This year is the first time an academic has been given this title, according to Career Communications Group, which publishes the magazine and organizes the Women of Color in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) conference where the recipient is honored each year.
Previous winners include presidents and senior executives in private industry such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, NASA, AT&T and Ford, among others.
“This award is one of the greatest honors I’ve received in my entire career,” McCauley says. “I’ve been engaged in this community for over 30 years and the fact that this is the first time a professor is recognized as the Technologist of the Year is significant to me. It provides tangible evidence that pursuing your passion ultimately leads to success.”
Victor McCrary, a member of the National Science Foundation’s National Science Board, nominated McCauley for the award because of the scope of her career.
McCauley was selected for her body of work that covers academia, government and industry over 26 years, the organization announced through a press release. She will receive her award Oct. 5 at the conference in Detroit, Michigan.
McCauley is the director of the Ergonomics Laboratory in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems at UCF. She is the author of an internationally used ergonomics textbook and has earned several grants. She has also extensively published work on ergonomics, biomechanics, fuzzy set theory and artificial intelligence. One of her key areas of study is how to design systems, processes and technology for optimal use by humans. One of her many projects that have had a lasting impact was promoting efficiency and innovation in the HIV/AIDS healthcare delivery process in Africa in 2016.
“People don’t generally understand the power of a small innovative change and what kind of impact it can have on the world,” she says. “That’s what engineering is all about and that’s why I’ll do whatever it takes to support those interested in pursuing STEM careers.”
McCauley made history in 1993 as the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in engineering in Oklahoma. She even received a $90,000 graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation to help support her studies.
Since then she’s worked in academia, industry and government agencies. She worked with and conducted research for the World Bank, Department of State, Department of Defense, NASA, National Security Agency, UCF and NSF.
She currently serves as a Program Director for NSF’s I-Corps Program in the Computer Information Science and Engineering Directorate (CISE). The I-Corps program was designed as an innovative approach for academic researchers to transition discoveries from the lab to the marketplace.
“I’m a major fan and believer in this program because it is a powerful process that is proven effective in moving ideas from the academic environment into useful innovations and ultimately, successful businesses,” she says. “And these innovative solutions must be globally focused. We are a global community.”
McCauley leads the CISE I-Corps Program from her NSF office in the Washington, D.C. area and continues to advise her five graduate students at UCF through telecommuting and during monthly visits to the campus.
“My students’ success is extremely important to me,” she says. “My students are why I’ve stayed in academia. I take my responsibility to educate, inspire and support the next generation of engineers, especially women and people of color, very seriously. I couldn’t have achieved my career goals without people supporting me and inspiring me. This includes the tremendous guidance I gained from excellent mentors. That’s why I’m here.”
She says many people helped her along the way. She credits her parents, undergraduate mentor, Howard Adams, and doctoral advisor, Adedeji Badiru, as well as her career mentor, UCF’s Associate Vice President of Research Debra Reinhart, and retired NSF Program Director and mentor Anita LaSalle.
These mentors not only provided support, but they also pushed the bar of excellence, she says. And after all these years, she still loves engineering, teaching and her UCF Ergonomics Lab.
When she returns full-time to UCF, she plans to continue to support her students, so they too can achieve their full potential as engineers.
“It’s important to share our successes and be transparent regarding our challenges,” McCauley says. “There are so many obstacles you’ll encounter, particularly as a woman and person of color in a STEM field. But if you persist, follow your passion and keep focused on the goal – making a difference in the world – you will achieve. I’m loving my career as an engineer, educator, and innovator and my greatest desire is to inspire others to achieve their dreams. We really can change the world.”
Story by Zenaida Kotala, UCF Today