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Robotics graduate made waves for women in engineering

Jessica Dirks
April 28, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Jessica Dirks’ interests in art, mathematics, physics and psychology fueled her decision to double major in robotics and autonomous systems and human systems engineering at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.

During her time as an undergraduate, Dirks, a student in Barrett, The Honors College, fulfilled her academic and extracurricular goals through various leadership roles.

Some of Dirks’ most significant achievements were her efforts with the all-women’s underwater autonomous vehicle engineering team, Desert WAVE. As a founding member, she taught herself Solidworks software, became the lead in computer-aided design and drafting, or CAD, designing, took on the scrum master role and competed — winning first place nationally and third place internationally — as part of a rookie team.

“Women of all ages contacted us in the months that followed, saying they felt like they had a reachable dream now, and that made the biggest impact on me,” Dirks says.

She was particularly influenced by Fredi Lajvardi, vice president of STEM initiatives for the Si Se Puede Foundation and one of Desert WAVE’s biggest supporters.

She says, “He is a man who believes in the creation, excitement and value of engineering and his drive and belief in simply ‘making things happen’ opened our eyes to the idea that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.”

Dirks admires Lajvardi’s ability to bring engineering to both underprivileged and uniquely privileged populations, and says she “aspires to have half the gumption he does for turning visions into reality.”

Among her many Desert WAVE accomplishments, she is most proud of being awarded the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition by then-U.S. Senator Martha McSally for her work with the Si Se Puede Foundation.

In addition to her Desert WAVE endeavors, Dirks, whose academic performance regularly earned her a place on the dean’s list, was a Fulton Ambassador and Barrett Honors Devil. She was also a member of the General Human Operation of Systems as Teams Lab, or GHOST Lab, where she handled the development of five robotic assets for studies in human and robotic teaming on Earth and in space.

Aside from her ASU ventures, Dirks is a soccer referee, frequently traveling to represent Arizona in regional and national youth competitions. She says she enjoys the juxtaposition of taking on challenges in both athletic and academic pursuits.

Following graduation, Dirks looks forward to reading a good book, watching a play and “jumping head first into an unknown future,” she says.

One thing that’s certain is she will continue inspiring women to follow their dreams.

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