Ayanna Howard
Dr. Ayanna Howard
Georgia Institute of Technology
GA

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Close Up
  • Why did you choose engineering?
    I was inspired by the TV show “The Bionic Woman,” in which a severely injured woman attains extraordinary powers through artificial (bionic) limbs.  I decided at age 11 that I wanted to create artificial limbs for people. I planned to go to medical school, but discovered I hated biology—especially dissecting frogs. Then I heard about robotics and realized that, if I became an engineer, I could do exactly what I wanted to do.
  • Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
    B.S. in electrical engineering, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island; M.S. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California.
  • What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
    I teach and conduct research at Georgia Tech.  I am working to discover new ways that robots can help both in space exploration and in assisting people on Earth.
  • Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
    Working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I developed the next generation of Mars rover. Through artificial intelligence, this robot will be independent-minded enough to explore the Martian terrain on its own, without having its every move programmed by a human.
  • What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
    Don't be afraid to learn the basics, and definitely keep your imagination alive. After all, engineering is about bringing new things to life!
  • Any other stories or comments you would like to share with EngineerGirl visitors?
    I was inspired by the TV show “The Bionic Woman,” in which a severely injured woman attains extraordinary powers through artificial (bionic) limbs.
  • Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
    I like traveling and going to see live jazz bands. I also love watching science fiction movies and cartoons with my son.
Biography

Ayanna has designed robots that can think for themselves. When she was at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, she worked on developing the next generation of Mars rover. Through artificial intelligence, this robot was designed to be independent-minded enough to explore the Martian terrain on its own, without having its every move programmed by a human. On a future mission to Mars, Ayanna's robot would have been able to collect and analyze data and samples that may help determine whether life ever existed on the Red Planet. Ayanna is now teaching and researching at Georgia Tech, working to discover new ways that robots can help both in space exploration and in assisting people on Earth.  Inspired by the TV show “The Bionic Woman,” in which a severely injured woman attains extraordinary powers through artificial (bionic) limbs, Ayanna decided at age 11 that she wanted to create artificial limbs for people. She planned to go to medical school, but discovered she hated biology—especially dissecting frogs. Then she heard about robotics and realized that, if she became an engineer, she could do exactly what she wanted to do.  Ayanna developed a math and science mentoring program for junior high school girls. She’s also volunteered as a computer tutor at a shelter for battered women. She likes traveling and going to see live jazz bands. Ayanna also loves watching science fiction movies and cartoons with her son.  See a great video of Ayanna and her Mars robot on PBS’s Dragonfly TV. 

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Volunteer Opportunities
  • I am willing to be contacted by educators for possible speaking engagements in schools or in after school programs or summer camps.
Latest Questions
  • Shelbie, Missouri

    Added Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 7:30 AM

    I really want to be an engineer for the U.S. marines. I am one of the top in my class, though I am only in middle school, but I think I can do it. What are some classes you suggest I pay extra attention to? Thank you, Shelbie
    Answers 1
    Ayanna Howard, Georgia Institute of Technology
    Answered Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 7:30 AM
    You definately seem to have one of the key ingredients - Motivation. As you go through middle school and continue through high school, try to take as many math and science courses as you can get your hands on. I also suggest trying to join a robotics ...Read More
  • Adrienne, Jacksonville, FL asked Ayanna Howard, Georgia Institute of Technology

    Added Thursday, May 7, 2015 at 1:50 PM

    When did you start this job that you have now and was this your dream job....:)
    Related to Internships & Jobs
    Answers 1
    Ayanna Howard, Georgia Institute of Technology
    Answered Thursday, May 7, 2015 at 1:50 PM

    My dream job started when I received my first summer internship at NASA while in college. I worked on a space-related project focused on satellite communications. By the time I left NASA, I was programming advanced robots that might one day explore Mars. ...

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  • Ni asked Ayanna Howard, Georgia Institute of Technology

    Added Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 3:10 PM

    How old were you when you started engineering?
    Related to Choosing a Degree, Internships & Jobs
    Answers 1
    Ayanna Howard, Georgia Institute of Technology
    Answered Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 3:10 PM

     I first learned how to solder when I was in middle-school. Wasn’t technically an engineer then, but was doing things that were engineering-focused. 

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