Meet the 14 women in leadership positions helping chart the College’s course.

Monday, 06 March 2023
A group picture of 14 women holding leadership positions in the College of Engineering gathered around a table in the library

A record 14 women serve in administrative leadership roles in the College of Engineering in 2023. (Not pictured: Lauren Stewart, who was appointed interim associate chair in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering after the photo.)

Seventy years ago this academic year, when Barbara Diane Michel and Elizabeth Herndon enrolled at Georgia Tech, they were the only women on campus.

Three decades later, there were more women in engineering classes but still almost none teaching behind the lectern.

And even 25 years ago, the few women joining Georgia Tech’s engineering faculty found themselves without many others to work alongside.

But in 2023, faculty ranks have changed. This year, 14 women occupy critical leadership roles guiding the College of Engineering and its eight schools and departments. Their positions span research, entrepreneurship, faculty development, and more. They are associate chairs and associate deans. And, for the first time in the College’s history, two women serve as engineering school chairs.

Student enrollment also has come a long way since Michel and Herndon broke barriers in 1952. Georgia Tech annually leads the country in graduating the most female engineers. The College also boasts the nation’s largest number of female engineering students: 5,862. Women undergraduate enrollment tops 32% this academic year (compare that to the national average, which is 19%). And in three disciplines — biomedical, environmental, and chemical and biomolecular engineering — women outnumber men in classrooms.

Of course, women still account for just a third of all engineering students and about one in five faculty members. So, while the progress has been stark, the work continues.

“There’s been a real step change in engineering,” said Krista Walton, the College’s associate dean for research and innovation. “It just takes so long to work through the system. Many of us started at Georgia Tech a decade or two decades ago. It takes a long time to get enough women to have gone through enough levels to reach a point where they can be considered for these roles. So it’s like we finally reached some critical point. I think that’s pretty exciting and hopefully that will continue, because now the pipeline is better than it was 20 years ago.”

Meet the women helping guide engineering education and research at Georgia Tech and serving as role models for the next generation of leaders:

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Meet the Leadership

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Alyssa Panitch
Coulter Chair
Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering

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Natalie Stingelin
Chair
School of Materials Science and Engineering

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Kim Kurtis
Associate Dean
College of Engineering

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Krista Walton
Associate Dean
College of Engineering

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Adjo Amekudzi-Kennedy
Associate Chair
School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

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Pamela Bhatti
Associate Chair
School of Electrical and Computer Engineering

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Susan Burns
Associate Chair
School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

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Anna Erickson
Associate Chair
Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

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Karen Feigh
Associate Chair
Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering

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Martha Grover
Associate Chair
School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

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Kyriaki Kalaitzidou
Associate Chair
Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

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Mary Lynn Realff
Associate Chair
School of Materials Science and Engineering

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Lauren Stewart
Interim Associate Chair
School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

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Ying Zhang
Senior Associate Chair
School of Electrical and Computer Engineering

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Alyssa Panitch

Wallace H. Coulter Department Chair

Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering

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Alyssa Panitch speaks to a group of women students in the Whitaker Building
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Panitch is the newest member of the College’s leadership team, arriving at Georgia Tech in July 2022 to serve as chair of the College’s unique biomedical engineering partnership with Emory University.

An accomplished innovator and researcher, Panitch has 30 U.S. patents and has founded several startups based on her scientific work. Her lab focuses on changing the way cells function to try to influence healthy tissue healing — not by targeting the cells themselves but by developing drugs and biomolecules that target disease tissue and change the environment around cells.
 
Panitch also is no stranger to the demands of administrative roles. She has served as vice provost for Faculty Affairs at Purdue University and biomedical engineering department chair and executive associate dean of engineering at the University of California, Davis. She said expanding opportunities for women starts before they even join the Georgia Tech community.

“We have to continue to be intentional about making sure that our candidate pools are diverse and there are plenty of female candidates — that we're considering seriously the diversity of the applications and allowing women into the finalist process. We have to do it at the student level, at the postdoc level, at the faculty level, and at the administration level.”

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Alyssa Panitch in Clough Commons
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Kim Kurtis

Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Scholarship

College of Engineering

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It’s natural to call Kim Kurtis a builder — she’s a leading civil engineering expert in formulating more sustainable cement and concrete. But Kurtis dedicates even more effort to build up people.

