GRASPing Greatness: Abriana Stewart-Height’s Impact in Academia and Beyond

Portrait of Abriana Stewart-Height, wearing a red shirt and smiling at the camera.
2023 GRASP doctoral alumna Abriana Stewart-Height, now a postdoctoral fellow at MIT

Imagine that you’re a robot, investigating a leak in a nuclear power plant. The data you’re carrying is crucial — you could help save millions of lives by telling researchers where the problem is. Or perhaps you’ve landed on the surface of Mars, and you’ve discovered new information about the planet’s frozen ice caps of carbon dioxide.

If you don’t survive that hostile environment,  the data you’re carrying might never reach your human collaborators. What’s more, those researchers might never learn how to iterate on your design to improve the next generation of field robots. “Robots should have a recovery mode, especially those that operate in extreme environments,” says Abriana Stewart-Height, a 2023 alumna of the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Lab. “That way, we don’t completely lose valuable equipment and data.”

As a doctoral student in Electrical and Systems Engineering and researcher in Dan Koditschek’s locomotion-centric group of the GRASP Lab, Stewart-Height developed ways for four-legged robots to recover movement after suffering limb loss, in order to preserve these machines and their valuable data, even in complex, dangerous surroundings.  “I really want the research I do in robotics to have a broader impact,” says Stewart-Height.

Stewart-Height also wanted to have an impact on the community, so she frequently volunteered on behalf of GRASP and Penn Engineering and joined the Greater Philadelphia Professionals Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). “Penn Engineering has a lot of STEM outreach activities that involve K-12 students,” says Stewart-Height. “In addition to working with kids directly, I’ve talked to parents about different ways that they can get their children involved and keep them involved in STEM.”

The GRASP Lab’s Justin Nachea recently sat down with Stewart-Height, who is now completing a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT, to discuss her experiences studying at GRASP and Penn Engineering and volunteering in the Greater Philadelphia community.

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