Lewiston native inducted into American Academy of Arts and Sciences


Growing up in Lewiston, Susan Dumais always enjoyed math.

But it was a Bates College class on mathematical psychology that showed her what math and science could do together. 

Forty years later, Dumais is a distinguished scientist and deputy managing director of the Microsoft Research Lab in Redmond, Wash., where she is one of the leading researchers looking at how people use computers to search for information. She’s an affiliate faculty member at the University of Washington. She’s authored or co-authored hundreds of papers on how humans and computers interact.

And she has just been inducted into the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Some of those who joined Dumais as part of the Class of 2015: former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, actor Christopher Plummer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx and famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“It’s been around since 1780 and has an amazing set of people who we all know and who have been important in shaping technology and policy in the country,” Dumais said: “John Adams, James Bowdoin from Bowdoin College, a few others. That part is cool. I got to sign a book that every member has signed (for 235 years).”

The academy was founded as a champion of scholarship, civil dialogue and knowledge, bringing together leaders from academia, business and the government to address critical challenges facing the world. Each year, members nominate 1,000 to 1,200 people to join. Only a fraction are approved by a vote of the membership.

Earlier this month, the academy accepted 147 new members, including Dumais. 

Although she’s no stranger to awards — she’s been honored for her work numerous times, including by the National Academy of Engineering — most have been focused and technical. Her induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences places her among the best artists and scientists in the country.

“That breadth is quite amazing,” Dumais said.

Academy members include more than 200 Nobel Prize laureates and 100 Pulitzer Prize winners.

Dumais has spent her career trying to make technology more accessible to people.

Dumais now lives in Washington, returning home to Lewiston a few times a year to visit her sister, Diane Dumais. This summer, she attended her 40th class reunion at Bates College in Lewiston. 

“Bates was incredibly instrumental, I’d say, in providing me with a great and very broad education, for having faculty who I worked closely with that instilled curiosity and confidence and opportunities,” Dumais said. “It was incredibly important to me and my success.”

In addition to her research work at Microsoft, Dumais serves as a teacher, speaker and mentor.

She does not plan to retire anytime soon.

“For me, fundamentally, I love getting up every morning and going to work because there are interesting new challenges,” Dumais said. “For me, what it’s about is continuing to learn and continuing to solve problems that I think are important to many people.”

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