NCWIT Pioneer in Tech Award

The NCWIT Pioneer in Tech Award recognizes technical women whose lifetime contributions have significantly impacted the landscape of technological innovation, amplifying the importance of capitalizing on the diverse perspectives that girls and women can bring to the table. Pioneer in Tech Award recipients also serve as role models whose legacies continue to inspire generations of young women to pursue computing and make history in their own right.

The 2020-21 NCWIT Pioneer in Tech Award is sponsored by Facebook.

Congratulations to Ruzena Bajcsy—the 2020 recipient of the NCWIT Pioneer in Tech Award!

Ruzena Bajcsy has spent much of her career at the intersection of human and machine ways of interpreting the world, with research interests that include Artificial Intelligence; Biosystems and Computational Biology; Control, Intelligent Systems, and Robotics; Human-Computer Interaction; and “Bridging Information Technology to Humanities and Social Sciences.” 

In her first faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), Bajcsy was the only woman in the College of Engineering. She pioneered a new area of study within the field of robotics, Active Perception, in part as a way to prove herself in this environment. She was the first to argue that robots should be able to autonomously control the movements of their own sensors and other apparatus for interacting with their environment. In 1978, she founded the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, and Perception (GRASP) Lab at UPenn, a center for interdisciplinary robotics research that would produce many cutting-edge developments in robotics and computer vision. 

One of Bajcsy’s major contributions, the first 3D computer atlas of the human brain, came about because she happened to be in a meeting where doctors were looking at a patient’s brain scans and lamenting the difficulty of locating a tumor using the technology that was available at the time. After working on the problem for six months, Bajcsy and her team created a solution that revolutionized brain surgery, allowing much greater accuracy and saving millions of lives. Another of her innovations, known as elastic matching, is a process in which computers match defined points in the human body with standardized medical images, enabling non-invasive diagnostics of the brain and other organs. 

Bajcsy began her technical studies in Czechoslovakia, where she was born, receiving her Master's and PhD degrees in electrical engineering from Slovak Technical University in 1957 and 1967 before coming to the United States to pursue a second PhD in Computer Science at Stanford University. After 28 years at UPenn, she spent two years working for the National Science Foundation. She then joined the faculty of the University of California - Berkeley, where she is the Director Emeritus of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Science (CITRIS). In a 2009 interview, Bajcsy noted, “My goal in my life has been to make technology useful. If we understand each other and respect each other, and this technology can help do that, then I think I have done my job.”


Past Pioneer in Tech Award winners include Lynn Conway, whose hardware invention came to be used in the majority of PC chips, Evi Nemeth who is admired worldwide as the lead author of the handbooks known as the “bibles” of system administration: Unix Systems Administration Handbook (1989, 1995, 2000) and LINUX Administration Handbook (2001, 2007); Computer Programmer Lorinda Cherry who worked on the nascent Unix operating system for several years at Bell Labs; Computer Scientist and Programmer Jean E. Sammet who is best-known for her work on FORMAC, Mathematicians Patricia Palombo and Lucy Simon Rakov who worked on NASA's Project Mercury at a time when computing was in its infancy, IBM's Eleanor Kolchin, NASA Mathematicians Katherine Johnson for her critical space flight trajectories and Dr. Christine Darden for her expertise in the areas of the sonic boom, Cynthia Solomon for her development of Apple Logo, as well as as well as 2008 Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Turing Award Recipient Barbara Liskov who is one of the first women in the U.S. to get a PhD from a computer science department.