People: SWE Conference 2021

From breaking the glass ceiling in industry, academia, and research to an array of accomplishments, these women are making news.

Sharon Wood headshot
Photo Credit: University of Texas at Austin

From Dean to Executive Vice President and Provost

Sharon Wood, Ph.D.

Sharon Wood, Ph.D., joined The University of Texas at Austin as executive vice president and provost on July 19. She was previously dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering at UT Austin.

The provost is the chief academic officer and leads efforts to deliver world-class educational experiences and produce high-impact research and scholarship. This includes academic programs and initiatives that span the university’s 18 colleges and schools, which serve more than 51,000 students and support more than 3,000 teaching and research faculty members.

Dr. Wood is internationally recognized for her research on the earthquake response of reinforced concrete structures. She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and previously served as president of the American Concrete Institute. She has served on federal advisory committees for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

As dean, Dr. Wood strengthened the reputation of the Cockrell School as a global leader in engineering education, research, and technology innovation. She helped lead efforts to build the Engineering Education and Research Center, increased annual research expenditures from $176 million to $199 million, and played a pivotal role in the collaboration to renovate the Anna Hiss Gymnasium, creating the interdisciplinary home for Texas Robotics. She created a new role for the school’s first-ever associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and commissioned the first DEI plan and annual report. Dr. Wood led efforts to increase the number of undergraduate students from underrepresented communities by 22% and oversaw record graduation rates for engineering students, with four-year rates increasing by more than 80% during her tenure as dean.

Ayanna Howard, Ph.D., headshot
Photo Credit: Emory University

Recognized for Fundamental Contributions and Forging New Paths

Ayanna Howard, Ph.D.

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) named Ayanna Howard, Ph.D., dean of The Ohio State University College of Engineering, the 2021-2022 ACM Athena Lecturer. The ACM Athena Lecturer Award honors women researchers who have made fundamental contributions to computer science. It includes a $25,000 honorarium provided by Two Sigma. The recipient is invited to present a lecture at an ACM event.

Dr. Howard is recognized for fundamental contributions to the development of accessible human-robotic systems and artificial intelligence, along with forging new paths to broaden participation in computing through entrepreneurial and mentoring efforts. Her contributions span theoretical foundations, experimental evaluation, and practical applications.

She is a leading roboticist, entrepreneur, and educator whose research includes dexterous manipulation, robot learning, field robotics, and human-robot interaction. She is a leader in studying the over-trust that people place in robots in various autonomous decision-making settings. In addition to her stellar research record, Dr. Howard has a strong record of service that demonstrates her commitment to advancing the field and broadening participation.

Dr. Howard has created and led numerous programs designed to engage, recruit, and retain students and faculty from groups that are historically underrepresented in computing, including several NSF-funded Broadening Participation in Computing initiatives. She was the principal investigator (PI)/co-PI for Popularizing Computing in the Mainstream, which focused on creating interventions to engage underrepresented groups in the computing field; Advancing Robotics Technology for Societal Impact Alliance, an initiative to provide mentorship to computer science faculty and students at historically Black colleges and universities; and Accessible Robotic Programming for Students with Disabilities, an initiative to engage middle school and high school students with disabilities in robotics-based programming activities. She also led and co-founded efforts to broaden participation in the field through the IEEE Robotics PhD Forum and the Computing Research Association’s Committee on Widening Participation in Computing Research Graduate Cohort Workshop for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Leadership Skills.

Kristi Anseth headshot
Photo Credit: University of Colorado Boulder

Outstanding Contributions in Chemical Engineering

Kristi S. Anseth, Ph.D.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers Founders Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Chemical Engineering is presented to a member of AIChE who has had an important impact on chemical engineering and whose achievements, either specific or general, have advanced this profession in any of its aspects. The recipient should have a long and distinguished record of service to the profession, including both technical and professional activities.

Kristi S. Anseth, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and associate faculty director of the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado, is the 2021 recipient of the award. She is an elected member of the National Academies of Engineering, Medicine, Sciences, and Inventors. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and the Materials Research Society. She has been an active member of AIChE since 1989 and has served on the chemical engineering technical operating council and as a member and chair of the awards selection subcommittee.

Dr. Anseth has been recognized with two AIChE awards, the Colburn and Professional Progress awards; the Society for Biological Engineering James E. Bailey Award; and the Food, Pharmaceutical and Bioengineering Division Award. She serves as an editor for Biomacromolecules, Progress in Materials Science, and Biotechnology and Bioengineering.

Karen Dixon headshot
Photo Credit: Texas A&M Transportation Institute

Leader in the Field of Traffic Safety

Karen Dixon, Ph.D., P.E.

Karen Dixon, Ph.D., P.E., Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) senior research engineer, is the 2021 recipient of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Safety Council Edmund R. Ricker Award. The award recognizes traffic safety leaders through their involvement in professional organizations, the community, and traffic engineering performance. It is named after Edmund R. Ricker, president of ITE in 1967 and author of numerous traffic safety books and research papers.

Like Ricker, Dr. Dixon has a passion for traffic safety, especially improving the design process. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M University, she worked as a site development, roadway, and interchange designer. She enjoyed making the design process better and mentoring the next generation. Inspired by her interactions with young professionals, she completed her master’s and doctoral degrees at North Carolina State University and became a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Oregon State University before returning to Texas A&M and joining TTI in 2012.

At TTI, Dr. Dixon oversees the Traffic Operations and Roadway Safety Division, where her research emphasizes ways to improve facility design, operation, and safety for all road users. She plays a key role in updating the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Highway Safety Manual, which applies quantitative safety analysis to highway transportation project planning and development processes. She also serves as a co-chair on the Transportation Research Board’s safety performance and analysis committee.

