The lack of an engineering mentor growing up did not prevent
Anna Zakrzewska to have a successful career in telecommunications. She is a Senior Principal Engineer at Dell Technologies in Dublin. But Zakrzewska wonders how differently her journey would have been if she had had a mentor to guide her when she was younger.
“None of my family members or family friends were engineers,” she says. “I also had no mentors in school and often think about how my career would be different if I had been exposed to STEM earlier in life.”
The IEEE Senior Fellow has made it her mission to introduce kids to careers in science, technology, engineering, and math and nurture their interest in STEM fields. She volunteers for organizations that do just that, like
tech girls, which focuses on getting more girls interested in STEM. The nonprofit organization holds an annual competition in which teams develop mobile apps that address real-world problems. Zakrzewska helps judge the entries.
He also provides guidance to college students and young professionals through outreach programs at Dell, such as
For her work in STEM outreach and technical contributions to telecommunications research, Zakrzewska received this year’s award.
IEEE Theodore W Hissey Outstanding Young Professional Award. The honor is sponsored by IEEE Young Professionals and the IEEE photonics other electric power societies
Receiving the award, Zakrzewska says, motivates her to continue her career as a volunteer, mentor and technician.
Mentoring the next generation of engineers
When Zakrzewska was growing up in Poland, she and her family used to listen to the radio. Her radio was the size of a microwave oven, she says, and she believed there were little people living inside whose job it was to entertain and inform listeners.
Zakrzewska says that when someone finally explained to her the engineering that makes radios work, it was an abstract concept.
About Anna Zakrzewska
EMPLOYER Dell Technologies in Dublin
QUALIFICATION Senior Principal Engineer
MEMBER GRADE senior member
ALMA MATER Technical University of Denmark, in Kongens Lyngby
“Since I couldn’t actually see how the device worked,” he says, “for me, the engineering was magic.”
Zakrzewska originally wanted to become a radio host, but she also liked the idea of becoming an engineer so she could create technology that people would consider magical just like her. In the end, she decided to go into engineering and thought that she could write about technology in her spare time.
After graduating with a master’s degree in telecommunications and information technology in 2008 from the
Wroclaw University of Science and Technologyin Poland, Zakrzewska initially did not know what kind of career to pursue.
“I enjoyed working on student research projects, but I felt that academia was not for me. I couldn’t see myself as a teacher,” she says. “But I also wasn’t sure if I wanted to be an industrial researcher.”
He decided to give research a try and in 2009 became an intern at
Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., in Atsugi, Japan. He left after about a year to take up a similar position at the European Comission‘s Joint Research Center in Ispra, Italy. Conducts research on telecommunications and helps European Union set policy.
Zakrzewska found she enjoyed the job and enrolled in 2010 in a PhD program in wireless communications at the
Technical University of Denmarkin Kongens Lyngby.
While there, she had her first experience mentoring engineering college students as a member of the college team.
IEEE student branch.
“If a door closes on a certain opportunity, don’t let it get you down. Find a way to open the door, or [find] another way in.”
“PhD-level members of the branch started a mentoring program because we realized we could help younger students with their studies or give them advice on internships and career paths,” she says. “The branch also invited established professionals from a variety of electrical engineering fields to speak with the students.”
Participating in the program made Zakrzewska realize that many colleges don’t promote STEM careers, she says, and that advising young people about such careers when they’re already college students is “too late.”
After earning his Ph.D. in 2013 she joined
Nokia Bell Laboratories in Dublin as a research scientist working on wireless communications and self-organizing networks. He has been granted several patents, which have been commercialized.
She also began volunteering for STEM outreach organizations and programs. In 2015, she started managing the Nokia Bell Labs booth at the
BT Young Scientists and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE), at the annual Irish science fair. She told the young people who visited the booth about his work and answered his questions. They asked him questions like “Have you ever broken anything in the lab?” and “What do you do if things don’t work out? Does your boss yell at you?
“I answered their questions as honestly as I could,” Zakrzewska says, laughing, “while still making them excited about working in STEM.”
Her volunteering at BTYSTE ended in 2021, when she left Nokia Bell Labs and joined Dell as a Principal Engineer at their
Telecommunications co-innovation expert center. Helps develop technical standards for telecommunications technology, specifically for open radio access networks.
Increase equity in the technical workforce
Zakrzewska started operating in 2017 with the annual meeting
Grace Hopper Celebration, a meeting of women technologists. The event is organized by anitab.orga non-profit organization that works to increase intersectional equity (race and gender equity) in the global technical workforce. Zakrzewska is a member of the committee and is on the panel of reviewers for the scholarship program.
In 2020 she began volunteering for
i am a scientist, an enrichment program designed to connect students with scientists and engineers. Mentors and students participate in online chats on the program’s website, and mentees can ask their mentor questions about their work. Zakrzewska says that she enjoys helping to inspire the next generation by sharing her real-life experiences.
She also became active in 2020 for the annual Technovation Girls competition. Teams of up to five girls between the ages of 8 and 18 develop technology that could address challenges in their local communities. There are three divisions: beginners, juniors, and seniors. In addition to developing a mobile app, teams submit a business plan and pitch video.
“I am very impressed with these projects,” says Zakrzewska. “Students can identify the key issues, which often relate to their respective age group and may not be visible to adults, for example anxiety about climate change or addiction to social media. Many have ambitious plans to partner with local authorities and seek sponsorship for their apps.
“Solving these problems not only provides motivation to learn new skills in coding or teamwork, but also empowers students to lead change in their local communities.”
As a participant in Dell’s tutoring programs, Zakrzewska visits high schools to explain to students how she became an engineer and what her job entails. She also provides career guidance to the company’s interns and young professionals.
“I challenge my trainees to get out of their comfort zone and, for example, look for job opportunities abroad,” he says. “I don’t believe in people who limit themselves.
“I strive to show them how their skills are widely applicable and that they can dream big in terms of where their career can take them.”
Zakrzewska’s biggest advice to her trainees, she says, is to create opportunities for themselves.
“If a door closes on a certain opportunity, don’t let it get you down,” he advises. “Find a way to open the door or [find] another way in.”
She is set to receive the Hissey Award on May 5 at the
IEEE 2023 Vision, Innovation and Challenges Summit and Honors Ceremonywhich will be held in the HiltonAtlanta.
The views expressed in this interview are the personal views of Anna Zakrzewska and do not necessarily reflect the views of any of the organizations mentioned.