This past December, AT&T sponsored Nifty Fifty program speaker Dr. Karen Panetta received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from President Barack Obama! Dr. Panetta is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Tufts University and Director of the Simulation Research Laboratory at Tufts University. She is also the co-founder of BA Logix Inc. and serves as the company’s Chief Research Scientist. Congratulations to Dr. Panetta and read about her prestigious award here.
Read about Dr. Karen Panetta’s Engineering Outreach Program “Nerd Girl’s” below:
Karen Panetta sometimes just 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, Mass., 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.
Karen began the program at Tufts, but now Nerd Girls is an international program with clubs all around the world in middle schools and colleges. “Even companies and conferences have started having ‘Nerd Girl’ panels as part of their gatherings to help bring awareness that Nerd Girls are very talented multi-faceted individuals helping to use technology to benefit humanity,” says Karen.
The success of the Nerd Girls program has even caught the attention of Hollywood: The program is now in production for television by the producers of the award-winning TV show, “The Dog Whisper.”
“My goal when I started the program was to change the way our nation thinks about girls in science and engineering. And from the phenomenal growth, and now positive use of the word ‘Nerd Girl’, you can see, we’re getting there!”
The program is made up of female undergraduate students (mostly juniors and seniors) from a wide range of engineering disciplines who perform research and problem-solving in renewable energy, technology to help autistic children, and investigation in other areas while serving as role models for younger students.
Says Karen: “Nerd Girls is aimed at breaking down the barriers and misconceptions that prevent women from entering the engineering, while striving to help undergrad students in the program build confidence in their skills as they prepare for their own professional careers.”
Karen and her Nerd Girls have personally conducted outreach activities to over 25,000 young students, parents and community leaders across the United States as Nerd Girl clubs have started in other parts of the world.
“The Nerd Girls’ intensive teamwork, weekly outreach presentations to schools and other audiences, and its regular interaction with industry professionals have made a significant difference not only for the young students we serve but also for our undergraduates in the program,” says Karen.
Learn more about Dr. Panetta’s wonderful organization “Nerd Girls” by clicking here.