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From breaking the glass ceiling in industry, academia, and research to an array of accomplishments, these women are making news.
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Award for Excellence, Early Career Researcher

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Min Si

Argonne National Laboratory’s Min Si, Ph.D., received the Award for Excellence for Early Career Researchers in High-Performance Computing through IEEE. The award recognizes up to three individuals who have made outstanding, influential, and potentially long-lasting contributions in the field of high-performance computing within five years of receiving their Ph.D. degrees.

An assistant computer scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, Dr. Si has had a long relationship with Argonne, beginning with a six-month internship in 2013 that expanded into a guest graduate appointment. After receiving her Ph.D. in computer science from The University of Tokyo in 2016, she joined the Mathematics and Computer Science Division as a postdoctoral associate and was named an Enrico Fermi Scholar. She was promoted to assistant computer scientist in 2018.

Dr. Si’s research has focused on dynamic communication models and runtime systems that can balance computation tasks in heterogeneous environments — a topic of increasing importance for multicore and many-core computing systems. Currently, Dr. Si leads Argonne research on remote memory access operations for the message passing interface (MPI) and on the Open Symmetric Hierarchical MEMory (OpenSHMEM) programming interface; she contributes to the widely used MPI Chameleon (MPICH) library; she is the principal investigator (PI) of the Laboratory Directed Research and Development project Beehive, a dynamic execution environment for supporting irregular MPI applications; and she is a co-PI on development of Exascale MPI, an activity funded by the DOE’s Exascale Computing Project.

Dr. Si won the Karsten Schwan Best Paper Award at the 27th International Symposium on High-Performance Parallel and Distributed Computing in 2018. She received the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Achievement Doctoral Course from The University of Tokyo in 2016, and the Computer Science Research Award for Young Scientists from the Information Processing Society of Japan in 2012. Her work appears in major high-performance computing conferences and peer-reviewed top-tier journals.

A technical program committee member for many international conferences, Dr. Si is the panel’s vice chair of SC 2019 and program chair of two international workshops. Moreover, she has served as a referee for various high-impact international journals, such as Transactions on Parallel and Distributed Systems, Transactions on Cloud Computing, and the Journal of Parallel and Distributed Computing.

Outstanding Contributions to Engineering Education

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Sarah Kate Wilson

Sarah Kate Wilson, Ph.D., professor, Santa Clara University (SCU) School of Engineering, was named recipient of the IEEE Education Society’s Harriett B. Rigas Award, recognizing outstanding electrical/computer engineering faculty women for contributions to electrical/computer engineering education “through excellence in teaching, encouraging, and supporting increased participation of women in electrical/computer engineering, demonstrated scholarship/research, development of educational technology, which enhances student learning, and/or service to the engineering profession.”

Since joining the department of electrical engineering in 2006, Dr. Wilson has earned consistently high teaching evaluations from students for her excellence in teaching, mentoring, and personal attention. She has taught more than five undergraduate and nine different graduate courses. Along the way, she has been a leader in improving the curriculum for both undergraduate and graduate programs, constantly striving to make course material accessible to students through fun, innovative, and relevant teaching practices. Faced with her undergraduate students’ resistance to learning the complex mathematical methods required in their curricula, she helped develop an introductory course that takes students out to local Silicon Valley companies where they see firsthand how their assignments in topics such as the Fourier transform are put to use in creating real products. At the other end of the spectrum, she has successfully supervised a number of doctoral and master’s degree students — not just at SCU, but with colleagues from around the world with whom she collaborates on cutting-edge research projects.

Addressing students’ reported issues of bias against women and underrepresented minorities, Dr. Wilson and computer engineering professor and associate dean of undergraduate programs Ruth Davis, Ph.D., led an effort to improve the climate at SCU. Together, they organized ongoing bias-busting workshops, co-authored the paper “Diversity and Inclusion: A Collaboration with the Students,” and instituted changes in recruitment of both faculty and students to bring about a more diverse population.

Dr. Wilson is also heralded for relentlessly promoting engineering among young women. She is a fierce advocate for recruiting women into the major, and once they are in, she encourages them to become active in their professional societies. Leading by example, she founded and helped organize the first IEEE Women’s Workshop on Communications and Signal Processing, an exchange of technical ideas and networking opportunities critical to career success, particularly for young women. Established in 2012, this workshop has continued every two years, offering unparalleled chances for professional development and career advancement for the next generation of female researchers in this field.

