Women Place Their Stamp on Robotics Conference Six Carnegie Mellon Faculty and Alums Join ICRA Organizing Committee

Byron SpiceWednesday, February 25, 2015

Four women SCS faculty members and two CMU alumnae serve on the organizing committee for the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, which will be held May 26–30 in Seattle.

The IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) is the world's largest robotics conference and, like members of the robotics field, its organizers predominantly have been men. This year, however, the conference committee is composed entirely of women, with Carnegie Mellon University providing one of the largest contingents.

Four CMU faculty members — M. Bernardine Dias, Jessica Hodgins, Katia Sycara and Manuela Veloso — and two alumnae — Ayorkor Korsah (CS'06,'11) and Sonia Chernova (CS'03,'09)  — serve on the organizing committee for ICRA 2015, which is May 26–30 in Seattle.

"My goal with this all-female organizing team is to raise the visibility of women in robotics around the world," said Lynne Parker of the University of Tennessee, the ICRA 2015 general chair. Nearly all previous committees have had only one or two women from a small group of senior women in the field, and often the same women served over and over.

"It's an interesting experience to have these meetings with only women," said Veloso, who has been involved in previous ICRA committees. This year, she is serving on the Senior Program Committee, as are Dias and Sycara. One difference, she noted, is a wider range of ages, with more early career researchers represented. "There was quite a lot of mentoring that occurred among these women," she added.

Parker, who in January became director of Information and Intelligent Systems in the National Science Foundation's Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate, said conference officials have said they have had difficulty finding qualified women with organizing experience to serve on the committee. That's why she made sure that not only senior women were invited to serve, but also early career women who may be less well-known outside of their specialties.

"I am hopeful that by serving on the organizational team, they will become better known to the broader robotics community, and thus will be called on more in the future," Parker said.

The concern for diversity extends beyond gender, Dias noted. For the first time, the conference will have a developing countries forum, which Dias is chairing. Korsah, an assistant professor of computer science and robotics at Ashesi University in Ghana, and Chinwe Ekenna, a Texas A&M University student from Nigeria, are co-chairs of the forum.

"The whole organizing committee is doing our best to increase the diversity at the conference and in the robotics community at large," Dias said.

Increasing the visibility of women in robotics in Asia and in developing countries is important, Parker said, because women in those regions often face more roadblocks to their professional advancement than do women in western countries.

"My hope is that this step will also encourage young female students in robotics, giving them many strong female role models to follow," she added.

For More Information

Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 | bspice@cs.cmu.edu