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ODU's Madhavan Wins Early Career Achievement Award from APA

Poornima Madhavan, an Old Dominion University psychologist whose research examines choices people must make in the face of stress and risks, has been named the winner of the Earl Alluisi Award for Early Career Achievement of the American Psychological Association (APA).

The award is conferred on one candidate a year who has made exceptional contributions within the purview of APA's Division 21, which covers the field of applied experimental and engineering psychology. Winners must have received their Ph.D. degrees within the past 10 years.

Madhavan will receive the award and be given the opportunity to present a 45-minute synopsis of her research at the APA's annual meeting next year in Honolulu.

"This is a great honor and recognition of Poornima's important research on training, information processing and decision making," said Barbara Winstead, chair of the ODU Department of Psychology. "She is a rising star. In her fifth year at ODU, she has had a significant impact in the department, the college, the university and the community. In her research she has focused on airport baggage screening, real estate and climate change; and, while these may seem like disparate topics, the fundamental question is how do people make decisions about critical events. Her interest in using research to address important and practical questions is key."

Chris Platsoucas, dean of the College of Sciences, wrote in a congratulatory note to Madhavan: "This highly competitive award is a great achievement. I extend to you my very best wishes for similar achievements in the future, which I am very sure will come."

The award winner said she is "deeply honored to have my contributions recognized by my colleagues and this has enhanced my scientific curiosity even more."

The APA's Division 21 promotes the development and application of psychological principles and research to improve technology, consumer products, energy systems, communication and information, transportation, decision making, work settings and living environments. The goal is safer, more effective and more reliable systems through an improved understanding of the user's requirements.

Research by Madhavan supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has used airport security as a simulated environment to study the factors affecting the decision-making processes of security personnel. She collaborated with colleagues in diverse fields at ODU on a much-publicized project - it has been the subject of numerous national media stories - that probes decision-making strategies adopted by potential homebuyers who search the Internet when they are in the market for a new home.

In conjunction with Madhavan's joint appointment at ODU's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center, she founded the university's Applied Decision Making Lab, which promotes research in human decision making in simulated environments.

Within the past two years, her work has expanded to include decision making in the face of climate change and threats of flooding. Working with ODU's Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative (CCSLRI), Madhavan has developed collaborations with scientists from domains such as oceanography, education, history, marketing and anthropology to design ways to assist and improve the quality of coastal community decision making about threats from natural disasters.

Last year, she was the first-ever psychologist to be elected to a four-year term on the Chesapeake Research Consortium's Science and Technology Advisory Committee - a committee that assumes an advisory role to governors of seven states on scientific issues concerning coastal community resilience to natural disasters. She has since emerged as one of few researchers in the field of engineering psychology with a focus on environmental issues and climate-related disaster relief; she has given six invited talks within the past year in this regard.

Said Madhavan, "My involvement in the climate change/sea level rise initiative at ODU has given new direction to my research and I hope to continue contributing to my field, to ODU and to my community."

Since joining ODU in 2007 she has won 10 research grants worth $1.65 million, which has helped to support her graduate students in the Human Factors Psychology program. She has mentored 20 graduate students in the past five years.

In the process of her research, Madhavan has established working relationships with scientists from five countries - Germany, Israel, India, China and Canada - and has given invited talks at research institutions in India and Germany.

Her scholarship has produced nearly 50 peer-reviewed journal and proceedings articles, 50 conference abstracts and technical reports, and six book chapters and book reviews. She currently serves as consulting editor of the International Journal of Applied Aviation Studies, and is vice chair of the psychology section at the Virginia Academy of Science.

In 2010, Madhavan was recognized as a "future leader in scientific policy making" by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her conceptualization of airline baggage screening as a higher level decision making problem (versus earlier approaches that treat it as a primarily perceptual problem) won her the "outstanding professional contribution" award from the Southeastern Psychological Association in 2008.

Douglas Wiegmann, a faculty member in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and her former graduate adviser, wrote in a letter recommending her for the Alluisi Award: "Without a doubt, Poornima is one of the most resourceful researchers I have ever met. She has a keen understanding of both basic and applied psychology and has an enviable knack of being able to successfully bridge the gap between theory and practice. Poornima is also a very well organized lecturer and public speaker. Her talents and skills will surely continue to propel here to the highest standing in our field.

"On a more personal note," Wiegmann continued, "Poornima is a very kind and honest person who interacts very well with others. She understands the worth and dignity of each individual and has the ability to immediately establish and maintain excellent rapport with both colleagues and students."

Madhavan received a doctorate in engineering psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2005, and had a postdoctoral fellowship in the Dynamic Decision Making Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University.