Nationally recognized as a roadway safety expert, Dr. Dixon is well-known for her uncanny ability to sort through high-level statistical techniques and turn them into easy-to-use, practitioner-friendly methodologies and tools. She is the author or co-author of more than 100 technical papers or research reports, including a highway design textbook and TRB’s Access Management Manual. Her creative approach to research challenges, coupled with her practical experience in the field and classroom, offer leadership lessons to an up-and-coming generation of traffic safety professionals.

AISES 2021 Professional of the Year Awards

The American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) announced the recipients of the Professional of the Year Awards for 2021. The awards program celebrates the contributions of Indigenous innovators and professionals in six award categories: Executive Excellence, Technical Excellence, Most Promising Engineer or Scientist, Blazing Flame, Indigenous Excellence, and Professional of the Year. Three of this year’s recipients are women.

“We are excited to announce the 2021 Professional of the Year award winners and their achievements in each of their respective fields of STEM,” said Sarah EchoHawk, AISES CEO. “They represent the strength and pride of Indigenous STEM talent. They are working to help their own people while paving roads for others. Join us in congratulating them on their successes and wait for more important things from them as they take a remarkable place in STEM and Indigenous history.”

tulley-cordova headshot

AISES 2021 Professional of the Year Award

Crystal Tulley-Cordova, Ph.D.

The Professional of the Year Award was presented to Crystal Tulley-Cordova, Ph.D. (Navajo), who grew up on the Navajo Nation, the vast area providing her the opportunity to be an explorer and scientist. Her interest in science and long-standing support of AISES began in the fourth grade with a water filtration science project.

Currently a principal hydrologist with the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources, she leads multiple critical water initiatives. She has led water research projects on water access, desalinization, and drought, collaborating with the multiple partners on and off the Navajo Nation. She previously worked at prestigious research labs across the U.S., including Los Alamos National Lab, Lawrence Livermore, and others. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Tulley-Cordova provided technical and outreach expertise to a multiagency team installing 59 transitional water point locations, reducing travel time to access safe water on the Navajo Nation. She is an inspiration to Native students everywhere to pursue their dreams while maintaining their Native identities. Her mission: assist communities to use their Indigenous knowledge to build sustainable water projects, provide safe water access, and protect and manage water resources across the Navajo Nation.

leona anderson headshot
Photo Credit: The Boeing Company

AISES 2021 Professional of the Year Award / Blazing Flame Award

Leona Anderson

The recipient of the Blazing Flame Award, Leona Anderson (Creek Nation), The Boeing Company, is a human resources generalist for engineering test and technology, part of Boeing Defense and Space, in Mesa, Arizona. She is a trusted business partner to senior leadership, developing workforce strategies that facilitate organization goals and objectives. Her great-grandparents are members of the Cherokee Nation Tribe in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, and her father always made an annual pilgrimage to the Indian reservation in Bixby, Oklahoma.

This part of her heritage and the culture of Native Americans held a special passion for her. It is this strong connection that has shaped her professional life and drives how she relates to the diverse group of employees and managers she serves as a human resources business partner. Anderson serves as the enterprise focal for AISES, where she coordinates all the activities for the AISES Leadership Summit and National Conference. As chair of the continuous improvement committee of the Mesa site diversity and inclusion council, she uses her leadership skills to encourage empowerment and inclusion. She is also treasurer of the Boeing American Indian Society.

deborah tewa headshot

AISES 2021 Professional of the Year Award / Indigenous Excellence Award

Deborah Tewa

The Indigenous Excellence Award recipient, Deborah Tewa (Hopi), is workforce and education manager for Native Renewables, where she provides technical training on photovoltaics (PV) in the form of theory and hands-on workshops to prepare participants for job opportunities in the solar industry.

The goal is to encourage Indigenous people to tap into their entrepreneurial spirits using solar applications that can be of benefit to themselves and their communities. In addition, she conducts STEM activities for students at the fourth- to 12th-grade levels. She has more than 35 years of experience in the electrical trade sector. She was previously employed with NativeSUN, a nonprofit organization whose mission was to educate, install, and finance PV systems in Northern Arizona. Tewa was also employed with the Arizona Energy Office as a tribal energy coordinator and was instrumental in setting up an extensive PV laboratory at Central Arizona College, where she taught both beginning and advanced PV classes. She is president/owner of Tewa Energy Services LLC.

Top 10 of The World’s Most Influential Women Engineers

Academic Influence is an academic rankings system that uses artificial intelligence to search massive databases and measure the impact of work by individuals in various fields. Relying on machine-learning technology developed with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Academic Influence searches open-source data in two sources — Wikipedia and Crossref — for papers, chapters, books, and citations to individuals worldwide.

Collectively, these databases contain billions of continuously updated data points about millions of individuals’ achievements. But the method yields more than just a popularity contest of the individuals who gain the most public mentions. It focuses on the intersection of name mentions and discipline mentions so that individuals are credited with “hits” only when their names also intersect with mentions of the professional fields in which they excel. When cumulated, these intersectional mentions constitute a person’s influence score.

In celebration of International Women in Engineering Day 2021, an annual recognition organized by the Women’s Engineering Society, Academic Influence announced its compilation of the 35 women making the greatest impact in engineering:

  • Barbara Liskov, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Ruzena Bajcsy, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
  • Dina Katabi, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Diane Greene, American entrepreneur
  • Jennifer Widom, Ph.D., Stanford University
  • Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., Oakland University
  • Mae C. Jemison, M.D., physician, former astronaut, and the first Black woman to travel into space
  • Adah Almutairi, Ph.D., University of California, Davis
  • Manuela M. Veloso, Ph.D., Carnegie Mellon University
  • Daniela L. Rus, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology