Kathleen Kramer, PhD Named Engineering Faculty Spotlight Award Recipient

Driven by a passion of “advancing technology for humanity on many fronts,” an enthusiasm to educate the “complete engineer” and an inability to say ‘no,’ Dr. Kathleen Kramer accomplishes an amazing amount in 168 hours each week — and manages to sleep occasionally too. 

After graduating from CalTech with a PhD in 1991, Kramer turned down a coveted position at a division of Bell Labs, an institution famous for its innovation as a training ground for leaders in industry. Instead, she accepted an assistant professorship in electrical engineering at USD. 

She was drawn to USD’s unique approach to engineering from a liberal arts perspective — a perfect fit for Kramer who hardly hews to the stereotype of the introverted engineer. Quite the contrary, it is Kramer’s involvement in improving her industry, her work in bringing organizations together, and her commitment to producing well-rounded and diverse engineers that define her.

Over the years, Kramer has seen a shift in engineering education towards educating the ‘whole engineer,’ recognizing that engineers need more than just strong quantitative abilities. Kramer embraces this approach. Her critical technical teaching contributions in signal processing and communications, including advancing applications with all new courses and modern reboots of classic communication prepare students to contribute well technically in San Diego’s key communications and aerospace sectors. 

As an advisor to 32 students on nine senior design teams, she works on effective teamwork and helping students develop both hard and soft skills.

“Everyone has to bring something to the party,” said Kramer, who limits her teams to three to five students so that everybody has a critical technical role and contributes to the joint effort.  

Being involved is not just something Kramer expects from her students, she embodies it in all that she does. During her tenure at USD, Kramer founded three different student societies. In 1992, she founded the San Diego chapter of the Society of Women’s Engineering (SWE), a national education and service organization that empowers women to succeed and advance in the field of engineering and be recognized for their life-changing contributions as engineers and leaders. She founded the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), an organization that empowers the Hispanic community to realize its fullest potential and to impact the world through STEM awareness, access, support and development. She also founded, and is currently chief advisor to, Tau Beta Pi, a prestigious honor society recognizing distinguished scholarship and exemplary character in engineering undergraduates.

During her tenure at USD, Kramer played a critical role in the development of the engineering department.  As former chair and director of engineering, Kramer is most known for her leadership success in bringing engineering to the university’s founding of the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering.

Kramer’s dedication to engineering and education reaches beyond the walls of USD. Kramer is a commissioner of ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology), the flagship accreditation board that sets the global standard for programs in applied science, computing, engineering and engineering technology. Kramer is currently tasked by the ABET Engineering Accreditation Commission as a member of the team working to rewrite the accreditation criteria, which is no small undertaking in such a technologically dynamic and diverse field. 

At ABET, an organization of organizations, Kramer’s work is a practice in multi- and inter-disciplinary work. Kramer “likes the variety of participation and bringing organizations together for a common purpose. I like to do things that have significant impact on and value for others.”

Kramer’s contribution is helping universities, impacting students and adding value to the engineering field globally. 

“Engineering brings together people from all over the world to advance technology for humanity...  on many fronts." 

She frequently travels the world for her research, education and leadership work, visiting places such as Peru, Ireland, the Philippines and Dubai. She is active in social media, and has at least as many international connections, particularly those who are from developing regions, as she does locally. 

With well over 100 published papers, her impact has been broad. 

Kramer is the director of Region 6 for the IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organization for the advancement of technology. She is also vice president of the IEEE Aerospace and Electronics Systems Society, advancing its global technical efforts in UAS, cyber security, and data fusion.

Recently, Kramer chaired a joint IEEE-AIAA conference on avionics and UAS, while providing leadership for two other IEEE conferences emphasizing technology for society — one on technologies for sustainability, and one on global humanitarian technologies. She is also involved in K-12 STEM outreach programs. 

“The region is producing such a wide array of interesting and world-changing technologies. Eight of the top ten technology companies are based in this region, along with more than 50 percent of the world’s venture capital investment and we continue to produce innovative and revolutionary technologies,” Kramer said.

Being at the fore-front of technological advances that advance humanity is perhaps one reason Kramer can’t say ‘no’ to any of the multitudes of activities asked of her. “It’s hard for me to not do things because I really enjoy everything I’m doing, particularly if I can see how I am able to make a positive difference.”

Juggling all of these activities is a challenge, but Kramer endeavors to be a master of her calendar. Saturday is slotted for IEEE work, Sunday afternoon after church is typically reserved for research. If asked to be a distinguished lecturer in April, she will automatically know if that is a possibility or if it conflicts with a conference she agreed to chair.  And late October — that is reserved for putting together her now famous Christmas card. A proud and fun family affair, it is not an easy feat getting three kids, herself and her husband all to coordinate for their photographer. But if anybody can get the job done, it’s Kathleen Kramer. 

Dr. Kramer’s dedication to education and to supporting engineering’s contributions to humanity keep her running full speed, with no signs of slowing down in the near future!