Women in Engineering: Shaping the World

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Dr. Ayanna Howard

Women in Engineering photos © SpringerGuest Editor, International Journal of Social Robotics 

Linda J. and Mark C. Smith Professor and Chair of the School of Interactive Computing in the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology

Tell us about your background:

I am the Linda J. and Mark C. Smith Professor and Chair of the School of Interactive Computing in the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. I am also an educator, researcher, innovator, and international expert in robotics and AI. 

I hold a B.S. degree in Engineering from Brown University, a M.S. and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California, and an M.B.A. from the Drucker Graduate School of Management. Early in my career, I worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in positions that transitioned from Computer Scientist to Information Systems Engineer to Senior Robotics Researcher. At NASA, I focused on designing smart robots for future Mars exploration missions.

At Georgia Tech, I focus on developing intelligent technologies that must adapt to and function within a human-centered world. My work, which encompasses advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), assistive technologies, and robotics, has resulted in over 200 peer-reviewed publications in a number of projects - from healthcare robots in the home to AI-powered STEM apps for children with diverse learning needs. To date, my accomplishments have been highlighted through a number of awards and articles, including highlights in USA Today, Upscale, and TIME Magazine, as well as being recognized as one of the 23 most powerful women engineers in the world by Business Insider. In 2013, I also founded Zyrobotics, which is currently licensing technology derived from my research and has released their first suite of STEM educational products to engage children of all abilities. 

Why did you become an engineer?
As a roboticist, I am a hybrid engineer and computer scientist. I was inspired, early on, by the TV show “The Bionic Woman,” in which a woman, severely injured in an accident, was rebuilt with bionic limbs that provided her with extraordinary powers to save the world. I decided then that I wanted to build the bionic woman, and thus my career trajectory began. Since I wasn’t quite sure what type of degree would enable me to learn about the field of robotics, I chose my undergraduate program based on its flexibility. At Brown University, I was able to freely explore the different engineering fields for the first two years without having to commit to just one. And thus, by the time I went to graduate school, I decided to major in Electrical Engineering with a minor focus in Computer Science.

What advice would you give to young women interested in engineering?
I believe that every engineer has a responsibility to make the world a better place. We are gifted with an amazing power to take people’s wishes and make them a reality. I believe that, if any young woman wants to change the world, and develop the power to do so, engineering is the natural home for them. The end goal is totally worth the journey.


Discover Ayanna's Work: 

© Springer 

Special Issue: Sociorobotics (International Journal of Social Robotics, Feb. 2018) - Read the issue free through June!

© Springer 

The Ugly Truth About Ourselves and Our Robot Creations: The Problem of Bias and Social Inequity (Science and Engineering Ethics, 2017)

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Women in Engineering

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