14 February 2019

Women and Girls in Science Podcast Series: Roboticist Dr. Ayanna Howard

According to the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum, 16 per cent of women globally, compared to 37 per cent of men, graduate with a degree in a STEM field of study (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).  This exclusion of women and girls has important implications not only for scientific research, innovation and development, but also for women’s economic participation and inclusion.  A 2017 report estimates that 85 per cent of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented, many jobs that exist today will be lost to automation and most jobs of the future will require some facility in STEM-related subjects. If women are to be included in the employment and economic future of tomorrow, they must be included in STEM fields today. 

To promote the empowerment of women and girls in STEM and raise awareness about the need for gender inclusion in science and technology, in 2015 the United Nations General Assembly declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

United Nations Academic Impact sees STEM education as an integral part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the participation of women and girls as vital to the success of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.  In this series commemorating the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, UNAI speaks to women scientists, researchers, engineers and tech innovators to find out how they are contributing to their fields and their advice for young women who want to forge a path in the male-dominated world of STEM. 

The fourth interview in our series is with Ayanna Howard, a roboticist and chair for Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech University. Before entering academia, Dr. Howard worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory where she was the principal investigator of the Safe Rover Navigation Task – the effort that led to unmanned planetary rovers that investigate terrain on Mars. As an educator and researcher, she has focused on technology development, artificial intelligence, robotics, engineering, and has over 20 years of experience with research and development projects. Her research has resulted in over 250 peer-reviewed publications featured in journals and conferences around the world.

Dr. Howard is the founder of Zyrobotics, which provides mobile therapy and assistive technology to empower children with disabilities. MIT Technology Review has recognized Dr. Howard as a top young innovator. Additionally, Business Insider has named her one of the top 23 most powerful women engineers.

Listen to UNAI’s interview with Dr. Howard to learn about how a popular TV show piqued her interest in robotics when she was young, why she thinks artificial intelligence could level the playing field in education, the importance of inclusion of persons with disabilities in STEM fields, and the value of role models and mentorship in increasing the number of women in STEM.

The following resources provide more information on initiatives for women and girls who aspire to work in robotics and engineering:

  • The Women’s Engineering Society role models list with women in science, engineering, and technology can be found here.
  • Check out what it takes to pursue a career in robotics here.
  • Watch a video covering Dr. Howard’s work at Zyrobotics here.
  • Look at IEEE’s Women in Engineering global initiative that supports women in science and technology here.
  • Learn more about UNESCO’s initiatives for women and girls in STEM here.
  • Get more information on Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls here.