As the College of Engineering’s associate dean for faculty development and scholarship, Kurtis focuses on ways to support, advance, and honor her peers and future engineers. She has been a relentless and innovative pioneer to help establish and expand programs to support faculty.

Kurtis leads two national initiatives on behalf of the College to build a more diverse engineering pipeline. The NextProf Nexus Program is a mentoring workshop that equips senior-level Ph.D. candidates, postdoctoral researchers, and early-career scientists and researchers with the tools they need to succeed in academia. The President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program provides postdocs with faculty mentoring, professional development, and academic networking opportunities to support their exploration of, and transition into, faculty careers.

“I’ve always been a person who finds fulfillment in supporting the growth of others. I enjoy discovering what people are interested in, then finding ways to support and celebrate their success. For example, last year, the College introduced eight new awards recognizing academic and research faculty excellence in education, research, and entrepreneurship.

“There are so many opportunities here at Georgia Tech. It’s a tremendous place to grow and challenge yourself. One of my goals is to attract tomorrow’s leaders to Tech, then give them the resources they need to excel. Sometimes that means I have to be creative with my ideas and outlook. But that’s not a challenge. When you do research on a material that is 5,000 years old, you have to be a creative person.”

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Martha Grover

Associate Chair for Graduate Studies

School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

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In addition to her ChBE leadership position, Grover is the College’s ADVANCE Professor. The Institute-wide program builds and sustains a network of professors who support the community and advancement of women and people from underrepresented backgrounds in academia. ADVANCE professors advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion and advise campus leadership on policy and structure.

It’s a position she wasn’t sure she wanted because of the risk of being pigeonholed. When asked to join research teams to submit proposals, Grover said women are frequently invited late in the process. Many times, the roles they’re offered are centered on outreach rather than actual research expertise. However, she’s noticed a change in awareness at Georgia Tech as she pushes for solutions to improve opportunities for everyone.

“Georgia Tech leadership, including the president, provost, and Dean [Raheem] Beyah, have been extremely open to feedback and suggestions. There is more understanding about the issues women faculty face in higher education. At the same time, we must continue to energize women to prepare and apply for leadership positions. We belong in the room and in these roles, and we need to make sure more of our faculty believe this is possible.”

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Natalie Stingelin and a student look at a microscope image on a computer screen
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Natalie Stingelin

Stingelin became a school chair in the summer of 2022. However, she’s not a new face on campus. She joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 2016 and has developed a well-regarded research program in polymer physics, functional soft matter, and organic electronics and photonics. Her influence extends internationally: She holds a Chaire Internationale Associée by the Excellence Initiative of the Université de Bordeaux and a position at Imperial College London. She is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.

Stingelin credits her faculty mentors going back all the way to her bachelor’s research project for nudging her into a fulfilling career and positioning her for leadership. They were all men who strongly supported getting more women into materials science fields. Stingelin said it wasn’t until she came to Georgia Tech that she had women at her own institution to mentor her.

The landscape has changed in the field now, with Stingelin and other senior women helping younger generations build their careers. In her own research group, her undergraduates are almost all women. Those relationships are important, she said, as it was encouragement from her own network that convinced her to apply for the MSE chair position.

“That was one reason I did go up for chair: a lot of my female colleagues, and even postdocs and Ph.D. students, said, ‘Natalie, you should apply.’ It was not a planned career move, but so many women said something that I decided I should try. I have the credentials, I’ve seen a lot of university systems, and I know the U.S. well in terms of university funding.”

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Pamela Bhatti

Associate Chair for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation

School of Electrical and Computer Engineering

As associate chair, Bhatti leads ECE’s support for faculty entrepreneurship and manages programs for the School’s large group of corporate partners and affiliates. She is an experienced entrepreneur in her own right, co-founding a company based on her research in detecting wrong-patient errors in radiology.

Bhatti also has been dedicated to instilling an entrepreneurial mindset in students. She has coached more than 50 student startup teams and another 30 clinical and translational researcher teams in a National Institutes of Health commercialization accelerator. Most recently, she joined the new class of the Executive Leadership in Academic Technology, Engineering and Science (ELATES) program at Drexel University. The intensive national program aims to help women in STEM fields elevate their leadership skills and effectiveness.

I didn’t ever think that I would go into any academic leadership role at all; it never crossed my mind. ... So, you need people who encourage you. They don’t have to look like you, but there has to be some connection.

