2024 EDGE in Tech Athena Award recipients embody diverse perspectives in tech

Collage of photos of Elaine Gómez, Amy Wendt, Alexandra Piotrowski-Daspit and the Women in STEM logo.

The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS) at the University of California (UC) are proud to announce the winners of the 2024 EDGE in Tech Athena Awards, conferred to an exceptional cohort of pioneers in diversity, equity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The EDGE in Tech Athena Awards will be presented by the CITRIS Innovation Hub, a CITRIS program dedicated to accelerating research into action. The Innovation Hub continues the mission of Expanding Diversity and Gender Equity in Tech (EDGE in Tech), a CITRIS legacy initiative founded in 2016 as the Women in Technology initiative by CITRIS and the UC Berkeley College of Engineering.

The 2024 Athena Awards are given in four categories: 

  • Executive leadership, for experienced leaders who support the professional development and promotion of women in technology at scale 
  • Academic leadership, for senior researchers in academia or national laboratories who have a noteworthy technical career and an established record of mentorship
  • Early career excellence, for promising young leaders in STEM in industry, academia or the public sector
  • Next-generation engagement, for organizations that encourage girls or young women to pursue tech careers

Recipients were nominated by peers and colleagues who have been inspired and motivated by their efforts to foster inclusion in their disciplines. This year’s Athena Awards will be presented at the eighth annual EDGE in Tech symposium, held on Friday, March 8, at the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art on the UC Davis campus.

“From high school students taking the lead on STEM mentorship, to a game changer on the leaderboard of the gaming sector, to an innovator in plasmas for circuit fabrication, to a groundbreaking biomedical engineer, this year’s EDGE in Tech Athena Awards recognize inspiring leaders who embed their commitment to fostering inclusion and next-generation talent in STEM into everything they do,” said Jill Finlayson, managing director of the CITRIS Innovation Hub. “CITRIS is proud to shine a spotlight on these incredible STEM role models, who are chosen through a competitive nomination process.”

Congratulations to the 2024 honorees:

Executive Leadership Award

Elaine Gómez
Founder and CEO, MidnightHour Games; Co-founder and Vice President, Latinx in Gaming

Elaine Gómez.

A visionary in the gaming industry, Elaine Gómez has exemplified steadfast commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion, particularly within the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities.

As the co-founder of Latinx in Gaming and founder and CEO of MidnightHour Games, Gómez has been a leading advocate for the Latinx community in gaming. Her role as community content director at Gay Gaming Professionals illustrates her dedication to the LGBTQ+ community in emerging tech. Her innovative project BlinkLand, developed under MidnightHour Games, merges entertainment with educational impact, focusing on eye health through engaging trivia and mini-games.

Gómez has been named one of the GI 100 Game Changers by GamesIndustry.Biz, a 2020 Future Class member by The Game Awards and a 2019 Pixelles Game Developers Conference Scholar. Through collective efforts, Latinx in Gaming received a 2020 Global Gaming Citizen Award from The Game Awards and the 2020 Intel Award of Brilliance, shared at Intel Gamer Days. 

Gómez’s involvement in community initiatives and frequent appearance as a mentor and public speaker for inclusivity-focused groups extends her influence further. She has supported organizations like Code Coven and Cal Marginalized Genders in Gaming, focusing on uniting marginalized communities within the gaming industry. Her leadership in these programs has paved the way for more inclusive representation and opportunities in gaming and creative tech development.

Elaine Gómez holds a bachelor’s degree in information technology and informatics from Rutgers University and a Master of Fine Arts in interactive media and game design from the University of Southern California. 

Academic Leadership Award

Amy Wendt
Associate Vice Chancellor for Research in the Physical Sciences, University of Wisconsin—Madison; Co-Director, University of Wisconsin–Madison Inclusion in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI)

Amy Wendt

Amy Wendt currently serves as the associate vice chancellor for research in the physical sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she has been a professor of electrical and computer engineering since 1990.

Her work on plasmas used in materials processing has been vital in advancing integrated circuit fabrication technology, which is crucial for producing a vast array of consumer electronics, such as computers, cell phones and solar panels​​.

