Mason named Conway Professor in Kinesiology

UW–Madison Professor Andrea Mason, who is chair of the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology, has been chosen as the inaugural Conway Professor in Kinesiology.

“Professor Mason is an exemplary researcher, teacher, colleague, mentor, and leader,” says School of Education Dean Diana Hess. “Her research is cutting edge and focuses on questions of important and immediate concern. Her service to her department, School, and the campus more broadly is equally impressive. She has served as the chair of the Social Sciences Divisional Committee, and is currently chair of her department and serves on the UW Athletic Board. We are very fortunate to have a scholar of Professor Mason’s caliber in the School of Education who is also devoted to service that positively influences students, staff, and faculty.”

Photo of Andrea Mason
Andrea Mason, UW–Madison’s Conway Professor in Kinesiology

Mason has been a faculty member in the Department of Kinesiology since January 2002. Her research focuses on how people use visual and haptic (touch) feedback to plan and perform both simple and complex movements. For instance, she explains, “When you pass an object to another person, how do you know when to let go?”

Mason also studies how people combine movements of the upper and lower body when grasping objects while walking, and how they use visual information about objects in their surroundings to navigate their environment. For example, she examines how specific features of the environment, such as the width of a hallway, affect the length of steps we take, the speed at which we walk, or how long we keep both feet on the ground.

These spatiotemporal measures are known to be related to fall risk in older adults, Mason says. Recently, she received federal funding to develop a virtual reality assessment system for older adults to evaluate their risk of falling.  

A second line of research Mason is pursuing looks at movement control in autistic children and young adults.

Mason’s aim is to determine what people need to see and feel, and when, to efficiently move and interact with objects in their environment. In the Motor Behavior Laboratory, which she directs, projects have examined children (both neuro-typical and neuro-divergent) and adults in order to determine how the planning and performance of these coordinated movements change across the lifespan.

The Conway Professorship will provide Mason with discretionary funds over the course of five years to be used for research and scholarship.

“There are so many ways this funding is going to help me move my research program forward,” says Mason. “Sometimes there are projects where you just need a little bit of pilot money to get it started, and that can lead to something bigger. So knowing that for the next several years I am going to have that flexible money will really allow me to be creative in some of the projects I want to do.”

Alumni Ginny (1978, BS in physical education and dance) and  Mike (1978, BS in engineering) Conway are generous supporters of the School of Education. In addition to backing the Conway Professorship, they also recently provided a significant gift that will assure the Department of Kinesiology’s Adapted Fitness Program will have 5,000 square feet of dedicated space in UW–Madison’s new Bakke Recreation and Wellbeing Center. The Conways have also funded the Conway Fellowship in Kinesiology and the Conway Undergraduate Scholarship in Dance (supporting three students) in the School of Education. 

Mason was born and raised in Sudbury, Ontario, and completed her PhD in the Human Motor Systems Lab at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. For her doctoral dissertation, she studied kinematic and grip force patterns as people passed objects to and received objects from a partner.

Mason says she feels honored to be selected for the Conway Professorship. “It’s an amazing feeling to be nominated and chosen. The Conways have been fantastic supporters of our department, especially our Adapted Fitness Program.”