PAMELA BHATTI

 

Bhatti said her own path to leadership was somewhat unexpected, and it demonstrates the power of encouragement from people who see your potential.

“I didn’t ever think that I would go into any academic leadership role at all; it never crossed my mind. And then I was encouraged by [former school chair] Magnus Egerstedt to join his team. [Provost and former ECE Chair] Steve McLaughlin also encouraged me. I don’t look like him; he doesn’t look like me. But he encouraged people in his unit. He brought me into strategic planning for the unit. So, you need people who encourage you. They don’t have to look like you, but there has to be some connection.”

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Pamela Bhatti seated at a table in the library with bookshelves in the background
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Pamela Bhatti in the classroom working with three students at a table
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Krista Walton

Associate Dean for Research and Innovation

College of Engineering

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Krista Walton

Walton grew up on a farm in northern Alabama and was the first in her family to attend college. It wasn’t until her senior year at the University of Alabama in Huntsville that she learned that getting accepted into a Ph.D. program in chemical engineering meant she would receive a monthly stipend and have her tuition covered.

Walton arrived at Georgia Tech in 2009 and established a lab that makes adsorbents for carbon dioxide capture, air purification, and water harvesting. In 2019, she joined the dean’s leadership team and works with faculty in all eight schools to coordinate the College’s $268 million research agenda.

“There are so many reasons that can prevent potential first-gen students from pursuing college. Some are tied to family situations that make leaving home difficult. Other times it’s simply a lack of knowledge of opportunities. The first-generation students I meet here at Georgia Tech know a lot more than I did as an undergrad. Perhaps my journey to Georgia Tech will encourage some of them.

“Everyone doesn’t take the same path to college or graduate school. Sometimes the climb is more difficult than the one taken by our peers. I’m grateful for the people who took chances on me and thankful for their confidence in my abilities. I’ve come a long way since my first day in college. I’m proud of how I’ve grown and what I’ve achieved.”

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Everyone doesn’t take the same path to college or graduate school. Sometimes the climb is more difficult than the one taken by our peers. I’m grateful for the people who took chances on me and thankful for their confidence in my abilities. I’ve come a long way since my first day in college. I’m proud of how I’ve grown and what I’ve achieved.

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Kyriaki Kalaitzidou

Associate Chair for Faculty Development

George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

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Kyriaki Kalaitzidou and students work in the lab

Kalaitzidou’s research focuses on using the unique properties of nanomaterials to create stronger or lighter composites for automotive and aerospace applications, microelectronics, and packaging. Her lab works to develop processes that use less energy and more sustainable and environmentally friendly materials using nanocellulose and bio-derived polymers. Their goal is to enhance the circularity of polymeric materials and structures.

As associate chair, Kalaitzidou oversees faculty evaluation processes, and she develops and manages mentoring and academic leadership programs. She’s expanded her efforts to developing community and a collegial culture more broadly in the Woodruff School. For example, she planned the first-ever Woodruff Games in the fall, a new tradition designed to cultivate well-being in the School (a focus area of the Georgia Tech Strategic Plan). Other events gathered graduate students, staff, faculty members, and their families. She’s planning an event for undergraduates later this spring.

Kalaitzidou also has stretched beyond the Woodruff School’s walls, reaching out to female faculty members elsewhere on campus to offer resources and her network when they’re considering leadership positions of their own and offering a workshop on mentoring to interested groups.

It’s a shift in perspective for women who’ve often been charting a lonely, solo course in many STEM disciplines for decades, Kalaitzidou said.

“I think we built these narratives that ‘I was the first,’ and we became so used to being alone and first that whenever a woman would come along, we didn’t feel like we had to help. We made it. We take pride in that, and it was part of our narrative. And there has been a change in mentality, in how we are framing things. Being the first and alone is not good. We need more women. We need to understand each other and work together.”

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Kyriaki Kalaitzidou in front of windows

Adjo Amekudzi-Kennedy

Associate Chair for Global Engineering Leadership and Entrepreneurship

School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

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Adjo Amekudzi-Kennedy with four students, all sitting at a table
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Amekudzi-Kennedy studies system-level problems at the nexus of the built, natural, social, and information environments. Her research aims to improve community quality of life through smart and sustainable infrastructure development and management.

She also thinks about leadership a lot of the time. She was one of the primary architects of the Georgia Tech Global Engineering Leadership Minor. The program steeps students in global grand challenges, cultural literacy, ethical decision-making, and communication skills to prepare the next generation of globally conscious engineer leaders.

