Ohio State has named a new dean to lead its College of Engineering, the first woman to ever hold the role.
Ayanna Howard, a roboticist, entrepreneur, and current chair of the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is slated to begin at Ohio State on March 1, pending approval by the board of trustees, the university announced Monday.
Howard’s career experience includes academia, NASA, and the private sector, where she founded Zyrobotics, a Georgia Tech spin-off company that develops personal educational technology products for children with differing abilities. In 2018, Forbes named Howard on its list of America’s Top 50 Women in Tech.
“I don’t fit into a box, so one of the things that was exciting was, OK, there’s no box I have to fit into (at Ohio State),” she said, noting her appeal to the university’s engineering program, entrepreneurship efforts, interdisciplinary research and burgeoning innovation district on West Campus.
Howard will replace David Williams, who announced in May that he would step down after a decade as dean of the College of Engineering.
Representation in engineering has been a passion point of Howard’s career, she said. As the new engineering dean, she’ll join a small group; only 17% of the total leaders at engineering colleges in the U.S. are women, according to the Society of Women Engineers.
“Throughout my career, I typically have been the first and only (from an underrepresented group),” she said. “So one of the things that I truly believe in, is that you have to make sure that everyone has equivalent opportunities. And some of that is not just about saying, ‘Oh the doors are open, everyone can apply,’ but it also means you have to provide the framing and the support and the scaffold to bring everyone together.”
“Everyone has to be at the table, because we have to design and develop solutions for the entire world, which is diverse and unique and beautiful in all its forms and fashion,” she said.
Before her time at Georgia Tech, Howard held multiple roles at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory from 1993 to 2005.
At Georgia Tech, Howard was a founder of the HumAnS lab, which focuses on humanized intelligence using sensing and learning techniques to enhance the autonomous capabilities of robots and other computerized systems. She was also a program director for the country’s first multidisciplinary robotics Ph.D. program at Georgia Tech, among other roles.
Ohio State leaders said Howard’s background will advance the university’s innovation and overall research efforts. She’ll also join the university as it makes investments in its engineering labs, interdisciplinary research, and its West Campus innovation district.
“Dr. Howard is an innovator whose skills and passion are a perfect fit with Ohio State’s focus on convergent research and discovery,” Ohio State President Kristina M. Johnson said in a news release. “To attract a leader of her caliber shows both the strength of our engineering program and the acceleration of the university’s overall research mission.”
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