Who We Are: Karen Panetta, Tufts University
Karen Panetta is the Women of Vision Award winner in the Social Impact category. She is recognized not only for her contributions in both academia and industry but also as one of the United States leading experts in innovating successful low-cost methods for disseminating engineering and science to youth, parents, educators and the general public to help recruit young women to the STEM disciplines. Her NerdGirls project has inspired young women by teaching them that engineers and scientists create innovations for the benefit of humanity.
Dr. Karen Panetta is a Fellow of the IEEE. Dr. Panetta received the B.S. in Computer Engineering from Boston University, and the M.S. and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Northeastern University. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Women in Engineering Magazine and Editor of the IEEE Boston “Reflector” Newspaper. She serves as the 2011 Chair of the IEEE Boston Section, which has over 8500 members. During 2009-2007, she served as the World Wide Director for IEEE Women in Engineering, overseeing the world’s largest professional organization supporting women in engineering and science.
She is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Tufts University and Director of the Simulation Research Laboratory. Her research focuses on developing efficient algorithms for simulation, modeling, signal and image processing for security and biomedical applications. She is also the co-founder of BA Logix Inc. and serves as the company’s Chief Research Scientist.
Before joining the faculty at Tufts, Dr. Panetta was employed as a computer engineer at Digital Equipment Corporation. Her research in Simulation and Modeling has won her research team five awards from NASA for “Outstanding Contributions to NASA Research” and “Excellence in Research”. She is a NASA Langley Research Scientist “JOVE” Fellow, is a recipient of the NSF Career Award and won the 2003 Madeline and Henry Fischer Best Engineering Teacher Award. Dr. Panetta was also awarded a Mass High Tech All-Star by Mass High Tech Magazine. She is the recipient of the 2006 Boston University Outstanding Alumni Award and was a recipient of the “Be The Change” award from the Massachusetts Conference for Women. She is the 2009 Norm Augustine Award recipient from the National Academies of Engineering and Science, American Association of Engineering Societies. In 2010, the IEEE recognized Dr. Panetta by awarding her the IEEE Educational Activities Board, Major Educational Innovation Award.
Dr. Panetta serves on the Boston University Engineering Alumni Board and is a board member for the Center for Balance by Design. She is also a member of the ACM, AAAS, AWIS, SWE, SPHE, Tau Beta Pi, ASEE and the Society for Computer Simulation. She is the faculty advisor to both the Tufts SWE and IEEE student chapters.
Believing that real world experience is critical for engineering education, Dr. Panetta maintains consulting positions in industry and brings her experience back to the classroom. She is a Design Consultant for Tycoelectronics, M/A-Com Inc. and consults for school systems and Science Museums across the United States to inspire engineering and technology education.
Dr. Panetta is dedicated to promoting women in engineering and created the nationally acclaimed “Nerd Girls” program, where undergraduate engineers use their engineering skills to solve real world problems and serve as role models for younger students. By showing youth how engineering helps society and can improve the quality of life for humans and wildlife, Karen Panetta has connected young students with the motivation for pursuing engineering careers. The IEEE.tv video, “Nerd Girls”, which demonstrates Karen’s most successful mentoring and recruiting philosophy, shows that female engineers are smart, well-rounded, talented girls. The video has won an APEX GRAND award and an Aegis Award for Best Educational Outreach video. Recently, the IEEE.tv video, “Ship the Chip” documented Karen personally mentoring 100 female students from a diversity of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. The participants included both physically challenged girls and girls with learning disabilities, all exploring the excitement of engineering as a team. The success of the Nerd Girls Program caught the attention of Hollywood and is now in production for television, by the producers of the award winning television show, “The Dog Whisper”.
Dr. Panetta has traveled around the globe to inspire youth to pursue engineering. She teaches them that engineers and scientists create innovations for the benefit humanity. In India, students work with Karen and her students in the U.S. to develop free technologies to track and analyze data on disabilities in young children. The “Health and Human Information System” is now used by over 5 million users in India. This project won two awards from the IEEE President’s Humanitarian Student Challenge Competition and has received India’s highest awards. Through Karen’s mentorship, the students in both the United States and India have learned that there are no boundaries in innovation and that students can change the world.