Amekudzi-Kennedy said growing more women leaders in the College requires women to be themselves.

“We must be intentional about being women. The qualities we bring as women make the environment more comfortable for women. The more we bring these qualities to our work environments, the more these environments will attract women. They’ll come here, they’ll feel comfortable, and they will do well.”

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Adjo Amekudzi-Kennedy in the library, standing on the stairs in front of a window
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Mary Lynn Realff

Associate Chair for Undergraduate Programs

School of Materials Science and Engineering

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Realff is among the College’s longest-serving women faculty. She and Susan Burns began on the same day in 1992. About 10 years later, Realff began work on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant designed to build more pathways for Georgia Tech’s women engineers. When the funding ran out in 2005, Realff and others institutionalized and expanded the program across all six Colleges.

The ADVANCE Professorship program continues today. Each leader, including the College of Engineering’s Martha Grover (Realff’s mentee), has the ear of the provost and their respective dean. They talk to women faculty members to get viewpoints and ideas that could lead to policy changes and improvements. Despite downplaying her contributions to help establish the initiative, the ADVANCE program and professorships are Realff’s Georgia Tech legacy.

“When the NSF grants began, our primary focus wasn’t on making policy changes. Our first goal was to make people more successful. To do that, Georgia Tech had to improve. Along the way, we’ve helped to establish campus childcare and created a policy that pauses the tenure clock for faculty who need to take family leave. We also advocated for changes that have made the Pathways to Tenure and Promotion process more consistent and transparent across the Colleges.
 
“My research focuses on how teams of people work and communicate with one another. It’s the foundation of the work we’ve done within the ADVANCE program, which doesn’t just benefit women. That’s because if you create opportunities that make women faculty more successful, all faculty will be more successful.”

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Karen Feigh

Associate Chair for Research

Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering

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Feigh is another product of Georgia Tech’s programs who returned for a fruitful research and teaching career. She earned a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering and a Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering with a stop in the United Kingdom for a master’s in aeronautics.

A recognized scholar in human factors — how humans interact with aerospace systems — she recently co-authored a National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine report on the Federal Aviation Administration’s risk assessment of passenger airplanes. Congress requested the report in the wake of two deadly crashes of Boeing’s 737-MAX plane.

She echoed Walton’s comments about the time, perseverance, and support required to have 14 women in leadership in the College: “To get to this point takes a long time. Somebody had to bring us into their labs. Somebody probably in those labs had to convince us that academia was the way to go with our lives. For me, there were active interventions at many points to continue in academia. This is not possible without those people.”

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Susan Burns

Associate Chair for Administration and Finance

School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

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Susan Burns and a student work in the lab

Burns is among the first participants in a new leadership development program at Georgia Tech that embeds faculty members with President Ángel Cabrera’s cabinet for shadowing, mentoring, and executive experience. The Faculty Executive Leadership Academy Fellows also work directly on projects to support the executives and advance Georgia Tech’s strategic plan.

It’s the latest step in Burns’ leadership journey. She was one of the first participants in the Provost’s Emerging Leaders Program. She has been an associate chair in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering for nearly a decade, first leading undergraduate programs and now overseeing administrative and financial operations.

Burns is a leader across the state, too: The Georgia Society of Professional Engineers honored her as the Engineer of the Year in 2020 for her impact in education and practice. Her work focuses on geoenvironmental engineering, particularly on the beneficial use of waste materials like dredged sediments, coal and biomass fly ash, and household waste. She also studies soil erosion control along highways and treatment of highway stormwater runoff.

I started as an undergrad here in 1985, and I never once had a female professor in engineering, science, or math. So, when I look at this group [of women leaders], it's amazing. Even though we might not be done, it's a huge difference.

SUSAN BURNS

 

Burns earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in civil and environmental engineering from Georgia Tech and so has watched from a unique vantage point as women have increased their presence and influence in the College and across campus.

“I started as an undergrad here in 1985, and I never once had a female professor in engineering, science, or math. So, when I look at this group [of women leaders], it’s amazing. Even though we might not be done, it’s a huge difference.”

