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Renowned roboticist Ayanna Howard today was named dean of Ohio State University’s College of Engineering. She will also be a tenured professor in the college’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering with a joint appointment in Computer Science and Engineering.
Howard will be the first woman to lead the College of Engineering. Nationally, only 17% of engineering deans or directors across the country were female, according to the Society of Women Engineers. “I’m thrilled to join Ohio State at a time in which there is so much potential to strengthen and build new partnerships in order to expand access and enhance opportunities for the next generation of students, alumni, and for economic development throughout Ohio,” said Howard.
If approved by the board of trustees, Howard will join Ohio State on March 1. Howard will follow David Williams, who announced in May 2020 he would be stepping down after a decade leading the College of Engineering. Howard will be leaving the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she is chair of the School of Interactive Computing in the College of Computing as well as founder and director of the Human-Automation Systems Lab.
Howard earned her bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Brown University, her master’s degree and PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California, and her MBA from Claremont Graduate University.
From 1993 to 2005, she worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she held multiple roles including senior robotics researcher and deputy manager in the Office of the Chief Scientist. Among other projects, Howard was involved in developing SmartNav — an autonomous, next-generation Mars rover — and SnoMotes, toy-sized robots that can explore icy terrain that is too dangerous for scientists.
She joined Georgia Tech in 2005 as an associate professor and the founder of the HumAnS lab. The lab focuses on humanized intelligence, which uses techniques such as sensing and learning to enhance the autonomous capabilities of robots or other computerized systems. The HumAnS lab has generated more than 250 publications and $8.5 million in principal investigators-led research funding.
Among other roles at Georgia Tech, Howard was program director of the nation’s first multidisciplinary robotics PhD program; associate chair for faculty development in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and associate director of research at the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines.
In 2013, she founded Zyrobotics to help translate the lab’s research into commercial products for children with special needs. Zyrobotics spun off as a nonprofit in 2020. She also in 2020 co-founded Black in Robotics, an organization that advocates for diversity and inclusion in the robotics industry. Black in Robotics recently launched a regional chapter in Boston, the organization’s first regional chapter.
Howard and Monroe Kennedy III, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University and founding member of Black in Robotics, were recent guests on The Robot Report Podcast. They shared their personal journeys, challenges they overcame throughout their careers, and what can be done to level the playing field for minorities in robotics and engineering fields. You can listen to the podcast below.