Tufts University’s Dean of Graduate Education of Tufts School of Engineering, Professor Karen Panetta, was recently elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Her election is coming two months after she received honoured with the Distinguished Service Award from the honour society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, IEEE Eta Kappa Nu (IEEE-HKN), in December 2022.
Panetta is a tireless advocate for women in STEM, from young girls to college-aged women and professionals. She has been with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Women in Engineering for over a decade, serving as the worldwide director of the organisation from 2007-2009. Panetta is the founder and editor-in-chief of the award-winning IEEE Women in Engineering Magazine. She fosters community among women engineers on the Tufts campus as the advisor to the Tufts student chapters of IEEE and the Society of Women Engineers.
Panetta first joined Tufts in 1994 after a professional career as a computer architect. She became the first female professor to receive tenure in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. She is now dean of graduate education for the School of Engineering and a professor of electrical and computer engineering with secondary appointments in computer science and mechanical engineering.
In 2002, Panetta founded Nerd Girls, a program committed to empowering female engineering students and challenging myths and stereotypes about women in engineering professions. Nerd Girls aims to counterbalance negative portrayals of women in STEM with positive messaging, opportunities, and support for young women in STEM fields. She is also the co-author of Count Girls In, a book encouraging parents to nurture STEM skills in their young daughters.
Through projects such as developing an image recognition database that helps reveal bias in artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, Panetta turns her engineering and leadership skills to the betterment of humanity. She focuses on developing efficient algorithms for simulation, modelling, 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 like underwater search and rescue and animal conservation. She has advised world leaders and led global humanitarian projects to change lives, help communities thrive, and protect the environment.
Panetta has earned numerous awards and honours for her innovative work, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award, the 2013 IEEE Award for Distinguished Ethical Practices, and grants from funding agencies like NASA and the NSF. Panetta is a fellow of the IEEE, the Asia-Pacific Artificial Intelligence Association, and the National Academy of Inventors. In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Panetta a Presidential Award for Science and Engineering Education and Mentoring.
Panetta says she remains committed to pioneering technological approaches to solve society’s most significant challenges and advocating for women in STEM fields. “I am deeply honoured by this recognition from the National Academy of Engineering, and I look forward to continuing the critical work of ensuring that the engineering profession is a pathway for individuals to use their unique talents and imagination to benefit humanity,” she says.
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