Professor Rhonda Franklin awarded IEEE MGA Diversity and Inclusion Award

Professor Rhonda Franklin's recent award of the McKnight Presidential Endowed Professorship is a new story. More details are available at a separate news post on the endowed professorship.

Abbott Professor Rhonda Franklin was awarded the 2021 IEEE MGA Diversity and Inclusion Award. The organization recognizes Franklin “[f]or sustained and exemplary contributions to diversity and inclusion in the field of RF/microwave engineering through leadership of Project Connect." The largest technical organization in the world with over 400,000 members from more than 160 countries, IEEE awards this particular award to only 3 nominees annually across the organization. 

Franklin’s work towards expanding diversity and inclusivity has been an enduring commitment. Project Connect is a space where her diligent and unwavering dedication to diversity and inclusivity in STEM areas and particularly in the field of RF/microwave engineering are on full display. 

In 2014, Franklin, along with professors Thomas Weller (Oregon State University) and Rashaunda Henderson (University of Texas at Dallas) co-founded Project Connect (PC) with the overarching goal of familiarizing undergraduate and first year minority and women students with the microwave community and industry. Housed within the International Microwave Symposium (IMS), the flagship conference of the Microwave Theory and Techniques  Society (MTT-S) of the IEEE, PC is sponsored jointly by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the IMS organizing committee. Since its inception, Franklin has worked with Weller and Henderson to plan programming for participants which includes developing communication and networking skills, understanding workplace expectations, career opportunities in microwave engineering in industry, academia, and government, and facilitating meetings with industry leaders and scientists.

Over the years, Franklin has played a leading role on PC's organizing committee as a chair or co-chair. The committee hosts around two dozen students from underrepresented groups in engineering over the four days of the annual conference, for community building and professional development. Most participants are juniors and seniors in undergraduate programs, with a smaller cohort of first year students in graduate programs. The groups are mixed in gender and ethnicity and have the opportunity to interact with other PC participants, practitioners, academics, and leaders in the field. This synergy is critical to PC's success, and situating it within the IMS is integral to the diversification of STEM participation, as professional societies and organizations can play an active and sustained role in supporting such initiatives. Since its start over six years ago, PC has seen participation from 136 students from 41 different universities. Data has shown that the program has consistently increased participants’ knowledge of the industry, awareness of career opportunities, and their interest in positing a career in RF/microwave engineering, which coincides with the program’s key goals. 

In her leadership role, Franklin leads the organizing committee meetings. (It typically meets bi-weekly in the months preceding the annual event.) Under her guidance the PC committee has secured funding from NSF and the IMS Committee, and has undertaken enhancements to increase the effectiveness of PC. While the success of the project is an outcome of its strong team, Franklin's leadership has been significant in helping the team get to where it is today. Her sustained engagement in diversity efforts is borne out by the awards and honors she has received over the years. Recent ones include the 2021 George W. Taylor Award for Distinguished Service (a collegiate award), the ARCS Scientist of the Year for 2020 (“mentoring and encouraging students to follow careers in science”), and the IEEE MTT-S’ 2019 N. Walter Cox Award (for “an individual who has given exemplary service to the Society in a spirit of selfless dedication and cooperation”), among others. The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering congratulates professor Rhonda Franklin and thanks her for her selfless service and dedication.

Rhonda Franklin holds the IEM Abbott Professorship in Innovative Education. Learn more about her research interests.