Featured women faculty at NYU Tandon
A new associate professor in the Department of Technology, Culture and Society, Amy Hurst has long been focused on accessibility and assistive technology. “My work seeks to empower people with motor, cognitive, or sensory impairments,” she explains. “You hear a lot about do-it-yourself, or DIY, projects, and assistive technology can be DIY too.”
Hurst, who holds a joint appointment with Steinhardt and will serve as the director of NYU’s Ability Project, is especially excited about the possibilities presented by 3D printing. One of her recent projects involved a young client having difficulty manipulating the stylus of her iPad because of an anomaly in the shape of her hands. Using clay, Hurst created a custom 3D model of grip that could be used to hold the stylus — and modified to grasp a fork, hairbrush, pen, or any other needed implement. She then developed software that enabled the customized grips to be 3D-printed in whatever color the client chose, making them more like fashion accessories than medical devices.
An expert in Human-Centered Computing, a field that melds technology, design, and the study of human behavior, Hurst has been involved in the Maker Movement even before it became known by that designation, tinkering in the garage with her father as a child. Her joint appointment, she says, is indicative of just how interdisciplinary the field of assistive technology can and should be. She’ll be teaching a course evocatively called “Looking Forward: Vision-Related Accessibility and Assistive Technology,” and believes that undergraduates should dive into hands-on projects and research as soon as possible. “During my own undergraduate years at Georgia Tech, I was lucky enough to participate in a great deal of research, and I think it positioned me to do well in my graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon and later, in my career,” she says. “I’m eager to work with both Tandon and Steinhardt undergraduates, and help them get started on compiling impressive portfolios of completed projects.”
Hurst, who joins NYU from a post at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is also eager to engage with New York City’s burgeoning accessibility community. “There are so many advocacy groups, organizations, and resources here,” she explains, “and NYU’s Ability Project is ideally positioned to collaborate with them.”
As a female computer scientist, Rachel Greenstadt is accustomed to repeatedly being asked how she got her start in the field. If pressed, she might relate the tale of an eighth-grade research project focused on World War II-era cryptography that inspired her to master some BASIC programs for encrypting and decrypting data on her Apple IIe.
She understands that people love a good origin story: after all, who hasn’t read of inventors who were reverse-engineering their mechanical toys as toddlers or CEOs who opened their first bank accounts with the proceeds from childhood lemonade stands? She believes, however, that those narratives, while sometimes satisfying, can be overly pat and even misleading.
“If all you knew of my background was that story, you might think I knew exactly what I wanted to do from a very early age, and that would be far from the truth,” Greenstadt, who grew up in Southern California, explains. “I was interested in many things, including science fiction, art, and ancient Egypt, and I really thought I’d become either an architect or a science fiction writer.”
It was not until her undergraduate years at MIT that Greenstadt pivoted seriously to computer science — a point she stresses to anyone who believes that you have to start coding in elementary school in order to have a successful STEM career. Women and members of other groups underrepresented in STEM can be particularly susceptible to that way of thinking, she says, often assuming that if they don’t fit a specific paradigm, certain fields are closed to them.
No one, however, could argue that Greenstadt has been held back by her wide variety of youthful interests. Once she decided upon her field of study, she began amassing accolade after accolade, including membership in the highly selective DARPA Computer Science Study Group (aimed at familiarizing participants with Department of Defense practices, challenges, and risks, and providing funding to explore and develop technologies with potential applications in national defense), a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Fellowship, and a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award, given only to the most promising young researchers in the country.
Professor Phyllis Frankl, received the 2015 Jacobs Jacobs Excellence in Education Award for her commitment to scholarship, teaching, and mentorship which has been widely recognized by both her students and colleagues. Her courses are held in high esteem, and her students appreciate her thoroughness, her command of the material that she teaches, and most importantly, the warmness with which she treats them. Professor Frankl is a leader in the educational mission of the university, her dedication especially to the increased enrollment, engagement, and retention of female undergraduates in Computer Science and Computer Engineering is outstanding. Her advisement is inspirational to her students—from undergraduates to PhDs. Her exemplary educational accomplishments led to the establishment of the Phyllis G. Frankl Scholarship Fund, set up by an anonymous former Ph.D. student as a way to pay tribute to this very respected professor.
Professor Anne Ronan received the 2015 Distinguished Teaching Award for her commitment to teaching excellence. Her courses are held in high esteem, and her students appreciate her thoroughness, her command of the material, and most importantly, her dedication to each and every one of them. She is tirelessly selfless in responding to the needs of her students, and they are privileged to have her as their teacher. Her exemplary dedication to education extends well beyond the classroom. She serves as faculty adviser to the student chapters of the New York Water Environment Association and Chi Epsilon Civil Engineering Honor Society. She supervises graduate and undergraduate research and has been an instrumental contributor to the improvement of the civil engineering curricula. To this university and the students who value her so immensely she is what all educators strive to be, but only a few achieve.