A data-driven leader in education innovation. A trailblazing engineer and administrator. The first female principal investigator of a National Robotics Initiative grant at not one, but two, University of California campuses. And an organization that trains survivors of human trafficking and gender-based violence for careers as software engineers.
These educators, innovators, advocates and allies are the recipients of the 2022 EDGE in Tech Initiative Athena Awards from the Expanding Diversity and Gender Equity in Tech (EDGE in Tech) Initiative at UC. The awardees exemplify the goals of EDGE in Tech: to recognize those who embody, encourage and promote people who identify as women and people of color in technology.
Founded in 2016 as the Women in Tech Initiative and renamed in 2021 to better reflect its inclusive mission, EDGE in Tech is a joint program of the Center for Information Technology in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS) and the UC Berkeley College of Engineering. Each year, the initiative presents the Athena Awards at its annual symposium, to be held virtually this year on March 10 and 11.
The 2022 awards are given in four categories, to recognize achievements in executive leadership, academic leadership, early career excellence and next-generation engagement. Winners were nominated by peers and colleagues who have been inspired by their work and efforts to foster inclusion in the field.
Executive Leadership Award
As lead of research inclusion and North America academic development at Google, Sepi Hejazi Moghadam is transforming computer science education and creating pathways for a diverse generation of tech leaders. He played a core role in launching Google’s flagship exploreCSR outreach program, which has served students from marginalized or underrepresented groups at more than one hundred universities across North America and Australasia since its inception in 2018.
Confronting the diversity crisis in tech, Moghadam uses data-driven research on societal and academic metrics and teacher efficacy to ensure that each of his programs improves both the diversity of the tech industry and the lives of participants — a dual mandate few companies have been able to replicate. Through his efforts, more computer science programs today are lowering the barriers to entry and improving students’ sense of belonging, which contributes to a more diverse talent pool and a more dynamic workforce.
Moghadam’s innovative leadership is transforming how educators teach computer science to be more inclusive and to actively retain women and people of color in STEM.
Academic Leadership Award
Vice President for Research and Innovation, University of California Office of the President
Theresa Maldonado’s academic leadership spans more than 30 years across five universities and includes nearly two decades in strategic research and administrative roles. Before joining the University of California as vice president for research and innovation in 2020, she was Dean and Riter Professor of Engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).
Maldonado has extensive experience at the federal level in advancing engineering research, education and commercialization initiatives. From 2011–14, she directed the National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Education and Centers (EEC) Division in the Engineering Directorate, where she was responsible for a $135 million budget in support of interdisciplinary research centers, innovations in engineering education, broadening participation in engineering and more.
Throughout her career, Maldonado has championed underrepresented groups in engineering. At the NSF, she served on the committee that formed and launched the ADVANCE program, which works to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers; chaired the congressionally mandated Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering (CEOSE); and facilitated the development of a multiyear initiative to investigate how department cultures can negatively impact recruiting and retention of underrepresented groups. At UTEP, she updated engineering admissions and advising practices to support a majority Mexican American student population.
Maldonado was the first person in her family to earn a college degree, as well as the first Mexican American and the fourth woman to earn a doctorate from Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Early Career Award
Verónica Ahumada is a pioneer in the field of robot-mediated learning and development. Her interdisciplinary contributions to the field of human-robot interaction include the co-creation of improved robot design and best practices guidelines for human-robot interactions.
Among research endeavors spanning disciplines and even continents, Ahumada is the principal investigator of a $1 million-dollar NSF National Robotics Initiative (NRI) grant to create better educational robots for children who are restricted to their homes due to medical conditions or disabilities. She is also a co-investigator on a $1.2 million UC Multicampus Research Project to create telemanipulation robots to help protect health care workers and increase social inclusion for people at high risk of infection.
In addition to technical innovation, Ahumada has demonstrated leadership in diversity, equity and inclusion. She was the first female PI of an NRI grant at UC Irvine and then at UC Davis. She is a member of an all-female team studying telerobots to increase health care worker safety and reduce isolation for older adults. She also founded the Latino Excellence and Achievement Awards at UC Irvine to celebrate academic achievement and raise awareness of the underrepresentation of Latinx scholars in STEM.
Ahumada is a first-generation Mexican American scholar. As a Latina professor from the United States, she is part of only 1 percent of the UC STEM professoriate — even though Latinxs are the largest population group in California.
Next-generation Engagement Award
The mission of tech nonprofit AnnieCannons is to “transform survivors of human trafficking and gender-based violence into software engineers.” By teaching students practical skills in computer coding and matching them with real-world clients, AnnieCannons helps women and trafficking victims support their lives and independence with their own source of income.
The program starts with data literacy and advances through front-end web development as students demonstrate mastery. Later phases include full-stack development, cybersecurity, visual design and more. AnnieCannons has designed a work environment tailored to their graduates and their families’ needs, including on-site child care, counseling services and opportunities for remote work. The women participating in the program have been referred by shelters or case management providers in the Bay Area.
AnnieCannons’ co-founders met at Stanford while working on human rights projects. Co-founder and current CEO Laura Hackney is a UC Berkeley alumna, a graduate of political science and Chinese studies.
Please join EDGE in TECH and CITRIS on March 10 and 11 to celebrate this year’s Athena Award recipients and explore the experiences of experts in climate tech and environmental justice. Tickets for the 2022 Diversity in Tech Symposium: Advancing Climate Resilience are available Jan. 18.