Karen Panetta sometimes has to laugh at the way engineers are portrayed in drawings by young students at the schools she visits. The children’s crayoned pictures usually depict boorish, geeky male stick figures wearing glasses; some of them have buck teeth and pimples, “and they’re most always carrying wrenches,” says Karen. Such are the musings of children, you might say, but Karen, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Tufts University in Medford, MA, is out to dispel such stereotypes at an early age in kids. “If you think being an engineer is sitting around being boring, you’re very wrong,” she likes to tell students.
Another misconception that she is trying to change in classrooms, especially among K-12 female students: that engineering is just for guys. In fact, women are increasing their presence and achievements in all fields of engineering — from nanotechnology and aerospace engineering to sustainable energy and structural engineering, she informs students. This is a key reason she established “Nerd Girls,” a widely-acclaimed outreach program dedicated to promoting women in engineering, and bridging the gap between attracting girls into the profession and sustaining them through their engineering training.
Are you a nerd girl? What area of engineering interests you most?
Read more about Karen and her Nerd Girls program here.
Here is a Women of Vision Awards video about Karen and her career path.
And in this video hear from Karen herself talk about what made her choose computers and engineering as a career.