The Trailblazing Women of CITRIS

The Trailblazing Women of CITRIS

Twenty years ago, thanks to a visionary partnership between the University of California and state leaders, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute was launched to support interdisciplinary research in information technology (IT) to address large-scale societal problems. If IT research was to reach its full promise “in the interest of society,” CITRIS leaders recognized that greater efforts should be devoted to addressing disparities in opportunities for — and recognition of — women in the fields of engineering and computer science. In 2017, CITRIS came together with the UC Berkeley College of Engineering to form the Women in Tech Initiative at the University of California (WIT@UC).

The recent initiative, now led by Director Jill Finlayson, builds on the accomplishments of pioneering women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) who have been integral to CITRIS’s success over the last two decades. From our founding director, Ruzena Bajcsy to the many women who are part of our four-campus ecosystem, the contributions of women are an important part of CITRIS’s story.

This March, CITRIS celebrates Women’s History Month by highlighting some of the many trailblazing women that have shaped CITRIS’s community. “The Women in Tech Initiative is pleased to recognize the innovative technical contributions and guidance these trailblazers offer the next generation of STEM leaders,” said Finlayson. “We will honor the contributions of more inspiring role models at our annual Women in Tech Symposium on March 12.”

We hope these stories will inspire more women and girls to learn more about and pursue careers in STEM.

Alice M. Agogino
Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes Chair in Mechanical Engineering, UC Berkeley
Chief Executive Officer, Squishy Robotics

Women of CITRIS - Alice Agogino

Alice M. Agogino is a CITRIS researcher and the Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley. She is also the CEO of Squishy Robotics, a company that develops rapidly deployable mobile sensing robots for disaster rescue, remote monitoring, and space exploration.

Agogino was one of three principal investigators of the 2017 “Million Hands” CITRIS seed-funded project that aimed to build an open-source platform for customizable, functional, and low-cost prosthetic hands. In her career, 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 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 studies 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, including the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. In 2020, she received the WIT@UC Athena Award for Academic Leadership.

Nina Amenta
Professor and Department Chair of Computer Science, UC Davis
Campus Director Emerita, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute

Nina Amenta is a professor of computer science and the chair of the Computer Science Department at UC Davis. She specializes in computational geometry and computer graphics, particularly in reconstructing surfaces from scattered data points. Amenta served as a CITRIS campus director at UC Davis from 2011 to 2015. Under her direction, CITRIS at UC Davis increased the number of affiliated faculty and participation in the CITRIS Seed Funding program, increased connections with researchers at the UCD Medical Center, and launched UC Davis’s participation in the CITRIS Mobile App Challenge. She currently collaborates with C.U.N.Y. physical anthropologist Eric Delson to model the gradual evolutionary change of primate species over time by combining laser scanner models of the skulls of existing and fossil species.

Ruzena Bajcsy
Professor Emerita, UC Berkeley, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS)
Founding Director, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute

Ruzena Bajcsy is one of the most influential robotics researchers of the last half-century. A Holocaust survivor who grew up in foster homes, Bajcsy left eastern Europe for the United States at a young age to forge her path in the sciences, forever changing the global robotics landscape. She was the first woman to get a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in Slovakia and went on to obtain two PhDs from Stanford. Throughout her 28-year tenure at the University of Pennsylvania as a computer science professor, Bajcsy’s work on medical imaging identifies anatomic structures of the brain in X-ray tomography and MRI/positron image tomography, now standard in medical practice. In 1998, she became the first woman to lead the National Science Foundation’s Directorate of Computer and Information Science and Engineering.

Bajscy came to UC Berkeley in 2001, becoming the founding director of CITRIS and served in this capacity for the next four years. Under her leadership, CITRIS developed technologies to alleviate the 2001 California energy crisis, innovated nanoscale sensor chips, and began construction on CITRIS headquarters at Sutardja Dai Hall. She continues her research as an electrical engineering and computer sciences (EECS) professor emerita at UC Berkeley, exploring kinematic and dynamic parameters to assess possibilities and limitations in robotics technology. She was recognized with an Athena Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2016, presented by her granddaughter Andrea Bajcsy, a Ph.D. candidate in EECS at UC Berkeley.

