Dr. Phil Smith and Dr. Dave Woods, among others, identified the need for Cognitive Systems Engineering (CSE) principles in a world with advancing technology and increasing complexity. While Dr. Woods worked with Dr. Erik Hollnagel to found the field in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island incident, Dr. Smith turned their ideas and those of Don Norman into the first university-based CSE program and laboratory.

CSEL is now run by Dr. Mike Rayo and Dr. Dave Woods, and Dr. Phil Smith continues to serve as an advisor while carrying out his own research. Dr. Martjin Ijtsma and Dr. Sam Krening joined the CSE faculty in 2019.