The Ohio State University has hired accomplished roboticist, entrepreneur and educator Ayanna Howard as dean of the College of Engineering. Howard earned her undergraduate engineering degree from Brown University in 1993.
She will join Ohio State on March 1 from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she is chair of the School of Interactive Computing in the College of Computing as well as founder and director of the Human-Automation Systems Lab (HumAnS). She will also be a tenured professor in the college’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering with a joint appointment in Computer Science and Engineering.
Her career spans higher education, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the private sector. 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 Howard’s research.
Among many accolades, Forbes named Howard to its America's Top 50 Women In Tech list, and she was honored as a Brown Engineering Alumni Medal (BEAM) recipient in 2016.
“I’m thrilled to join Ohio State at a time in which there is so much potential to strengthen and build new partnerships in order to expand access and enhance opportunities for the next generation of students, alumni, and for economic development throughout Ohio,” said Howard.
She will be the first woman to lead the College of Engineering. Nationally, only 17% of engineering deans or directors across the country were female, according to the Society of Women Engineers. Throughout her career, Howard has been active in helping to diversify the engineering profession for women, underrepresented minorities and individuals with disabilities.
Howard will follow Dean David Williams, who announced in May 2020 that he would be stepping down after a decade leading OSU’s College of Engineering.
After Howard earned her bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Brown University, she went on to receive her master’s degree and Ph.D. 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, 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 nonprofit in 2020.