Camille Crittenden
Executive Director, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute
Co-Executive Director, Digital Transformation Institute

Camille Crittenden is the executive director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute and co-executive director of the Digital Transformation Institute. At CITRIS, she co-founded the CITRIS Policy Lab and the Women in Tech Initiative. She joined CITRIS in 2012 as director of the Data and Democracy program, was named deputy director of the organization in 2013, and became executive director in 2019. Under her leadership, CITRIS launched the CITRIS Foundry, Tech For Social Good program, partnered with Governor Gavin Newsom on the California Report Card, and developed the Vision 2025 strategic plan.

Crittenden leads the NSF-funded Pacific Research Platform project, a science-driven high-capacity data-centric “freeway system” on a large regional-scale. In 2019-20, Crittenden chaired the California Blockchain Working Group, a state-appointed committee of 20 experts exploring the economic and social implications of blockchain technology. She has written and spoken widely on human rights, technology, and new media, as well as technology applications for civic engagement, government transparency and accountability, and the digital divide.

Anca Dragan
Assistant Professor, UC Berkeley, EECS

Photo Credit: Noah Berger

Anca Dragan is a CITRIS researcher, member of the CPAR Executive Leadership Committee, and an assistant professor at UC Berkeley whose goal is to enable robots to work with, around, and in support of people. She runs the Interactive Autonomy and Collaborative Technologies Laboratory, where researchers focus on algorithms for human-robot interaction. These algorithms move beyond the robot’s function in isolation and generate robot behavior that coordinates well with people and aligns with the robot’s direction. She works across different applications, from assistive arms to quadrotors and autonomous cars, drawing from optimal control, game theory, reinforcement learning, Bayesian inference, and cognitive science. 

Dragan also helped found and serve on the steering committee for the Berkeley AI Research Lab and is a co-PI of the Center for Human-Compatible AI. She has been honored by the Sloan Fellowship, MIT TR35, the Okawa Award, an NSF CAREER award, and the Presidential Early Career Award.

Jennifer Granholm
US Secretary of Energy
Former Governor of Michigan, 2003-11

Jennifer Granholm is Michigan’s 47th governor. In her tenure as governor from 2003 to 2011, she facilitated clean-energy development by strategizing entire supply chains in Michigan. Creating economic incentives for clean-energy companies to locate in her state, Granholm’s plan brought more than 89,000 jobs and $9.4 billion in investments for this sector. Under her leadership, Michigan was twice recognized by The Pew Center as one of the best-managed states in the nation. 

She is the co-author of the political bestseller, “A Governor’s Story: The Fight for Jobs and America’s Economic Future.” At CITRIS, Granholm focused on the development of clean energy policy and technology roadmaps through The American Jobs Project. Active between 2014 and 2019, The American Jobs Project was a national research project focused on constructing state-specific policy and technology roadmaps to create good-paying middle-class jobs in advanced energy economic clusters in 10 states. 

In December 2020, President-elect Joe Biden nominated Granholm to lead the US Department of Energy. She was confirmed as the Secretary of Energy on February 25, 2021.

Erin Hestir
Associate Director, CITRIS Merced
Associate Professor, Environmental Engineering at UC Merced 

erin hestir

Erin Hestir is an associate professor of geomatics in civil and environmental engineering and associate director of CITRIS at UC Merced. Her research focuses on methods to innovate in agriculture and sustain biodiversity and aquatic ecosystems while balancing societal needs for water and food security. She leads the Remote Sensing and Earth Observation Lab and is an expert in geospatial analytics, hyperspectral and satellite remote sensing, and sensor networks for inland and coastal waters and wetlands.

At CITRIS, Erin Hestir launched the ¡Valle! career training program which aims to expand STEM access for San Joaquin Valley students with funding support from Google’s exploreCSR. Hestir is also an adjunct senior lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia. She is a member of the International Ocean Color Coordinating Group working group on coastal and inland water quality and is the North American coordinator for the Group on Earth Observations Freshwater Biodiversity Observation Network. She earned her bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and her Ph.D. from UC Davis. She held a postdoctoral fellowship in Environmental Earth Observation at the CSIRO in Australia, leading a research program to improve systematic national monitoring of water quality and aquatic ecosystems using Earth observations. Prior to joining UC Merced, Hestir was an assistant professor and Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Fellow in Geospatial Analytics at North Carolina State University.

