Stephen Harris Professor of Engineering
Department of Electrical Engineering
Member, National Academy of Engineering
Andrea Goldsmith is the Stephen Harris professor in the School of Engineering and a professor of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University. She also serves on Stanford’s Budget Group, Committee on Research, and Planning and Policy Board. She previously served as Chair of Stanford’s Faculty Senate and as a member of its Commissions on Graduate Education and on Undergraduate Education, as well as its Task Force on Women and Leadership. She co-founded and served as Chief Technical Officer of Plume WiFi (formerly Accelera, Inc.) and of Quantenna (QTNA), Inc. She has also held industry positions at Maxim Technologies, Memorylink Corporation, and AT&T Bell Laboratories. In the IEEE Dr. Goldsmith served on the Board of Governors for both the Information Theory and Communications societies. She has also been a Distinguished Lecturer for both societies, served as President of the IEEE Information Theory Society in 2009, founded and chaired the student committee of the IEEE Information Theory society, and chaired the Emerging Technology Committee of the IEEE Communications Society. She currently chairs the IEEE TAB committee on diversity and inclusion, and the Women in Technology Leadership Roundtable working group on metrics.
Dr. Goldsmith is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the IEEE and of Stanford, and has received several awards for her work, including the IEEE ComSoc Edwin H. Armstrong Achievement Award as well as Technical Achievement Awards in Communications Theory and in Wireless Communications, the National Academy of Engineering Gilbreth Lecture Award, the IEEE ComSoc and Information Theory Society Joint Paper Award, the IEEE ComSoc Best Tutorial Paper Award, the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, the WICE Technical Achievement Award, and the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal’s Women of Influence Award. She is author of the book ``Wireless Communications'' and co-author of the books ``MIMO Wireless Communications'' and “Principles of Cognitive Radio,” all published by Cambridge University Press, as well as an inventor on 28 patents. Her research interests are in information theory and communication theory, and their application to wireless communications and related fields. She received the B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from U.C. Berkeley.
More from Andrea Goldsmith:
In your current and previous leadership roles, what has been most effective way for you to understand and serve the needs of faculty and students?
Faculty and students have concerns, requirements and aspirations that can vary dramatically, so each situation requires a tailored approach. The most important factor in addressing student and faculty needs is to have extensive discussions with the faculty/student member or group as well as others knowledgeable about the situation to understand the problem to be addressed.
Once the problem is understood, the challenge is to identify how to best address it. This might involve a simple change to policies or procedures under my control. In this case, before taking action, I discuss the potential changes with all major stakeholders to determine possible negative effects, then make a decision. Complex issues do not have a simple fix and their solutions typically affect many people. In those cases I try to first identify potential solutions and their strengths and weaknesses through broad discussions with faculty, students and institutional leaders. I then make a decision about the best path forward and work to articulate broadly the reasoning behind my decision.
While not everyone is satisfied with decisions I have made in current and past leadership roles, I find that transparency as well as constructive dialog with all stakeholders throughout the decision-making process is critical to effectively implementing positive change. Another important element of serving the needs of faculty and students is to understand their aspirations, and help them be successful in achieving them. Sometimes this entails individual mentoring, and sometimes new policies or programs that affect large groups. In previous leadership roles I have successfully initiated new committees focused on both student and faculty needs within Stanford and in my professional society (the IEEE). Ultimately I believe that effectively addressing the needs of students and faculty requires figuring out how each individual can achieve their maximum potential, and then helping them to do so, including breaking down barriers that stand in their way.
What do you see as the most critical issue for engineering education in the future?
The nature of engineering has changed drastically over the last decade, as many of the most important challenges facing humanity require interdisciplinary teams to solve them. Engineering students today thus not only require deep knowledge of their engineering discipline, but also skills to work effectively with people from a vast array of disciplines different from their own. Engineering education must adapt accordingly by exposing students to these broad interdisciplinary challenges, and by offering students opportunities to hone problem-solving, communication, and collaboration skills through an array of non-traditional engineering classes, including interdisciplinary project-based classes.
Another major challenge in engineering education is the lack of diversity among students. This hinders the ability of the profession to draw from a broad set of ideas in solving engineering challenges. Moreover, diverse students often face challenges of implicit bias, poor working climates, and lack of opportunities, both during their studies and in the jobs they hold afterwards. Universities can play an important role in mitigating the unique challenges their diverse students face, in preparing such students to handle similar challenges in the workplace, and in partnering with industry to improve recruitment and retention of a diverse engineering workforce, which is a major issue facing engineering companies today.
There are also major opportunities as well as pitfalls in integrating technology into engineering education. Technology can enrich learning inside and outside the classroom, but must be used with care in order the preserve the effectiveness of face-to-face interactions, group dynamics, and spontaneous questions and discussions that are prevalent in the best traditional classroom teaching. Technology can also bring engineering education to people around the world for which it has heretofore been unavailable due to barriers of cost and accessibility. Yet this opportunity is coupled with a challenge, as universities must find the right balance of time and resources dedicated to teaching students within their campuses versus making engineering education broadly accessible. Finally, learning does not end when students receive their degrees, and technology offers opportunities for lifelong learning that have yet to be effectively tapped.
What’s something we wouldn’t know about you from your CV?
My CV indicates that I have founded two high-tech companies, but not the motivation for doing so. I was not motivated by money, since the odds of making a lot of money as a startup founder are low. Rather, I was motivated by the opportunity to learn new things and experience new challenges. In particular, I wanted to see if the academic research I had been working on the previous two decades would translate into technology innovations and associated products that were significantly better than those already on the market. I also wanted to experience the high-tech industry first-hand, as that is where many of my students go after graduation. Finally, I thought that the experience of building high-tech products would significantly enhance my research and teaching when I returned to academia.
Indeed, the lessons I learned from my two startups were invaluable. I learned that, as in academia, it is the people that make an organization great, not just the organizational leaders, but every single person that contributes to the organization’s mission. As a startup executive, I also significantly enhanced my knowledge and experience in dealing with difficult people and situations. Another importance lesson was the importance of establishing a dynamic and supportive culture within an organization, where every contributor feels valued and understands their importance to the organization’s overall goals. Finally, I experienced first-hand some of the implicit and explicit biases in the high-tech industry against women and URMs. That experience motivated much of my subsequent work trying to understand and address these issues in both academia and industry.