About Dean Ayanna Howard
Accomplished roboticist, entrepreneur and educator Ayanna Howard, PhD, became dean of the College of Engineering on March 1. Previously she was chair of the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Interactive Computing in the College of Computing, as well as founder and director of the Human-Automation Systems Lab (HumAnS).
Her career spans higher education, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the private sector. Dr. Howard is the founder and president of the board of directors of Zyrobotics, a Georgia Tech spin-off company that develops mobile therapy and educational products for children with special needs. Zyrobotics products are based on Dr. Howard’s research.
Among many accolades, Forbes named Dr. Howard to its America's Top 50 Women In Tech list. In May 2021, the Association for Computing Machinery named her the ACM Athena Lecturer in recognition of fundamental contributions to the development of accessible human-robotic systems and artificial intelligence, along with forging new paths to broaden participation in computing.
Dr. Howard also is a tenured professor in the college’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering with a joint appointment in Computer Science and Engineering.
She is the first woman to lead the College of Engineering. Nationally, only 17% of engineering deans or directors across the country are female, according to the Society of Women Engineers. She also is the college’s second Black dean. George Mason University President Gregory Washington served as interim dean from 2008 to 2011. Throughout her career, Dr. Howard has been active in helping to diversify the engineering profession for women, underrepresented minorities, and individuals with disabilities.
Dr. Howard earned her bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Brown University, her master’s degree and PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California, and her MBA from Claremont Graduate University.
From 1993 to 2005, she worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she held multiple roles including senior robotics researcher and deputy manager in the Office of the Chief Scientist. Among other projects, Howard was involved in developing SmartNav — an autonomous, next-generation Mars rover — and SnoMotes, toy-sized robots that can explore icy terrain that is too dangerous for scientists.
She joined Georgia Tech in 2005 as an associate professor and the founder of the HumAnS lab. The lab focuses on humanized intelligence, which uses techniques such as sensing and learning to enhance the autonomous capabilities of robots or other computerized systems. The HumAnS lab has generated more than 250 publications and $8.5 million in principal investigators-led research funding.
Among other roles at Georgia Tech, Dr. Howard was program director of the nation’s first multidisciplinary robotics PhD program; associate chair for faculty development in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and associate director of research at the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines.
In 2013, she founded Zyrobotics to help translate the lab’s research into commercial products for children with special needs. Zyrobotics spun off as a non-profit in 2020.
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