Katherine Kim
Associate Professor, Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis
Associate Professor, UC Davis School of Medicine, Department of Public Health

Katherine Kim

Katherine Kim is a CITRIS researcher and an associate professor with a joint appointment in the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis and the School of Medicine, Department of Public Health. She leads research projects using participatory methods to design, implement and evaluate mobile and social technology-enabled health interventions and distributed research networks. Her areas of clinical interest include cancer, obesity, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. Her work has been funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), McKesson Foundation, and Boston University National Cancer Institute.

As a CITRIS researcher, Kim has led multiple CITRIS Seed Funded projects including the 2020 “Discovery of Symptom Phenotypes and Trajectories for COVID-19 Adaptive Interventions” project that aimed to create an innovative symptom science platform to collect comprehensive, longitudinal data and testing results and apply cutting-edge machine learning methods to predict infection. In addition, she is also a lead principal investigator on the CITRIS Health ACTIVATE project.

Tsu-Jae King Liu
Dean, UC Berkeley College of Engineering
Co-founder, Women in Tech Initiative at UC

Women of CITRIS - Tsu Jae King Liu
Photo Credit: Noah Berger

Tsu-Jae King Liu is the first woman to become dean at the UC Berkeley College of Engineering. She is also the co-founder of the Women in Tech Initiative at the University of California, a program jointly launched by CITRIS and the Banatao Institute and Berkeley Engineering in 2017 to advocate for women in the tech industry and academia to be proportionately represented and equitably compensated throughout professional ranks.

As a researcher, Liu leads a team that explores novel semiconductor devices, non-volatile memory devices, and M/NEMS technology for ultra-low power circuits. She has contributed to many developments in the field of semiconductor devices and technology and has co-authored over 500 papers in the field. Liu’s contributions span many research areas but she is perhaps best known for the development of polycrystalline silicon-germanium thin-film technology for applications in integrated circuits and microsystems. Liu is also the co-inventor of the three-dimensional FinFET transistor (fin field-effect transistor), the design used in many leading microprocessor chips today. Liu was elected to the National Academy of Engineering “for contributions to the fin field-effect transistor (FinFET) and its application to nanometer complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology.”

Sri Kurniawan
Professor and Department Chair, Computational Media Department, Jack Baskin School of Engineering, University of California Santa Cruz

Sri Kurniawan is a CITRIS researcher and professor and chair of the Computational Media Department at the Jack Baskin School of Engineering. She directs the Assistive Sociotechnical Solutions for Individuals with Special needs using Technology (ASSIST) Lab. Her interdisciplinary research focuses on the design and evaluation of interactive systems that help people with special needs, including older persons, people from the majority world, those with low socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, and disabled people and children. The web browsing interface that her research group developed is one of the most widely used applications by blind people in the UK. She had worked with a research lab in the Czech Republic to build a humming-operated mouse and keyboard for people with combined motor and speech impairment and with a research lab in Malaysia to help Malay-speaking stroke survivors. 

Kurniawan led the following CITRIS Seed Funded projects: “Virtual Speech Therapist for Stroke Survivors” (2008), “Digital Birth: Improving Perinatal Outcomes for Under-Served Californians Through Game-Based Learning” (2011), “On-Demand Telemonitoring for Independent Living Older Adults” (2012), and “Interactive Virtual Platform for Intergenerational Wellbeing of Essential Worker Communities in a Medical Desert: Promoting Health Equity During and After Pandemic” (2020). 

Xin Liu
Associate Professor, UC Davis

Women of CITRIS - Xin Liu

Xin Liu is a CITRIS researcher and associate professor in the Computer Science Department at UC Davis. She studies data-driven approaches in networking, including applications in 5G, internet of things (IoT), data security, and edge computing. In 2020, Liu became a co-investigator of a new NSF-funded center called the AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems, or AIFS. 

Liu led a CITRIS COVID-19 Response Seed Funded project titled “Discovery of Symptom Phenotypes and Trajectories for COVID-19 Adaptive Interventions,” which focuses on creating an innovative science platform to collect comprehensive data on patient symptoms and test results and apply machine learning methods to predict infection and illness. Liu is also an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Fellow. In 2003, she received the Computer Networks Journal Best Paper of Year Award for her work on opportunistic scheduling. In 2005, she received the NSF CAREER award for her research on Smart-Radio-Technology-Enabled Opportunistic Spectrum Utilization. In 2011, she became a Chancellor’s Fellow at UC Davis.

