Karen Panetta Elected to National Academy of Engineering

The engineer and inventor in electrical and computer engineering is recognized for her groundbreaking research and efforts to support women in STEM

Professor and Dean of Graduate Education Karen Panetta of the Tufts University School of Engineering was recently elected to the National Academy of Engineering for her trailblazing efforts in supporting women in STEM and her outstanding research contributions in the field of electrical and computer engineering. Election to the academy is one of the foremost professional distinctions in engineering.

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.

Panetta is known as a tireless advocate for women in STEM, from young girls to college-aged women and professionals. She has been involved with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Women in Engineering for over a decade, serving as the worldwide director of the organization from 2007-2009. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of the award-winning IEEE Women in Engineering Magazine. On the Tufts campus, she fosters community among women engineers as the advisor to the Tufts student chapters of IEEE and the Society of Women Engineers.

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, 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 like underwater search and rescue and animal conservation. She has advised world leaders and led humanitarian projects around the globe to change lives, help communities thrive, and protect the environment.

Panetta has earned numerous awards and honors in recognition of her innovative work. She has received 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. She 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 greatest challenges and to advocating for women in STEM fields. “I am deeply honored 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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