It all started when she nearly blew up her parents’ microwave oven.
Prof. Rhonda Franklin was just a kid when she tried to heat up a metal container of Chinese food in the shiny new appliance. The microwave promptly caught on fire. She smothered the flames but not the interest that had sparked in her. How did microwaves actually work? Why couldn’t you put metal in them? Were her parents going to ground her until she was 18?
Further inspired by NASA astronauts, Prof. Franklin went on to study electrical engineering. She earned an MS and a PhD from Michigan in 1990 and 1995, respectively, and she was a student in the Radiation Laboratory under the leadership of Prof. Linda Katehi. While at U-M, she met some of her personal heroes: astronauts Anthony England, Mae Jamison, and Charles Bolden.
“Coming to Michigan is pretty awesome,” Prof. Franklin said. “You imagine something, and it just happens, right? Because this is that kind of place.”
Coming to Michigan is pretty awesome. You imagine something, and it just happens, right? Because this is that kind of place. Prof. Rhonda Franklin
Today, Prof. Franklin is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She teaches applied electromagnetics and microwave circuits. Her research focuses on developing design techniques for high speed electronic integrated circuit integration, integrated packaging, miniaturization, and novel material characterization for RF applications in communication systems and bio/nano-medicine.
This year, ECE is proud to honor Prof. Franklin as the Willie Hobbs Moore Distinguished Lecturer. The lectureship was established to recognize ECE alumni from traditionally underrepresented groups who are leaders in their field and serve as role models for the ECE community through their leadership, impact on society, service to the community, or other contributions.
It was standing-room only for Prof. Franklin’s lecture held on October 9th. She spoke about her research developing building blocks for advanced 3D packaging and microwave biomedical diagnostics related to sensing and nanomedicine. She highlighted the impact her work has on antenna systems and characterization methods for novel materials like magnetic nanowire technology.
She ended her lecture on a more personal note, detailing her own career path as well as issues affecting diverse demographic representation in STEM fields. About 17% of most engineering full-professorships are held by women, and only a small fraction of that are held by African-American women.
Despite the apparent lack of progress with diversity in engineering, Prof. Franklin said, “I do think that any good engineer wants to know where the reference point is, because you can’t improve something if you don’t know where you’re starting.”
Prof. Franklin emphasized that it takes time to grow an engineer, and, above all, it takes time for change. A typical age for many earning an engineering PhD with no interruptions in their studies is 27 years old. It then takes a further 12-18 years before a person is awarded with a full-professorship.
We are still in the pioneering stage, Prof. Franklin said, so don’t despair by low numbers. Progress is slow, but it is being made, and it is important work to achieve.