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CIS Welcomes Dr. Lace Padilla

December 9, 2019

In Fall 2019, Cognitive & Information Sciences welcomes a new Assitant Professor Dr. Lace Padilla. We asked Lace about her background, research interests, and why she’s excited about UC Merced. See her responses below.

What is your background?

I had a former life as an artist and designer. In high school, I was an apprentice for a realistic oil painter in the high mountains of Colorado, which is where I received classical training in painting. I attained a BFA from a contemporary art school in Portland, Oregon, and after graduating, I worked as a graphic and web developer for many years. While working as a designer, I was fascinated by how visual information could influence how people make decisions, and I pursued a Master's degree in art to examine why visual information was so powerful. After receiving an MFA from the University of Utah, I wanted to study the influence of media more scientifically and began Ph.D. research with Dr. Sarah Creem-Regehr in the Cognitive and Neural Sciences department at Utah. In addition to studying cognitive science, I had the privilege of learning from leading visualization experts at the Scientific Computing Institute (SCI) at Utah. My Ph.D. work allowed me to combine my background in art and training in behavioral science to address large scale problems, such as how to improve hurricane forecast visualizations. The union of visual communication and cognitive science is the foundation of the research I do today.

What are your research / scholarship interests?

My lab, the SPACE (Spatial Perception, Applied Cognition + Education ) lab, examines how people use visual-spatial information to make decisions and inform their understanding of the world. The lab mission is to help people make their best possible judgments via

  • 1) developing and testing theories for how people reason with visual-spatial information;
  • 2) validating approaches for representing visual information; and
  • 3) working with domain experts to find practical solutions for communicating complex information such as climate change data or forecasts of extreme weather events.

What are you excited to teach?

I'm looking forward to teaching Judgment and Decision-making, which is one of the topics that inspired me to study cognitive science. Growing up in a small rural town in Colorado, I had never met a scientist, and I never thought science could be a realistic career path. As an adult, I fell in love with pop-psychology books like 'Thinking Fast and Slow' by Daniel Kahneman, and pop-visualization books like, "How to Lie with Maps" by Mark Monmonier. My fascination with pop-sci texts was one of the reasons I began volunteering in a research lab while I was studying art. I love teaching Judgment and Decision-making because this course covers much of the fascinating research and theories that inspired me to become a scientist.

What drew you to CIS at UC Merced?

It is very exciting to be involved in the development of a rapidly growing university. I'm looking forward to opportunities to help shape the future of Merced. I also feel very connected to the student population, as I can relate to the background of many students at Merced. I'm very impressed with the students I've worked with so far, and I look forward to seeing the work we will do together.

Lace Padilla