Women continue to rise to the top in their respective fields. Here are a few of the women whose achievements are making a difference in industry, academia, technology, research, and beyond.

Bevlee A. Watford. CREDIT: Virginia Tech News

SWE Research Advisory Board Member Named to National Science Board

President Joe Biden has named Bevlee A. Watford, Ph.D., P.E., to the National Science Board. She is one of eight new appointees who will each serve a six-year term. Dr. Watford is the associate dean for equity and engagement and professor of engineering education in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, where she joined the faculty in 1992.

Together with the director, the National Science Board develops National Science Foundation policies that are crucial to the organization’s future and approves new programs and awards. The board also advises the president and Congress on policy matters related to science and engineering fields and education in science and engineering, among other responsibilities.

Dr. Watford is founding executive director of the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED). In this role, she has worked to broaden participation in engineering through outreach and student support activities. Dr. Watford has secured more than $17 million in funding and support for CEED and other student initiatives. Her research activities have focused on the recruitment and retention of students in engineering. CEED’s strategies such as pre-college and K-12 STEM programs, living-learning communities, and peer mentoring have made significant impacts on the college’s enrollment, retention, and graduation rates, particularly of underrepresented students.

In 2019, the College of Engineering was recognized as a Bronze exemplar institution in the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Deans Diversity Recognition program, largely based on CEED’s activities.

According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Biden’s appointments to the National Science Board make it the most diverse in its history. The new class, which includes five scientists of color, will give the 24-member board a roster that features 10 women, four Black scientists, and three Latino scientists. Dr. Watford is accustomed to firsts as she was the first Black woman promoted to professor in the College of Engineering, to be inducted into the Virginia Tech Academy of Excellence, and to be elected president of ASEE, serving from 2017-2018 after joining in 2010.

From 2005-2007, Dr. Watford served as a program manager in the Division of Undergraduate Education for the National Science Foundation, returning from 2013-2015 to serve as the program director for broadening participation in the Division of Engineering Education and Centers. She currently serves as a member of the Society of Women Engineers Research Advisory Council.

Dr. Watford holds degrees from Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering including a B.S. in mining engineering and an M.S. and Ph.D. in industrial engineering and operations research. Before returning to her alma mater, she began her career as an assistant professor at Clemson University.

Rosana Kolar

Slovenian Aircraft Engineer is Woman Engineer of the Year

Rosana Kolar, an aircraft engineer at Adria Tehnika, was honored as the Slovenian Woman Engineer of the Year at a recent event attended by Slovenia’s first woman president, Nataša Pirc Musar, and the country’s minister for digital transformation, Emilija Stojmenova Duh.

Kolar earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. From the time she was 11 years old, she had dreamed of becoming an engineer and working with commercial airplanes. A role model to young women, Kolar has demonstrated both the versatility of an engineering background — by not limiting herself to the design area but working on the actual aircraft — and the ability to succeed in a profession where there are few women.

She was chosen by a 119-member jury, which included past nominees, media representatives, teachers, organizers, and students enrolled in the project We’ll Be Women and Men Engineers. The jury noted that “Rosana sets a precedent for young girls that [they] will be able to proudly announce their engineering dreams as children and … tirelessly pursue them.”

The Woman Engineer of the Year title has been awarded for the past five years as part of an initiative to bring greater visibility to the engineering profession and to inspire young women to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The title is awarded by the IRT3000 magazine, the marketing company Mediade, and their partners.

In keeping with the intent of the honor, the government officials present for the ceremony provided further evidence of the value of an engineering degree, as Stojmenova Duh, the Slovenian minister for digital transformation, was one of the Woman Engineer of the Year nominees in 2018. In addition, the 2019 Woman Engineer of the Year, Aida Kamišalić Latifić, now serves as state secretary in Stojmenova Duh’s office.

Jamie Padgett. CREDIT: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Rice University Engineer Jamie Padgett Named an NSF BRITE Fellow

Jamie Padgett, Ph.D., Stanley C. Moore Professor in Engineering, and chair of Rice University’s department of civil and environmental engineering, is one of five United States researchers named a National Science Foundation (NSF) BRITE Fellow. BRITE stands for Boosting Research Ideas for Transformative and Equitable Advances in Engineering. Dr. Padgett will receive a five-year, $1 million grant.

