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Dr. Eve Riskin: Engineer, Professor, Role Model

posted Jul 8, 2010, 8:27 PM by Glenna Buford   [ updated Jul 8, 2010, 8:30 PM by AWM Editor ]

2007 AWM Essay Contest: 
Grades 6-8 Honorable Mention

by Helen A Rawlins

Eve Riskin currently is a wonderful professor who teaches Signal and Image Processing in Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington. She has been there for seventeen years; she is also the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. She is outgoing, thoughtful, busy, and organized. Today she may be an experienced professor and mentor, but she definitely had some obstacles to overcome while taking the journey to where she is. 

As a child, she loved math and was good at it. Math came easy to her and she says, “People tend to like what they are good at. People who are good at baseball tend to like baseball.” So, naturally as the years went on she became more involved in math. 

Growing up, Eve enjoyed music and theatre, and of course like any girl, shopping. She played the saxophone in the school marching band. She participated in plays because she had a good friend who was a good actress and was in many productions. 

Her roughest years were still to come, though. As many know, engineering is not the most popular career for women, so she encountered some problems. She went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While there, she got a Bachelors of Science degree in Electrical Engineering in 1984. She probably wouldn’t have gotten very far there if it weren’t for her undergraduate advisor, who was a wonderful mentor. She had to take many classes, and every once in a while, she and her classmates would be up late until 2 a.m. studying. 

When she arrived in graduate school she had a rough time getting through as well; it was still fun though. She says this field can be very competitive, almost like a sport. There were hardly any women while there, and when she graduated only one other woman graduated along side her. Her Ph.D. advisor made sure she wasn’t put down or made fun of. Within and between genders, many students tried to outsmart each other and used sneaky ways to put down and discourage others’ ideas. The advisor was very proactive and ended up getting an award from the White House when Eve and her friends wrote a big NSF proposal explaining what a positive thing he had done. She did enjoy graduate school in some ways, though, because you usually had weekends free, or at least Friday and Saturday nights free to hang out with friends and have fun. Plus, in graduate school, you got to study what you liked to study. In 1985 she got an M.S. in Electrical Engineering, then in 1986, she got a second one in Operations Research. Then, in 1990 she was presented with her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, all of which were at Stanford University. 

She now is a mother of two boys who she loves to play with and watch play sports. She spends about fifty to sixty hours a week doing work. Not all of her work is done in the office, though; a lot of it is done at home, after her boys go to bed. 

Lately, she has been studying compression. Compression is making a digital picture very high quality and the process or result of becoming smaller or pressed together. Her latest invention has been one designed by a team of researchers. There was a person on the team named Richard Ladner, whose parents were deaf and he knew sign language. So, Eve worked with Professor Ladner and others to create a cell phone-like device that could be used to communicate using ASL. In the past it has been very hard to do something like this because it can be hard to make out the signing. The pictures would be too blurry and pixelated. Similar devices are already being used in places like Japan and Sweden, but you can always make things better. 

She loves her job because every hour is different and the work she is doing is actually having an effect on people. Its not just lock yourself up in a room and work on some mad scientist experiment. Some times she feels like she is too busy. She really doesn’t like it when she has to deal with kids who cheat. 

Eve says, “If you want to go into a career in this type of subject, or even a different one, Make sure you take all your math in High School - all four years. If you are good at math, be proud. Don’t be ashamed of being smart, and if someone tries to make fun of you or tease you because you are a good student, it is saying that they themselves aren’t good at it, and it is a way of making them feel better.” Eve was at a Husky football practice with her boys and the coach actually told her boys “being smart is cool.” She also says to take any opportunity you get to get involved with something you love and get yourself exposed to math and engineering. There are some great programs out there! Also, try to see if experienced, adult women can be a mentor. Then once you succeed, thank them and turn around to help another youngster wanting to be like you. 

About the student: Two of my favorite things are math and chocolate. I am in Algebra I at my school; I am also in Honors English and social studies. Last year, I was awarded the Presidents Award for Educational Achievement. I also got the Kathy Peterson Character Education Award. When I grow up, I would like to be an architect. This summer I went to a camp at the University Washington called Art Through Architecture, where we learned a lot about technology and design. I am in the Technology Students Association where we do engineering projects and go to statewide and national competitions. For the past two years, a friend and I have founded and taught a class on ASL at our school. I do Ballet and Modern/Lyrical dance; I also do Girl Scouts and enjoy volleyball. I have been in Girl Scouts and Dance for seven years, I have been in volleyball for only about two years (officially on a team). I have really enjoyed writing this essay and hope to do it again next year.