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Ying Zhang

Senior Associate Chair

School of Electrical and Computer Engineering

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Zhang’s work focuses on systems-level interdisciplinary problems in wireless sensor networks, Internet of Things, biomedical engineering, structural health monitoring, and intelligent monitoring and diagnostic systems. Her passion for research and education includes extending engineering education beyond the technical skills her students will need to succeed. She has devoted significant time and attention to helping students develop communication, presentation, and leadership skills — which she said are just as critical for successful careers.

Over the last two years as a Provost’s Teaching and Learning Fellow, Zhang has worked to build a toolbox of strategies to strengthen teaching in blended, face-to-face, and online environments. She also has turned her attention to enhancing her own leadership skills as a new member of the Georgia Tech Emerging Leaders Program. This initiative builds the capabilities of up-and-coming campus leaders with workshops, retreats, and 360-degree evaluations.

Zhang has had female mentors throughout her career, starting with her Ph.D. advisor, Alice Agogino. At Georgia Tech, it was the College’s ADVANCE Professors — first Mary Ann Weitnauer and later Kim Kurtis and Pinar Keskinocak — who provided critical support. In particular, Zhang credited Weitnauer with offering guidance and encouragement in her first years as an assistant professor for helping her overcome setbacks and build her research program. She said she values leaders, mentors, and colleagues who promote an environment of diversity, equity, and inclusion that ensures women and minorities have access to equal opportunities and resources for success.

“When I was an assistant professor, I felt very isolated. That's why I really appreciate Mary Ann’s help and encouragement. As a junior faculty member, I tended to focus on developing my own research program and working with my students. Now that I am more senior, it's time that I provide more service to others.”

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Anna Erickson

Associate Chair for Research

George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

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Erickson leads the Consortium for Enabling Technologies and Innovation (ETI), a National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)-funded research collaboration. The $25 million consortium includes a dozen universities and a dozen national laboratories focusing on nuclear science, security, and nonproliferation. It has been a significant driver of growth in sponsored programs in the Woodruff School during the last three years.

Interestingly, Erickson said, it’s one of three NNSA consortia, and all are led by women. It’s a far cry from the environment Erickson experienced as a graduate student, postdoc, and early career faculty member in nuclear and radiological engineering (NRE). In those days, she was frequently the only woman around — in fact, it had been decades since a woman was on the Georgia Tech NRE faculty when she was hired in 2012. Now she’s helped recruit two more women to join her.

Meanwhile, Erickson has built a research lab that’s almost 50% women. She’s helping talented undergraduate women join labs elsewhere in the country. And she’s using the ETI consortium to expand the NRE pipeline for women and underrepresented minorities.

"We attract more women to our program every year. It really, truly, is a complete 180 degrees from what it was even 10 years ago. Back when I was an undergrad, we had very few women in nuclear engineering and very few female faculty. It was always normalized, which was not great. So, we’re working on it, and spreading awareness that engineering — and nuclear engineering in particular — is very friendly to women. Women are just rock stars in this field.”

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Lauren Stewart

Interim Associate Chair for Graduate Programs and Research Innovation

School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Stewart began as interim associate chair this academic year, adding to her responsibilities running an active research group and serving as director of Georgia Tech’s large-scale Structural Engineering and Materials Lab.

She has been tapped locally and nationally as a leading voice in engineering, helping to guide the future of the field. That includes being named to Engineering Georgia magazine’s list of 100 Influential Women and as a rising star by Civil + Structural Engineer magazine. The National Academies invited Stewart to its inaugural cohort of New Voices to discuss emerging national and global challenges and to offer new ideas to the academies.

In her research, Stewart focuses on understanding the response of structures to natural and manmade hazards. She’s known for her innovative experimental techniques and for developing unique experimental facilities to study extreme loading of structures such as blast, shock, seismic, and other hazards. She was the first woman — and possibly still the only woman — to direct one of the nation’s large structures labs.

“I changed my major from chemical to structural engineering three weeks into my freshman year after a classmate told me about the field. From there on out, I never had a woman instructor in structural engineering. But I had great male mentors. It wasn’t easy being alone, but their belief in me made it easier.

“Many years later, I’m seeing more women in our field. I see new female faces every time I go to a national conference. I’m also witnessing that growth on our campus: more than half of my research group are women.

“My approach to strengthening that pipeline is more of quality vs. quantity. Broad, sweeping plans can certainly be effective. But my style is more focused: investing in the people already in the field by listening, supporting, and developing them as future leaders. I’m also encouraging them to pay to forward. People made great investments in me as a student. I hope that I’m doing the same.”

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Lauren Stewart
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