Dr. Padgett’s proposal is titled “A New Paradigm of Equitable and Smart Multi-Hazard Resilience Modeling.” With the NSF funding, she plans to develop methods for infrastructure resilience modeling in response to uncertain, evolving conditions resulting from earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, and other disasters. Dr. Padgett also wants to address inequities in data collection and algorithms to create fair, intelligent, adaptable models that result in more confident predictions and support the goals of equitable disaster resilience and climate justice.

Dr. Padgett joined the Rice faculty in 2007 and became department chair on July 1. Her research has focused on risk assessment of structures and infrastructure exposed to multiple hazards. Applications of her work include resilience of transportation infrastructure — from bridges to intermodal systems — and industrial infrastructure, including tanks and petrochemical facilities. Her research helps characterize multihazard fragility and reveals strategies to enhance resilience from the structure to community scale.

She has published more than 200 articles in journals or archived conference proceedings in the field of structural response, reliability, and life-cycle assessment. Dr. Padgett is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE), including leadership of the Technical Council on Performance, Safety, Reliability and Risk of Structural Systems. She also serves on the executive board of the International Association for Structural Safety and Reliability.

Dr. Padgett holds a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of Florida and a Ph.D. in structural engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. She is a fellow of the Structural Engineering Institute of ASCE and was founding chair of its technical committee on multihazard mitigation.

The BRITE Fellows program identifies established researchers who are leaders in their field and enables them to pursue high-risk, high-reward research. It is funded by the division of civil, mechanical, and manufacturing innovation in the NSF Engineering Directorate.

Karen Panetta. CREDIT: Tia Ann Chapman for Tufts University

Tufts Engineering Professor Named to National Academy of Engineering

Karen Panetta, Ph.D., dean of graduate education at Tufts University School of Engineering, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) for her research contributions in the field of electrical and computer engineering and her innovative efforts in supporting women in STEM. Election to the academy is one of the foremost professional distinctions in engineering.

Dr. Panetta is also professor of electrical and computer engineering with secondary appointments in computer science and mechanical engineering. She joined Tufts in 1994, after a career as a computer architect, and became the first woman electrical engineer granted tenure in Tuft’s department of electrical and computer engineering.

Her research areas include artificial intelligence, machine learning, automated systems, simulation, and visual sensing systems. Through projects such as developing an image recognition database that helps reveal bias in artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, Dr. Panetta uses her engineering skills to the betterment of humanity. She focuses on developing efficient algorithms for simulation, modeling, and signal and imaging processing for security and biomedical applications. Her research includes developing software that uses artificial intelligence to improve medical diagnostics and to enhance robotic vision with applications such as underwater search and rescue and animal conservation.

Known as a tireless advocate for girls and women in STEM, Dr. Panetta founded Nerd Girls in 2002, a program committed to empowering girls and encouraging them to pursue engineering and science. She is co-author of Count Girls In, a book motivating parents to nurture STEM skills in their young daughters.

Dr. Panetta has been involved with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Women in Engineering for over a decade, serving as director from 2007-2009. She is founder and editor-in-chief of the award-winning IEEE Women in Engineering Magazine and serves as the advisor to the Tufts student sections of IEEE and the Society of Women Engineers.

She has earned numerous awards and honors in recognition of her innovative work. In 2022, she and three of her Tufts colleagues were named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific society that honors researchers who have shown “great efforts to advance science applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished.” She is also a fellow of the IEEE, the Asia-Pacific Artificial Intelligence Association, and the National Academy of Inventors.

Dr. Panetta holds a B.S. in computer engineering from Boston University and an M.S. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Northeastern University.

Jacky Wright. CREDIT: McKinsey & Co.

McKinsey & Company Appoints First-Ever Chief Technology and Platform Officer

Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company has named Jacky Wright as its first-ever chief technology and platform officer. Wright will become a senior partner and report to the firm’s corporate management partner. She is a noted global technology leader, STEM advocate, and diversity champion who has made broad impact in business transformation and on social issues.

She will lead McKinsey’s overall technology portfolio and strategy. This includes strengthening ways to use technology both to help clients scale new ideas and tackle challenges and transform the way the more than 40,000 employees work together across the global firm.