New Research Projects

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Karen Kasza - Timothy Lee Photographers/Columbia Engineering

Karen Kasza, Ph.D., Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia University, won a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering for her research that “explores how cells work together to build tissues and organs with diverse shapes and structures during embryonic development. The Kasza Lab uses novel approaches to uncover the fundamental physical and biological mechanisms of morphogenesis, aiming to learn from cells about new ways to engineer tissue and treat disease.”

Dr. Kasza’s aim is to shed light on human health and disease and to leverage this knowledge to build functional tissues in her lab. Her work is focused on understanding tissue morphogenesis — the generation of shape and form in biological materials. She uses approaches from engineering, biology, and physics to understand and control how cells self-organize into functional tissues with precise mechanical and structural properties.

Currently, her lab is using the fruit fly as a model organism to investigate how cells build tissues during embryo development. To explore how mechanical factors influence this biological process, Dr. Kasza combines confocal imaging of cell and tissue movements with biophysical studies of cell and tissue mechanics. She also develops new tools to measure and control the mechanical forces generated by living cells. In part, the Packard Fellowship will support the development of optogenetic tools that allow light-controlled manipulation of the mechanical forces generated by cells in order to flexibly control tissue shape.

Because the interplay of physical and biological processes during morphogenesis is so complex, Dr. Kasza collaborates closely with a broad range of scientists and engineers, including developmental biologists and physicists. In earlier projects, she has taken approaches from soft matter physics to elucidate the physical origins of elasticity in cytoskeletal biopolymer-based materials and used developmental biology methods to identify a new mechanism controlling where and when forces are generated within epithelial tissues.

The Packard Fellowships in Science and Engineering are among the United States’ largest nongovernmental fellowships, designed to allow maximum flexibility in how the funding is used. Since 1988, this program has supported the blue-sky thinking of scientists and engineers in the hopes that their research over time will lead to new discoveries that improve people’s lives and enhance our understanding of the universe.

Outstanding Educator

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Doreen Edwards - RIT

Doreen Edwards, Ph.D., dean, Kate Gleason College of Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), was presented the Outstanding Educator Award from the American Ceramic Society at its annual conference and honors banquet. The longtime ceramics and materials science researcher was recognized for outstanding work and creativity in teaching, for directing student-centered research, and for mentoring individuals in the field of ceramics and materials science.

Throughout her career as an engineering professor and materials scientist, Dr. Edwards has developed advanced ceramics applications for thermochemical devices that can be used in the fields of alternative energy and the environment and range from solar power devices to fuel cells. While administrative duties as dean have been at the forefront in the last several years, Dr. Edwards remains connected to students through guest lectures in classes, participation in community outreach, and recruitment efforts, as well as providing ongoing support to the numerous student clubs and organizations associated with the engineering college.

Dr. Edwards, who came to RIT in 2016, has seen the engineering college’s academic rankings, enrollment, industry collaborations, research funding, and diversity efforts increase.

She also accepted the Changing Hearts and Minds Award on behalf of the college. The award is given to signify a college’s desire and ability to break through artificial barriers that prevent historically underrepresented faculty populations from gaining access and equity and acknowledges its efforts to model inclusive behavior by providing a welcoming environment. This year, 18 percent of the Kate Gleason College of Engineering’s faculty hires were from historically underrepresented populations.

Developing Next Generation of Electronic Devices

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Susan Fullerton - Swanson School of Engineering/Ric Evans

In recognition of her research to develop the next generation of electronic devices, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) named Susan Fullerton, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, a recipient of the 2019 Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences.

Dr. Fullerton was one of only five recipients nationwide recognized for “extraordinary contributions through their research programs and demonstrat[ing] a commitment to move their fields forward.”
First conferred in 2015, the award was made possible by a $2.2 million bequest to AAAS by chemist and long-time AAAS member Marion Tuttle Milligan Mason, Ph.D., who sought to support the advancement of women in the chemical sciences and to honor her family’s commitment to higher education for women. The Marion Milligan Mason Fund provides grants of $50,000 every other year to female researchers engaged in basic research in the chemical sciences. In addition to research funding, the program provides leadership development and mentoring opportunities.

Dr. Fullerton’s research group seeks to establish a fundamental understanding of ion-electron transport at the molecular level to design next-generation electronic devices at the limit of scaling for memory, logic, and energy storage. Current research interests include nano-ionic graphene memory, electrostatic double layer gat-ing of 2D crystals for low-power electronics, exploring the strain-induced semiconductor to metal transition in MoTe2 (NSF-DMR), and polymer electrolytes for reconfigurable plasmonic and photonic elements.

