From the court to the classroom

Kate Starbird’s professional basketball career took her around the world. But after 10 years on the hardwood playing everywhere from Indianapolis to Ibiza, Spain, Starbird is coming home.

A 1993 graduate of Lakes High School in Lakewood, Wash., and former member of both the Seattle Reign of the now-defunct American Basketball League and Seattle Storm of the WNBA, Starbird will join the faculty in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) next fall. She was recently hired as an assistant professor after completing her Ph.D at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

“I keep pinching myself to make sure that it’s real,” Starbird said when asked about returning to the Seattle area. “My family’s there, and my partner’s family is there, and we always wanted to go back.”

After graduating from Lakes, Starbird took her talents, both academic and athletic, to Stanford. While pursuing a degree in computer science at the prestigious university in Palo Alto, Calif., she helped lead the Cardinal women’s basketball team to three Final Four appearances, capping off her collegiate career with the Naismith Player of the Year award in 1997. She then parlayed her college success into a nine-year professional career, which included leading the Storm to the first ever playoff appearance in franchise history in 2002.

Starbird said that some of the traits that made her a good basketball player also make her a good researcher, including a sense of self-discipline and confidence.

“I used to be real, real shy, and through basketball, I gained some confidence in the public, talking to the media and that’s been really helpful to me in presentation,” Starbird said.

Candi Harvey, Starbird’s coach with the Utah Starzz in 2001 and 2002, praised her personality and composure in tight games.

“Her calm demeanor was always a blessing to our team, especially in high pressure situations,” Harvey said. “She always seemed to use her wonderful dry sense of humor at just the right time to keep us all loose. Even though Kate would be the last one to brag about herself or her accomplishments, it was impossible for her to hide how incredibly brilliant she is.”

With her playing days behind her, Starbird took a position as a Ph.D student and researcher at the University of Colorado in 2007. Her most notable work in Boulder came in the field of crisis research, including the creation of a concept called “Tweak the Tweet,” which asks users to format their tweets with specific hashtags, making Twitter a two-way communication channel during emergencies and natural disasters.

“Her appointment … will help fill a void in user research that will allow us to continue to recruit vigorously in both our day and evening programs,” said Dr. Jan Spyridakis, UW HCDE Department Chair. “It will also allow us to continue our leadership role in the field and continue our outreach efforts in industry.”

Starbird’s appointment, along with that of Sean Munson from the University of Michigan, comes at a crucial period for the HCDE Department. Spyridakis said the department currently has 257 students and is projecting 337 for fall quarter, an increase of 30 percent, as the B.S., M.S., and Ph.D programs grow. This is a shift from fall quarter last year, where 80 percent of B.S. applicants and 70 percent of Ph.D candidates were turned away.

Starbird said that her role in the HCDE Department will be to foster and mentor students, while also learning from her more experienced peers.

“I’m just hoping to put out good research that helps people and work with great students,” Starbird said.

Reach contributing writer Joe Veyera at development@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @JosephVeyera

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