Wright heads to McKinsey from Microsoft US, where she served as corporate vice president and chief digital officer. In this position, she led teams to help businesses leverage technology to drive innovation, adopt sustainable and accessible business models, and digitally transform.

In late 2017, she took a two-year civic leave from Microsoft to join HM Revenue and Collections (HMRC), the British government tax department, as its chief digital information officer. There she led one of the largest digitally enabled transformations in Europe and the technology decisions underpinning HMRC’s European Union exit plans.

She has held senior technology leadership roles including serving as CIO at Microsoft, BP, and GE. As a leader in technology, Wright uses her broad platform to drive thought leadership not just for the positive impact of digital transformation for business, but also for social, economic, and environmental change. She regularly speaks about diversity, digital inclusion, and the power of inclusive leadership.

Wright holds a B.B.A. in computer science and accounting from Baruch College – City College of New York and an innovative CIO certificate from the Executive Education Program at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

She has received several accolades for her contributions in technology and diversity, including an honorary doctorate from Aston University in Birmingham, England. In 2020 the National Diversity Council named her one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology. She was also named to Britain’s Powerlist 100 of Most Influential Black People, the Top 100 BAME Leaders in Business, and the Top 100 BAME Leaders in Tech, among others. She has been featured in CIO Magazine, the WSJ CIO Journal, and others.

Ina Petkova. CREDIT: Katie Lenhart

Dartmouth Mathematician Receives NSF Early Career Award

Ina Petkova, Ph.D., is one of six Dartmouth University faculty members to be awarded a prestigious Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The five-year award honors early career faculty members who demonstrate the potential to become role models in research and education and lead advances in the missions of their departments or organizations.

Dr. Petkova, associate professor of mathematics, will partake of the foundation’s $1.5 million award to continue her studies in the mathematics of knots. She plans to advance what is referred to as cut-and-paste techniques of studying knots and links — or low-dimensional topology, which allows mathematicians to geometrically chop up knots into pieces with ends while keeping track of how they fit together. By examining more elementary pieces, the goal is to be able to retrace properties of the global object. Knot theory touches upon many areas of science and engineering, including physics, chemistry, and molecular biology.

After earning a B.A. in mathematics and computer science at Amherst College and a Ph.D. in mathematics at Columbia University, Dr. Petkova began her academic career as a program associate in the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, California. She previously taught at Rice University and Barnard College before joining the Dartmouth faculty as an assistant professor in 2016.

In addition to the NSF grant, Dr. Petkova has received the John Woodruff Simpson Fellowship and the Burke Research Institute Award to support her research. She has given many talks and led seminars about topology and knot theory and has published and co-authored articles in the New York Journal of Mathematics and the Journal of Mathematical Physics, among others.

MacArthur Fellows Announced

MacArthur Fellows celebrates the creative potential of individuals by providing unrestricted fellowships. Fifteen of the 25 fellows in the MacArthur Foundation’s newest class are women, including a computer scientist, a chemist, an environmental engineer, and a mathematician. Each fellow received an $800,000 stipend to continue their work and or research.

“They are excavators uncovering what has been overlooked, undervalued, or poorly understood,” said MacArthur Fellows Director Marlies Carruth of the new fellows. “Their work extends from the molecular level to the land beneath our feet to Earth’s orbital environment — offering new ways for us to understand the communities, systems, and social forces that shape our lives around the globe.”

Computer scientist Yejin Choi, Ph.D., uses natural language processes to develop artificial intelligence (AI) systems that can understand language and make inferences about the world. Dr. Choi is Brett Helsel Professor at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington with a joint appointment as a senior research manager at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, where she oversees the project Mosaic. Her research investigates a range of problems across natural language processing (NLP) and AI, including commonsense knowledge and reasoning, neural language (de-)generation, language grounding with vision and experience, and AI for social good.

Dr. Choi has made advancements in several areas of NLP that improve computers’ ability to extract and understand implied meaning in human language. Traditionally, NLP models are grounded or programmed via textual inputs only. Dr. Choi has pioneered models that use both textual descriptions and images of objects to reinforce one another in a manner similar to the way humans acquire knowledge about the world. She and her colleagues have designed a model to automate detection of fake online consumer reviews with a high degree of accuracy. This work also includes evaluating factual information and categorizing news articles based on intent to deceive and type, such as hoax or satire.

