Women 3.0: Deborah Estrin

Name: Deborah Estrin

Short biography: Deborah Estrin was born in Los Angeles 1959. She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1980, a master’s degree in technology policy from MIT in 1982, and a PhD in computer science (also from MIT) in 1985. In 1986, Estrin accepted a teaching position in the computer science department at the University of Southern California; she taught and conducted research there until 2000, when she started teaching in the computer science and electrical engineering departments at UCLA. Since 2002, she has been at the forefront of the study of a revolutionary technology called embedded networked sensing.1

What they do: Until this summer, Estrin had been teaching at UCLA, and was one of the founding members of the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing, “a major research enterprise focused on developing wireless sensing systems and applying this revolutionary technology to critical scientific and societal pursuits.”2

Her work uses “mobile and wireless systems to collect and analyze real-time data about the physical world” and “has shown how the data streaming from networks of such devices as smartphones and cameras can enrich our understanding and management of complex problems” such as personal and public health, traffic patterns and even civic engagement.3

In June 2012, it was announced that Estrin was one of the first educators hired to be part of the faculty at the brand-new CornellNYC Tech, a new tech education campus being constructed on New York’s Roosevelt Island (and set to open in temporary digs this fall near Google’s NYC building).3

Why they matter: Estrin has a dedication to technology education that is apparent from her long career as a professor (and her move to the CornellNYC Tech campus), but her research is aimed at solving societal and industrial problems. (Estrin seems to be tackling the ills of society from multiple sides.)

She’s also no stranger to the excitement of technology—”The common theme across her academic career, she said, is her inability to resist chasing down the next big technological innovation.” … “‘It’s an interesting balance,’ she added, ‘where you’re trying to chase, and lead and herd. All at once!’”5

Estrin is also aware of the need for more women to become involved in technological careers, and is willing to be a leader on this “project” as well. “‘Being a woman technologist is part of the sort of technologist that I am,’ she said. ‘I’ve always really benefitted from having other women around–always wished there were more, always looking for opportunities to promote their being more. And so I bring that anywhere I go and I’m looking forward to that on the tech campus as well.’”5

Her other achievements include:

  • Being awarded the Anita Borg Institute’s Women of Vision Award for Innovation in 2007.

  • Being inducted into the Women in Technology International hall of fame in 2008.

  • Being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007 and into the National Academy of Engineering in 2009.4

  • Being named one of Popular Science’s “Brilliant 10” elite researchers.

  • Being included on Wired’s list of “50 People Who Will Change the World” in 2012.

  • Being called of the “10 Most Powerful Women in Tech” by CNN also in 2012.5

How they got where they are: Estrin grew up in a household that valued learning. Her parents were computer science professors at UCLA, and both of them held PhDs in electrical engineering; Estrin’s mother was one of few women to earn a scientific PhD in the 1950s and a “pioneer in the field of biomedical engineering.”5

“I was very fortunate,” Estrin related in an interview with U•X•L Newsmakers, “to be surrounded by academics and role models, and to have a professional mother and a feminist father."1

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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