Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Menoring

I am committed to mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers, which should represent society at large in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic background, and ability/disability, among other dimensions of diversity. I am also passionate about sharing my professional and personal experiences and providing constructive advice to women and girls. We should not all have to fight the same fights over and over again.

How good is this advice? I was honored to receive the 2009 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM), USC Provost's Mentoring Award, the Mellon Mentoring Award, and was named one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Technology and one of the top 25 Women in Robotics. To actively promote diversity in engineering education and research, I have chaired the USC Viterbi School of Engineering branch of the USC Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) Program, I regularly serve as an CRA-W DREU mentor, lead the Viterbi K-12 STEM VAST Program, and contribute to mentoring resources for girls and women.

I enjoy sharing what I have learned through all those experiences in order to help others to succeed. Here are some mentoring resources and answers to questions I am often asked.

Interviews & Talks With Good Advice
Just Plain Good Advice
  • Most of what you read, watch, and hear is full of stereotypes. Do your own research, ideally by talking with people who are involved in STEM, and visit real work places (including research labs!), so you get a better sense of what things are really like.
  • There are many more people like you than you realize. For example, how many women are there in robotics? A surprisingly large number, yet not nearly enough. The 2015 ICRA Conference was run entirely by women; here is the poster of the organizers. In July 2019, I put together a community list of women in US academic research in robotics: I hope people will make many more such lists for other underrepresented and underrecognized groups, in robotics and beyond. There are many great models, mentors, advisors, and leaders to be found, who deserve to be recognized, listen to, and celebrated.
  • Everything you see today is just what is going on today, it will change and grow and be developed in new directions and ways based on people who work in the field. So if you work in the field, you get to shape and change it. Don't turn away from something because you think it should be done differently; instead get involved and change it, do it your way, do it better.
  • Volunteer your time so you can learn the new developments in the field(s) you are interested in. Getting involved in a research lab, for example, will give you the opportunity to learn so much more about the real challenges and about what is really exciting than you could glean in a class, by reading, searching the web, or even talking to people. Volunteering is a great way to gain experience and earn references, too.
  • Don't expect to be paid if you have no relevant experience; look for scholarships and other ways of supporting your time. Building your future takes an investment of time. Approach every experience by asking "How can I help? Here is what I can do for you." rather than "What can you do for me?" You will get many more opportunities, gain more skills, and make more friends that way.
  • No matter what you want to do and be, learn to program. Programming is behind almost everything in the 21st century. If you can program, you have a skill to contribute to any organization (including any research lab). If you are committed, you can learn to program for free, for example from or Outreachy (which provies scholarships for learners from underrepresented groups) or Summer of Code. If you are interested in robotics, learn ROS, whose open-source philosophy and world-wide developer community provides training for remote developers and proactively embraces diversity.
  • Whatever your gender, remember that women make up about half of the world and deserve equal pay and an equal place at every table. Behave accordingly. Now apply that to any underrepresented group; inclusiveness is up to each of us individually, as that is how we can change organizations and cultures for the better.
  • You want to make a positive impact on the world and work on truly impactful problems? The first step is to get out of your house, campus, lab, and neighborhood, and find an organization that tries to do that: look for a non-profit therapy/resource center, hospital, rehab center, soup kitchen, etc., whatever compells you. Volunteer your time there freely (no strings) to learn what the real problems are; don't presume to know, and don't resume that you can just jump in and help. After you volunteer and see what the real challenges are, find a way to use your best skills (social and technical) to help in that context. It can be as simple as setting up a web page for the organization, helping people put together resumes, building simple devices that remove barriers and empower people, and so on. Look for where the need is greatest, where people truly need the most help to thrive, and innovate there.
  • Push.
  • Be a mentor: There is always someone you can help, who can benefit from your experience.
  • Ignore negative people: Don’t listen to people who tell you what you can’t do; their negativity is about them, not you. Find others who are more positive and supportive.