Brandie Nonnecke
Director, CITRIS Policy Lab

Women of CITRIS - Brandie Nonnecke

Brandie Nonnecke is the founding director of the CITRIS Policy Lab where she supports interdisciplinary tech policy research and engagement. Under her direction, the CITRIS Policy Lab has published multiple articles, white papers, and policy briefs on a variety of emerging tech policy issues, including governance of artificial intelligence, the future of work, digital inclusion, and platform governance. She is a Technology and Human Rights Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She also served as a fellow at the Aspen Institute’s Tech Policy Hub and at the World Economic Forum on the Council on the Future of the Digital Economy and Society. Nonnecke was named one of the 100 Brilliant Women in AI Ethics in 2021.

Brandie has deep expertise in information and communication technology (ICT) policy and internet governance. She is a co-chair of the University of California (UC) Presidential Working Group on AI, which will establish principles and operational guides for the UC system’s use of AI, and is leading a collaboration with the California Department of Technology to guide the state’s AI strategy. She is a co-PI on the NSF-funded “TechHive AI” project, an innovative learning program to teach high school students about cybersecurity and the ethics of AI.

Grace O’Connell
Associate Professor, UC Berkeley Mechanical Engineering

Grace O'Connell

Grace O’Connell is a CITRIS researcher and an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley researching soft tissue biomechanics and tissue regeneration. Specifically, her goal is to understand the mechanical function of the healthy, degenerated, and injured intervertebral discs to develop more physiologically relevant repair strategies. Injury, through herniation, or degeneration may lead to debilitating lower back pain. Current research is focused on understanding alterations in biomechanics and tissue remodeling with degeneration and injury. Other studies are focused on using organ culture techniques to directly measure tissue remodeling and potential biological repair strategies.

In 2017, O’Connell teamed up with Alice Agogino and Sanjay Joshi, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC Davis, on the CITRIS seed-funded “Million Hands” project to make prosthetic hands scalable at a low-cost, and customizable for individuals with different hand shapes. In 2020, O’Connell worked on developing methods to transform sleep apnea machines into ventilators for medium-risk hospital patients afflicted with COVID-19. With her UC Berkeley team of engineers, she explored additional modifications to commercial sleep apnea devices with parts produced by 3D printers at the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation and the CITRIS Invention Lab.

Claire J. Tomlin
Professor, UC Berkeley, EECS
Director, CITRIS Sustainable Infrastructures

Claire Tomlin

Claire Tomlin directs the CITRIS Sustainable Infrastructures Initiative and is a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at UC Berkeley, where she holds the Charles A. Desoer Chair in Engineering. She specializes in the control of safety-critical systems applied to air traffic control automation and unmanned air systems and is known for her pioneering work developing methods for verifying the safe range of operation for hybrid systems. Under Tomlin’s leadership, CITRIS Sustainable Infrastructures pursues information technology research in energy, water, and transportation as parts of the cyber-infrastructure of a sustainable society. The program examines smart cities, decarbonized mobility, resilience, energy storage, and grid connectivity, along with climate change mitigation. 

Among her numerous awards and honors are an NSF Career Award (1999), a MacArthur Fellowship (2006), and IEEE Transportation Technologies Award (2017). In 2014, she developed and led the successful Berkeley Engineering summer program known as Girls in Engineering, which served more than 200 students from 60 Bay Area schools in its first two years. She was recognized with the inaugural Athena Award for Academic Leadership in 2016.

Heather Young
Founding Dean of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, UC Davis Health

Heather Young

A former faculty director of CITRIS Health, Heather Young is a professor and dean emerita for the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis. Her research focuses on healthy aging between individuals, families, and formal health care systems. She co-leads the Healthy Aging in a Digital World initiative at UC Davis Health where researchers connect technology with independent living and access to healthcare. She also prepares patients and their families to deal with chronic health issues as associate director for strategic partnerships and faculty with the School of Nursing’s Family Caregiving Institute.

Young is co-director of the Latino Aging Research Resource Center and is also the principal investigator for a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) study seeking to improve health for individuals with diabetes through technology-enabled nurse coaching. As founding dean and associate vice chancellor for nursing for UC Davis Health, Young led the establishment of the School of Nursing, the development of five new graduate programs in Nursing Science and Health-Care Leadership, the construction of Betty Irene Moore Hall, and the formation of a nursing science research program focused on health systems. She served as a Commissioner on the California Future Healthcare Workforce Commission.


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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