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Celebrating Women in STEM: Dr. Ayanna Howard

Science fiction has painted robots as the downfall of man, but robots today can do everything from making ice cream to assisting with heart surgeries. They can even lead the exploration of other planets.

One woman in STEM at the forefront of robotics is Dr. Ayanna Howard of Georgia Tech. Howard was born on Jan. 24, 1972 in Rhode Island.

Howard loved the 1970’s show “The Bionic Woman”, which featured the first female cyborg who used her bionic limbs to complete spy missions with the Six Million Dollar Man.

At just 11 years old, Howard knew she wanted to create artificial limbs for people. She hated biology though, so she decided to approach her dream from the technical side.

Howard completed her B. S. in Engineering from Brown University in 1993. She then moved to the University of Southern California to complete her M. S. in Electrical Engineering in 1994, and her Ph.D. in 1999.

At just 27 years old, Dr. Howard was hired by NASA to lead a team trying to make a robot for future Mars missions that could “think like a human and adapt to change.”

Her first day on the job, Howard walked into the meeting room and was greeted by a man who told her, “The secretaries aren’t here. They moved their meeting down the hall.”

She was shocked, but found the courage to respond, “Hi! I’m Dr. Ayanna Howard. You’ll be working for me on this project.”

Howard continued to work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab until 2005 when she accepted a position at the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech. She started her own lab there, called the Human-Automation Systems (HumAnS) Lab, where she and her students look at improving the autonomy of robots and exoskeletons for kids with motor disabilities.

Howard served as the chair of the Robotics Ph.D. Program from 2010-2013 and the associate director of research for the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Machines from 2013-2015. She was made the chair of the School of Interactive Computing in January earlier this year.

Howard has received a lot of attention for her fantastic work with robots. She was named one of MIT’s Technology Review Top 100 Young Innovators of the Year in 2003.

In 2005, Howard won the California Women in Business Award for Science and Technology.

She also completed her M .B. A. in 2005. In 2008, Howard’s SnoMote robots earned recognition for their capability of studying climate change in Antarctica. Business Insider named her one of the 23 most powerful women engineers in the world in 2015. She’s also published more than 250 peer-reviewed publications.

Howard continues to work at Georgia Tech, finding ways to make robots better for mankind. She’s also passionate about helping young people get involved. In 2013, she founded

Zyrobotics, which develops STEM education tools for children. She also developed a math and science mentoring program for young girls.

“I believe that every engineer has a responsibility to make the world a better place. We are gifted with an amazing power to take people’s wishes and make them a reality,” she said.

Are you interested in empowering women in the STEM fields? The Women in Science (Wi-Sci) group wants you! Email President Lauren Higgins ( for more information.

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