The Institute - December 2019 - 14

In this interview with The Institute,
Howard talks about how she got involved
with assistive technologies, the need for a
more diverse workforce, and ways IEEE
has benefited her career.

Howard was inspired to work on technology that can improve accessibility in 2008
while teaching high school students at a
summer camp devoted to science, technology, engineering, and math.
"A young lady with a visual impairment
attended camp. The robot programming

they're being designed for a diverse population. As IEEE members, we also need to
engage with people who aren't engineers,
and we don't do that enough."
Educational institutions are doing a
better job of increasing diversity in areas
such as gender, she says, adding that more
work is needed because the enrollment
numbers still aren't representative of the
population and the gains don't necessarily carry through after graduation.
"There has been an increase in the
number of underrepresented minorities and females going into engineering

tools being used at the camp weren't
accessible to her," Howard says. "As an
engineer, I want to fix problems when I
see them, so we ended up designing tools
to enable access to programming tools
that could be used in STEM education.
"That was my starting motivation, and
this theme of accessibility has expanded to
become a main focus of my research. One
of the things about this world of accessibility is that when you start interacting with
kids and parents, you discover another
world out there of assistive technologies
and how robotics can be used for good in
education as well as therapy."

The Institute asked Howard why it's
important to have a more diverse STEM
workforce and what could be done to
increase the number of women and others
from underrepresented groups.
"The makeup of the current engineering
workforce isn't necessarily representative
of the world, which is composed of different races, cultures, ages, disabilities, and
socioeconomic backgrounds," Howard says.
"We're creating products used by people
around the globe, so we have to ensure


DEC 2019



and computer science," she says, "but
data has shown that their numbers are
not sustained in the workforce."

"When I would try to explain something,
he would quiz me and tell me to 'think
more logically,'" she says.
Howard earned a bachelor's degree in
engineering from Brown University, in
Providence, R.I., then she received both
master's and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering from the University of
Southern California. Before joining the faculty of Georgia Tech in 2005, she worked
at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at
Caltech for more than a decade as a senior
robotics researcher and deputy manager
in the office of the chief scientist.

Howard's father was also an IEEE member,
but that's not why she joined the organization. She says she signed up when she
was a student because "that was something that you just did. Plus, my student
membership fee was subsidized."
She kept the membership as a grad
student because of the discounted rates
members receive on conferences.
Those conferences have had an impact on
her career. "They allow you to understand
what the state of the art is," she says. "Back
then you received a printed conference
proceeding, and reading through it was
brutal. But by attending it in person, you
got a 15-minute snippet about the research."
Howard is an active volunteer with
the IEEE Robotics and Automation and
the  IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics societies, holding many positions
and serving on several committees. She is
also featured in the IEEE Impact Creators
campaign, which spotlights members
who inspire others to innovate for a better
"I value IEEE for its community," she
says. "One of the nice things about IEEE
is that it's international."

Because there are more underrepresented
groups on college campuses that can form
a community, the lack of engineering role
models-although a concern on campuses-
is more extreme for preuniversity students,
Howard says.
"Depending on where you go to school,
you may not know what an engineer does
or even consider engineering as an option,"
she says.
Howard has been involved for many years
in math- and science-mentoring programs
for at-risk high school girls. She tells them
to find what they're passionate about and
combine it with math and science to create
something. She also advises them not to
let anyone tell them that they can't.
Howard's father is an engineer. She says
he never encouraged or discouraged her
to become one, but when she broke some- -KATHY PRETZ
thing, he would show her how to fix it and
talk her through the process. Along the
This article originally appeared online
way, he taught her a logical way of think- as "Humanoid Robots Teach Coping
ing she says all engineers have.
Skills to Children With Autism."

The Institute - December 2019

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