Rising Star in Chemical Engineering

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Kelly Schultz - Ryan Hulvat

Rising star in chemical engineering Kelly Schultz, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of chemical and biomolecular engineering, Lehigh University, presented new research on cross-linked polymer interactions’ impact on gel structure, which could improve tailoring of implantable scaffolds to regrow tissue. According to Dr. Schultz, the structure of cross-linked polymeric gels is very similar to soft tissue, one reason that understanding this material is so critical.

Dr. Schultz was invited to take part in “AIChE Journal Futures: New Directions in Chemical Engineering Research,” a special session of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). There, she presented her lab’s work determining how increasing the concentrations of polymers in solution changes the structure of cross-linked gels.

Dr. Schultz’s talk was based on a paper she contributed by invitation to AIChE’s inaugural “Futures Issues,” designed to highlight the work of early-career researchers. The paper, “Rheological Properties and Structure of Step- and Chain-Growth Gels Concentrated above the Overlap Concentration,” was co-authored by her former Ph.D. student, Matthew Wehrman, and four Lehigh undergraduates. Through experiments, Dr. Schultz and her team discovered that the structure of cross-linked polymeric gels is independent of concentration, until a limit — known as the overlap concentration, or when the polymers begin to interact — is reached. After this limit, the structure is again independent of concentration.

The group’s central discovery is that more polymers do not necessarily mean the gel will be more elastic or stiffer. Identifying this characteristic could be of particular importance for industrial applications as the team’s work shows that these cross-linked polymeric gel structures can be achieved with a smaller amount of polymer.

Dr. Schultz’s work on this is novel because of the way her team looked at scaffolds at high polymer concentrations or with polymeric interactions. Most studies, she says, stay under the overlap concentration so that polymer interactions do not complicate gelation.

Last year, Dr. Schultz received a National Science Foundation CAREER award to explore a promising area of biomaterials and cell biology that uses human mesenchymal stem cells encapsulated in hydrogels to enhance cell motility and, in turn, cell delivery if the scaffold is implanted into a wound.

EngineerGirl Student Ambassadors

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EngineerGirl ambassadors, from left: Emma Kalif, Rose Lee, Alyssa Ho, Sophia Viner, Jennifer Villa, and Moumita Sutar - EngineerGirl

The National Academy of Engineering announced the first class of its EngineerGirl ambassadors program. The six EngineerGirl ambassadors will participate in a yearlong program that builds leadership skills in female high school students by helping them promote engineering to younger students in their communities.

Each ambassador will design, develop, and implement a project that will encourage younger girls — particularly those with little access to engineering role models — to think about engineering careers and give them practical experience in engineering design. They will work with local sponsors and receive guidance and support from EngineerGirl staff.

The 2018-2019 EngineerGirl Ambassadors:

Alyssa Ho, ninth grade, Pasadena, California, plans to work with Girl Scouts to hold a robotics expo featuring FIRST® LEGO® League, FIRST Tech Challenge, and FIRST Robotics Competition teams with engineer guest speakers and training workshops.

Emma Kalif, 11th grade, Middletown, Rhode Island, will create a club for high school girls to discuss STEM classes and careers, as well as promote engineering in elementary school classrooms and an after-school program.

Rose Lee, 11th grade, Rockville, Maryland, plans to incorporate various engineering activities into a mentoring program for elementary students that will give them creative rein over their STEM projects.

Moumita Sutar, 12th grade, Chamblee, Georgia, plans to develop low-cost engineering kits and create a mentoring program at a local middle school.

Jennifer Villa, 12th grade, Danbury, Connecticut, will organize five two-hour after-school sessions, highlighting various engineering fields, with guest speakers and hands-on activities.

Sophia Viner, 12th grade, Parkland, Florida, will create a middle-school girls engineering club with a structured curriculum and hands-on activities, including team challenges and an end-of-the-year community project.

The EngineerGirl ambassadors receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the Society of Women Engineers’ annual conference, project funding of up to $250, the opportunity to be considered for a $1,000 scholarship, leadership development, a free one-year SWE membership, and a certificate and letter of recognition from the National Academy of Engineering that may be sent with college applications. The EngineerGirl Ambassadors program is made possible by a generous grant from philanthropist John F. McDonnell.

Designed for girls in elementary through high school, EngineerGirl offers information about various engineering fields and careers, questions and answers, interviews, an annual writing competition, and other resources on engineering. EngineerGirl is part of the NAE’s ongoing effort to increase the diversity of the engineering workforce.