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Dr. Karen Panetta Gets An Award At The White House For Being A “Nerd Girl”

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Dr. Karen Panetta received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from President Barack Obama in December of last year. Besides being a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Director of the Simulation Research Laboratory at Tufts University. She is also the co-founder and Chief Research Scientist of BA Logix Inc. and founded an Engineering Outreach Program called Nerd Girls. Read on for more about this amazing(ly busy) woman. 

“Karen Panetta sometimes just has to laugh at the way engineers are portrayed in drawings by young students at the schools she visits,” writes the USA Science & Engineering Festival’s blog. “The children’s crayoned pictures usually depict boorish, geeky male stick figures wearing glasses; some of them have buck teeth and pimples, ‘and they’re most always carrying wrenches,’ says Karen. ‘If you think being an engineer is sitting around being boring, you’re very wrong.'”

Panetta started Nerd Girls as an extra-curricular project at Tufts University. The organization is a “group of women who strive to boost confidence and self-esteem by breaking down the stigmas that intimidate women from engineering. They are dedicated to bringing creativity to design and create things that benefit humanity.”

According to the blog, “now Nerd Girls is an international program with clubs all around the world in middle schools and colleges. ‘Even companies and conferences have started having ‘Nerd Girl’ panels as part of their gatherings to help bring awareness that Nerd Girls are very talented multi-faceted individuals helping to use technology to benefit humanity,’ says Karen.” The program includes mostly college juniors and seniors “from a wide range of engineering disciplines who perform research and problem-solving in renewable energy, technology to help autistic children, and investigation in other areas while serving as role models for younger students.”

Her recent acknowledgment is pretty impressive. “Administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring is awarded by the White House to individuals and organizations in recognition of the crucial role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science and engineering–particularly those who belong to groups that are underrepresented in these fields,” explains the NSF. “By offering their expertise and encouragement, mentors help prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers while ensuring that tomorrow’s innovators reflect and benefit from the diverse talent of the United States.”

Thanks to Panetta’s hard work, Nerd Girls is currently being developed into a television show by the producers of The Dog Whisperer. “My goal when I started the program was to change the way our nation thinks about girls in science and engineering,” said Panetta. “And from the phenomenal growth, and now positive use of the word ‘Nerd Girl’, you can see, we’re getting there!”

(via Steminist, photo by Pete Souza)

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