The 2020 Women in Tech Initiative Athena Awards recognize outstanding contributions in Executive Leadership, Academic Leadership, Early Career, and Next Generation Engagement.
By Kat Madrigal Cheng
A pioneering woman in AI and Machine Learning, the first woman to receive tenure in her field at UC Berkeley, a computer scientist and digital activist challenging bias in decision-making software, and an organization that has introduced 185,000 girls to coding and computer science. The winners of this year’s Women in Tech Initiative Athena Awards represent a wide range of talents and contributions to the tech field and exemplify the goals of our program: to recognize those who embody, encourage, and promote the inclusion of women in technology.
Founded in 2016, the Women in Tech Initiative at the University of California is a joint initiative of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute and the UC Berkeley College of Engineering. Each year, the Women in Tech Initiative presents the Athena Awards at its annual symposium, to be held on Friday, March 6, 2020. This year’s event will highlight the experiences of women working in cybersecurity and explore the implications of “cybersecurity for all,” with speakers and participants from a variety of sectors and backgrounds.
This year’s awards are given in four categories to recognize outstanding contributions in Executive Leadership, Academic Leadership, Early Career, and Next Generation Engagement. Winners were nominated by peers and colleagues who have been inspired by their work, leadership, and efforts to foster inclusion in the field. Learn more about our winners below:
Rama K. Akkiraju, IBM Fellow and Distinguished Engineer
Rama Akkiraju is an IBM Fellow, Master Inventor and IBM Academy Member, and a director at IBM’s Watson Division where she leads the mission to scale AI for enterprises. Akkiraju was named as one of the “Top 20 Women in AI Research” by Forbes in 2017, has been featured in “A-Team in AI” by Fortune in 2018, and named “Top 10 pioneering women in AI and Machine Learning” by Enterprise Management 360. In her career, Akkiraju has worked on agent-based decision support systems, business process management, and semantic Web services, for which she led a World-Wide-Web (W3C) standard. She has co-authored four book chapters and over 100 technical papers.
In her role as a technical leader and executive in the industry, Akkiraju has recruited, mentored, and promoted technical women consistently within IBM and outside. At IBM, her 30-member team is 49 percent women at IBM Watson Group, a rare statistic in the computer science field. Akkiraju has presented at various Women in Technology and Women in Engineering meetups and forums. She frequently co-teaches leadership education courses at IBM to women who are part of the technical women pipeline program. She often presents to middle school and high school girls encouraging them to pursue computer science. She also mentors several high school girls from her neighborhood including her own daughter.
Alice Agogino, Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley
Alice M. Agogino is the Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley. Agogino directs the BEST Lab, which conducts research at the intersection of cutting-edge frontiers in design research, computational design, sustainability, gender equity, human-machine cognition, supervisory control, soft robotics, sensor fusion, design research, and intelligent learning systems. She works with 50 San Francisco Bay Area companies and nonprofits on technology research in product design and sustainability and has authored over 300 peer-reviewed publications. She is also the CEO of Squishy Robotics, which develops rapidly deployable mobile sensing robots for disaster rescue, remote monitoring, and space exploration. Their emergent technologies combine robotics, mobile sensing, machine learning, big data fusion, and smart IoT (Internet of Things).
With the understanding that good intentions will not create change, Agogino has worked tirelessly to structure active programs to reduce barriers for women in science and engineering. In 2012, Alice received the AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award for efforts to significantly increase the number of women in the mechanical engineering field. She received the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence in 2006 for building an equitable and diverse learning environment. She co-authored the National Academies study on Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Science, Engineering, and Medical Workplaces (2018); From Science to Business: Preparing Female Scientists and Engineers for Successful Transitions into Entrepreneurship (2012); and Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering (2007). Agogino has won numerous teaching, research, outreach, and mentoring awards, most recently the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in 2018.
Joy Buolamwini, Founder, Algorithmic Justice League
Joy Buolamwini uses art and research to illuminate the social implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI). She founded the Algorithmic Justice League to create a world with more ethical and inclusive technology. Her TED Featured Talk on algorithmic bias has over one million views, and her MIT thesis uncovered significant racial and gender bias in AI services from companies like Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon. Her research has been covered in over 40 countries, and she has championed the need for algorithmic justice at the World Economic Forum and the United Nations. She serves on the Global Tech Panel convened by the vice president of the European Commission to advise world leaders and technology executives on ways to reduce the harms of AI. In late 2018, in partnership with the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology, Buolamwini launched the Safe Face Pledge, the first agreement of its kind to prohibit the lethal application of facial analysis and recognition technology.
As a creative science communicator, Buolamwini has written op-eds on the impact of AI for publications including TIME and the New York Times. In her quest to tell stories that make “daughters of diasporas dream and sons of privilege pause,” her spoken word visual audit “AI, Ain’t I A Woman?” illustrating AI failures on the faces of iconic women like Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Serena Williams, as well as her Coded Gaze short, have been part of exhibitions at institutions ranging from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to the Barbican Centre in London.
Next Generation Engagement
Girls Who Code
Girls Who Code is a nonprofit organization which aims to support and increase the number of women in computer science by equipping young women with the necessary computing skills to pursue 21st-century opportunities. The organization works to close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what a programmer looks like.
Girls Who Code hosts a seven-week Summer Immersion Program, a two-week specialized Campus Program, after-school Clubs, and a New York Times best-selling book series. Since its founding in 2012, Girls Who Code has expanded to clubs across the country. By the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, Girls Who Code will have reached over 185,000 girls across all 50 states, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In 2019, Girls Who Code was named Most Innovative Non-Profit by Fast Company.
The 4th Annual Women in Tech symposium on “Reimagining Cybersecurity for All” will be held Friday, March 6, 2020, at the Bechtel Engineering Center’s Sibley Auditorium on the UC Berkeley campus. For detailed schedule, speakers, and to register, please visit the event page.
The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners.
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