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Bill and Carol Chittenden
Bill and Carol Chittenden, center, were great supporters of AHS and ISE

Chittenden Symposium is truly a family affair

The theme of the 2022 Chittenden Symposium is Human Factors for Health Technology. But the heart of the event is really a love story.

The Chittenden Symposium, which returns in 2022 after a five-year hiatus, is a collaboration of the Dept. of Kinesiology and Community Health (College of Applied Health Sciences) and The Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering (The Grainger College of Engineering).

The symposium is the vision of William and Carol Chittenden, who long supported research combining engineering technology and health, including aging and later-year quality of life issues. For the Chittendens, their support of the University of Illinois is borne of their experiences on campus. William, a member of the College of Engineering Hall of Fame, graduated from the College of Engineering in 1951. During his time on the Urbana-Champaign campus, he met Carol, a Kinesiology major. It was the beginning of a lifetime of love that spanned more than 65 years.

“I think they just felt that the university added so much to their lives that they wanted to give back, pay it forward,” said Bill Chittenden III, William and Carol’s son. “And that's how (their support of Illinois) got started.

The idea to support KCH and ISE made perfect sense, Bill said, given his father’s engineering expertise and his mother’s kinesiology studies.

“I think it started, really, as my dad supporting the engineering college,” he said. “And then my mom, given her degree, wanted to help her college. And then at some point they thought they could make a bigger impact by combining their resources to develop and support the interdisciplinary work between those colleges.

“As far as Health Sciences goes, my mom was truly fascinated with the human body. Her detailed knowledge of human anatomy, which she learned at Illinois, was often a topic of conversation. I think that was the impetus for focusing on Applied Health Sciences.”

Bill said the symposium serves another purpose: providing an opportunity for students and faculty to further develop and utilize their communication skills.

“It had a lot to do with my dad’s belief in the importance of strong communication skills. He was an excellent writer and speaker, which are strengths not always found in technical fields,” Bill said. “It was important to him that engineers and people with other technical backgrounds be good writers and speakers, so they are able to communicate technical subjects and ideas effectively to a wider audience. The interdisciplinary feature of the symposium is designed to encourage people to hear different perspectives.

Those different perspectives will be on full display in this year’s symposium. It is headlined by keynote speaker Emily Patterson, a professor at The Ohio State University. Dr. Patterson’s topic is “Enhancing innovation by incorporating human factors engineering into allied health research.”

Four faculty members will make presentations, with two each from KCH and ISE.

  • Abigail Wooldridge, ISE: Designing digital health technology to support care transitions in hospitals
  • Manuel Hernandez, KCH: Advances in Wearable Technology for Fall Prevention
  • Avinash Gupta, ISE: Role of Human Computer Interaction in the Design of eXtended Reality (XR) based Training Environments in the Healthcare Domain
  • Ken Wilund (KCH): Technology Applications for Promoting Behavior Change in Hemodialysis Patients

A discussion will follow the presentations, and then attendees will have the opportunity to tour the McKechnie Family LIFE Home, which Bill Chittenden said he was eager to see. Directed by Dr. Wendy Rogers, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, the McKechnie Family LIFE Home includes a simulation of a two-bedroom home with garage where research and development will take place, and meeting and office space to support the research activities.

For the Chittendens, the symposium is only one of the opportunities they’ve created through their more than 30 years of support for the University. They created the Carol Chittenden Scholarship, awarded annually to an undergraduate student in the Kinesiology and Community Health Department; and the William Chittenden Fellowship, awarded annually to a graduate student in Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering. They also sponsor an award for best graduate thesis relating Engineering and Applied Health Sciences.

Now, they are hoping this event becomes a source of inspiration for participants that lead to solutions to problems. “The goal is primarily to inspire participants, get people together to exchange ideas, see what others are working on, and make connections in the field. You get people thinking about how they can make a difference and get new ideas on ways to do that. Technology is moving so fast. And I think the goal of the symposium and the financial support is really to get technology and the benefits it brings moving even faster.”

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