Zirnheld among 100 Inspiring Women in STEM

Jennifer L. Zirnheld conducts science experiment with a student at Westminster Community Charter School.

Jennifer L. Zirnheld conducts a science experiment at Westminster Community Charter School as part of a partnership between UB, National Grid and the school. Photo: Onion Studio


Published September 24, 2015 This content is archived.

“I always urge students to take advantage of a key asset that is available to them — the fact that UB is a top research university. ”
Jennifer Zirnheld, associate professor
Department of Electrical Engineering

Jennifer L. Zirnheld, associate professor of electrical engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has been named by INSIGHT into Diversity magazine as one of 100 Inspiring Women in STEM.

The national award recognizes women whose work and achievements are encouraging a new generation of women to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) while also providing support to others working in STEM fields.

Zirnheld, whose research focuses on the use of electrical engineering innovations in fighting cancer, has written and served as co-investigator on grants, contracts and fellowships from industry and government. She also serves on the steering committee for the UB Institute for the Strategic Enhancement of Educational Diversity (iSEED).   

Zirnheld cites serving as a mentor for undergraduate students as among her most rewarding experiences. She was one of five faculty members who were honored in 2011 with the inaugural UB Faculty Award for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity. The award recognizes faculty who establish a strong professional mentoring relationship with students, act as role models for methods of inquiry in their disciplines, and promote responsible and ethical conduct of research or creative activity.

“Jennifer has demonstrated an ability to inspire students — especially female students — to seek careers in STEM-related fields,” says Liesl Folks, dean of UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “We are delighted that she has received this well-deserved recognition.”

“I always urge students to take advantage of a key asset that is available to them — the fact that UB is a top research university,” Zirnheld says. “I encourage them to try an internship or REU (a research experience for undergraduates) as soon as possible. Participation can help to build up their resume and they could discover career paths that they may never have considered.”

Zirnheld emphasizes the important role former UB engineering faculty members played as her mentors when she was a student.  

“I was in my senior year and not sure what I was going to do when I graduated,” she says, “when Richard Dollinger, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering in the UB engineering school, invited me into his research lab.

“The invite was for 8 a.m. on a Saturday, so I put it off. Eventually, I decided to check it out and had my own transformative moment that inspired me to go on to graduate school and a PhD. Dr. Dollinger helped to shape my thinking and my career.”

Andrea Martinez, who graduated from UB in 2014 with a BS in electrical engineering and is now one of Zirnheld’s graduate students, says Zirnheld “is constantly an inspiration to her students, both in and outside of the classrooms.”

“She mentors with a love for both her students and for science that enables them to continue to grow into role models who are ready and willing to give back to the community, much like she does,” Martinez says.  

Zirnheld is engaged in a wide range of STEM-related activities both in and out of the classroom. They include:

  • Serving as UB’s representative to the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program. Initiated by NASA in 1989, the program is designed to broaden the base of universities and individuals contributing to and benefiting from aerospace science and technology, and to enhance STEM education.
  • UB Space Bulls: Together with Kevin Burke, assistant professor and co-director of undergraduate education for electrical engineering, Zirnheld advises students in the annual NASA and National Institute of Aerospace RASC-AL Robo-Ops Planetary Rover Competition.  

The Space Bulls finished third out of eight teams this past June at the Johnson Space Center in Houston — their highest placement in four years of participation.

“Students get to design and build their own model rover,” Zirnheld says, “and test it against some of the best universities in the world and in front of some of the foremost experts in space explorations at NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace.”

  • Mentoring graduate and undergraduate students through the National Science Foundation-funded Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation and Bridge to Doctorate programs, as well as the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program.
  • Presenting hands-on lessons in electricity to middle school girls as part of Tech Savvy, a yearly workshop created by UB engineering alumna Tamara Brown and sponsored by the American Association of University Women.
  • Conducting hands-on science experiments and lessons in Science is Elementary, a program geared to elementary school students at Westminster Community Charter School, as part of a partnership between UB, National Grid and the school.

Zirnheld has received numerous teaching honors, some of which include the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Outstanding Teaching Award, UB Student Association Milton Plesur Excellence in Teaching Award (twice), UB Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society Professor of the Year and UB Alumni Association 2013 Dr. Richard T. Sarkin Award for Excellence in Teaching.