Beyond her technical prowess, Wendt has been a transformational figure in academic leadership at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. As the second woman to be tenured in her department, she blazed a trail for future generations of women engineers and scientists. Under her guidance as co-director, the university’s Inclusion in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI) has embraced new directions to more effectively support faculty diversity and inclusion. 

Her dedication to diversity and mentorship reaches beyond the university into the community. Wendt’s leadership in projects like the NSF-supported Society’s Grand Challenges for Engineering middle school instruction project has aimed to increase STEM interest among underrepresented groups, with a special focus on girls. Her involvement in initiatives like the Expanding Your Horizons conference highlights her holistic approach to education, emphasizing both the technical and societal impacts of engineering. 

Wendt holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering and applied sciences from the California Institute of Technology. She received her master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from UC Berkeley.

Early Career Award

Alexandra Piotrowski-Daspit
Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Internal Medicine, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Division, University of Michigan

Alexandra Piotrowski-Daspit.

Alexandra Piotrowski-Daspit, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, has carved a niche in groundbreaking research in biomedical engineering and internal medicine.

Her doctoral work in three-dimensional cell culture models significantly advanced understanding of tumor development and mechanics, and her award-winning postdoctoral research on gene correction technologies, particularly her development of non-viral vehicles for gene delivery to the lung, has been instrumental in opening new treatment pathways for cystic fibrosis. 

At the University of Michigan, Piotrowski-Daspit’s lab develops cutting-edge strategies for treating hereditary disorders and works to bridge the gap between chemical engineering and medical applications.

Piotrowski-Daspit is first author on six papers and co-first author on two others, and she has also co-authored a significant book chapter on mechanical signaling in tumors. Her accolades include the K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Postdoc-to-Faculty Transition Award, and teaching awards from Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Beyond her research, she demonstrates her commitment to the scientific community through service. Piotrowski-Daspit is a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy, and she plays a pivotal role in organizing and moderating Cystic Fibrosis Foundation conferences. Her dedication to mentorship and diversity is evident through involvement in initiatives like the Community College Summer Fellowship program, aimed at supporting underrepresented students.

Piotrowski-Daspit holds a bachelor’s degree from MIT and a doctoral degree in chemical and biological engineering from Princeton University.

Next-generation Engagement

Women in STEM (WiSTEM)

WiSTEM logo.

Founded in 2017 at the University of Chicago Lab Schools, Women in STEM (WiSTEM) has become an instrumental force in bridging social justice with STEM education. Recognizing the significant gender disparity in many STEM fields, WiSTEM has implemented dual-driven approaches to address both attitudes toward women in STEM and limited opportunities available for girls and young women in STEM at the high school level.

WiSTEM, which is led by high school students for high school students, has developed comprehensive offerings, including constructive discussions, guest speaker events and a mentorship program that pairs high school students with university mentors. This strategic approach, guided by expert advice and quantitative research, has empowered WiSTEM to inspire girls at a critical decision-making age and introduce them to potential STEM careers.

Since its inception, WiSTEM has engaged over 450 women as mentors and speakers and reached more than 3,400 high school girls. Its initiatives span 31 states and 14 countries, and its efforts include partnerships with more than 20 universities and corporate entities. 

Its notable initiatives include the University Applications Panel, which helps students navigate academic paths. WiSTEM’s Ready to Shoot for the Stars? speaker series, featuring prominent aerospace professionals, has opened doors to career paths and mentorship opportunities for its members.

Looking ahead, WiSTEM is committed to onboarding new chapters, growing from 3,400 to 10,000 members, and transitioning into a formal 501(c)(3) organization. As it expands, WiSTEM continues to build upon its foundation of empowering young women in STEM.

Please join CITRIS on March 8 to celebrate this year’s winners and explore the ways in which diversity in talent can drive innovation in health tech, aiming for inclusive solutions that benefit everyone. Tickets for the 2024 EDGE in Tech Symposium: Advancing Health Tech for All are now available.