty to Understand and Support Dynamic Decision Making," Bisantz sought a relaxing creative outlet for her natural talents in mathematics and design. She found it in the art of quilting.

"I already knew how to sew, so I figured out quilting," she says. "A group of students came into my lab, and we got together and did quilts for friends who we knew were expecting babies. The group made us a quilt when we got married. We made about 10 quilts all together. It was our dissertation therapy."

They worked with groups of Girl Scouts in the Atlanta area, teaching them the fine skills of measuring and design involved in producing a finished quilt.

"It was intended to teach them mathematical skills. It's all geometry," Bisantz notes.

Shortly after the close of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, the Paralympic Games were held at the same location. Bisantz and her fellow quilters take pride in the fact that a piece they designed and created was presented as a gift to the visiting national delegation from Haiti. This spring she is completing a "friendship quilt," designing some pieces while her friends back in Atlanta create others.

Working and quilting keep her busy enough, but Bisantz also makes time to join her husband hiking, and visiting Western New York's wineries, historical sites and bed and breakfast inns.

The best part of being back?

"The weather," she says without hesitation, noting that she was disappointed that during this El Niño winter, Western New York saw just a fraction of its normal seasonal snowfall.

"Also, there are a lot of things to do here, a lot of cultural opportunities both in Buffalo and in Rochester, and we like being close to the Great Lakes and the Finger Lakes," she adds.

Family is important, too, and Bisantz and Titus (a native of Utica) enjoy frequent visits with friends and relatives.

"Since we've been back," Titus says, "we've visited the Finger Lakes wineries twice; we go to Niagara Falls, Lake Ontario or Lake Erie just to relax; we've gone to Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra pops and classical concerts. . .it's difficult to sit home on weekends."

When asked what they missed most about UB, Bisantz and Titus both recall the cultural diversity they experienced on campus.

"We'd spend time at Norton Hall or other spots, and be amazed at the different people and the diversity," says Titus.

Cultural diversity, local history and attractions, her family, the Great Lakes and the snow, the promise of a great career. . .all these things drew Ann Bisantz back to UB. It's where she began to realize her lifelong dream of being an engineer – and where she'll fulfill that dream by sharing her knowledge with countless students in the years to come.

Diane Zwirecki, a Buffalo-based freelance writer, is assistant director of public relations at Sisters of Charity Hospital.

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