Dr. Choi holds a B.S. in computer science and engineering from Seoul National University and a Ph.D. in computer science from Cornell University. She previously served as an assistant professor in the department of computer science at Stony Brook University at The State University of New York before joining the University of Washington.

Synthetic inorganic chemist Danna Freedman, Ph.D., is Frederick George Keyes Professor of Chemistry in the department of chemistry at MIT and an associate editor for the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Her research involves creating novel molecular materials with unique properties directly relevant to quantum information science. Using the tools of synthetic chemistry, Dr. Freedman is designing molecules that can act as qubits — the building blocks of quantum systems — in conditions that are more readily achievable than those previously required.

Dr. Freedman is also investigating synthesis of new magnetic materials using the power of electron spin-orbit coupling. Using phase stability predictions and very high pressures, she has been able to synthesize the first iron-bismuth binary compound, which are typically unmixable, akin to oil and water. Her compound showed permanent magnetic properties, which are important components of wind turbines and other renewable energy mechanisms. Dr. Freedman’s work is said to be moving us closer to a quantum future.

Her research has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Angewandte Chemie (German Chemical Society), Science, and Physical Review Letters. Dr. Freedman holds an A.B. from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. She was a postdoctoral fellow at MIT and a professor of chemistry at Northwestern University.

Environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck, Ph.D., is investigating the scale and pathways of plastic pollution and galvanizing efforts to address global plastic waste. She is the Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Georgia College of Engineering.

Dr. Jambeck co-developed the Marine Debris Tracker mobile app, which enables community members to log the types and quantities of plastic debris in their communities. The open access data informs research and education efforts. In an influential 2015 study, Dr. Jambeck and colleagues provided the first estimate of the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean each year: 8 million metric tons. She has focused much of her recent work on developing standardized methods to identify the processes and socioeconomic factors that drive plastic waste into the environment.

She led an interdisciplinary team in 2019 that gathered the first empirical baseline data on plastic waste along 1,600 miles of the River Ganges in Northern India. The team also surveyed more than 1,400 people to understand how plastics are used, collected for waste, and the impact of plastics on riverside communities. She led a similar project in 2021 along the
Mississippi River.

Dr. Jambeck is committed to translating scientific evidence into policy solutions. She and her colleagues created the Circularity Assessment Protocol, or CAP, a cost-effective toolkit for evaluating materials management systems at the community level. CAP has been implemented in more than 37 cities and 10 countries since 2020, including Vietnam, India, and the United States.

Dr. Jambeck holds a B.S., an M.S., and a Ph.D. in environmental engineering from the University of Florida. She served as a research assistant professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of New Hampshire for four years before joining the University of Georgia. Her scientific articles have appeared in Science, Marine Policy, Marine Pollution Bulletin, and Environmental Science and Technology, among other journals.

Mathematician Melanie Matchett Wood, Ph.D., noted that mathematicians rarely receive this type of recognition. She is being honored for her ingenuity and promise in number theory. Dr. Wood is a professor of mathematics at Harvard University. Her work addresses foundational questions in pure mathematics. She specializes in number theory, which examines the properties and relationships of numbers and algebraic geometry (the study of geometric structures, such as curves and surfaces, that are described using polynomial equations). Her work centers on using ideas that come from what appear to be unrelated branches of mathematics — such as topology — to clarify prime numbers and factorization.

She is particularly interested in prime numbers, which serve as the basic building blocks for all other numbers. Dr. Wood seeks to combine the breadth of mathematical approaches and perspectives to reveal new ways to see the fundamental properties of numbers. She joined Harvard’s department of mathematics in 2020 and is also a Radcliffe Alumnae Professor and a 2022-2023 fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

Dr. Wood holds a B.S. in mathematics from Duke University, a certificate of advanced study in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton University. In addition to teaching and research, Dr. Wood serves as editor of the Journal of the American Mathematical Society and the Duke Mathematical Journal, among others.

Yejin Choi. CREDIT: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Danna Freedman. CREDIT: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Jenna Jambeck. CREDIT: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Melanie Matchett Wood. CREDIT: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation