About Karen

Karen Panetta is the Dean of Graduate Education for the School of Engineering and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts University. She has been called a “Rock Star of Engineering and Science” and the “Princess Warrior” of engineering and science education for her work championing young women to embrace their creative talents and brainpower to innovate cool technology that has the power to improve lives. 

As the founder of the international Nerd Girls program, Karen has conducted engineering outreach activities with more than 85,000 children, parents, and educators, and she has been recognized for her unwavering commitment to promoting the image of the “Nerd Girl” as a talented, well-rounded woman who can take on any challenge to solve real-world problems. 

Karen was the 2014 IEEE-USA Vice President of Communications and Public Awareness, and is the current editor-in-chief of the IEEE WIE Magazine and an active IEEE Fellow. In her capacity as the past Worldwide Director of IEEE Women in Engineering, she has traveled around the world interacting with youth and their families. From these experiences, Karen and her students have used their engineering skills to develop technology to help improve the lives of autistic children and their families, as well as information systems that have helped governments identify root factors in autism and blindness in children. In the U.S., Karen and her Nerd Girls have saved a National Historic Landmark using solar energy technology, while ensuring the safety of the wildlife that call the site of the landmark “home.” The Department of Energy has described Karen and her enthusiasm for promoting clean and green energy as “Renewable Energy in High Heels.”

She designed the App-E-Feat humanitarian challenge for engineers for the Clinton Global Initiative and hosted the web show “Ask Dr. Karen,” in which she answered questions from students, parents, and educators from around the world about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. She was the STEM Advisor to Joyce Banda, the former president of Malawi.

Karen has a B.S. in computer engineering from Boston University and an M.S. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Northeastern University. She was the first woman engineer granted tenure in the Tufts University School of Engineering, and she has received several awards for outstanding teaching and mentoring as well as creative curriculum development and outreach activities. In 2011, President Obama awarded her the nation’s highest award for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering education and mentoring, and in 2009 she was awarded the Norm Augustine Award for communicating the wonders of engineering to the public. Karen is also the recipient of several NASA and National Science Foundation research grants, including the NSF CAREER Award.