Olin Alum Honored with Research and Diversity Award
September 23, 2022
Alumna Kris Dorsey ’07, has recently been honored by AnitaB.org, a nonprofit social enterprise seeking to achieve intersectional equity in the global technical workforce by 2025, with a 2022 Emerging Leader Abie Award. The award recognizes a junior faculty member for high-quality research and significant positive impact on diversity.
Dorsey will be honored at this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration, which brings the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront. She’ll speak about her work using soft sensors and robotics, which she one day hopes to use to help understand and prevent persistent lymphedema after breast cancer treatment.
“When a patient’s lymphatic system is damaged by radiation or chemotherapy, or the lymph nodes are removed, it can cause an abnormal buildup of fluid called lymphedema, often in the arm or trunk of the treated side,” says Dorsey. “Anywhere from 5–20 percent of patients will go on to develop lymphedema, which then kicks off a lifetime of managing the swelling to avoid discomfort, tissue disease, and even bacterial infection.”
Patients typically use a variety of tools to manage this disease, such as wearing compression garments, undergoing occupational and physical therapy, and avoiding potential triggers, including frequent air travel, hot environments such as saunas, and heavy lifting with the affected side.
“However, some of these have been shown to be risk factors in some people and others have not borne out over time,” says Dorsey. “This is an area in which soft robotics might be used to interpret an individual patient’s triggers more frequently.”
Dorsey’s work seeks to create wearable devices that would measure changes in swelling in real time or at daily intervals so that patients and their doctors can begin to identify patterns.
“If someone is a weightlifter or a hot yoga enthusiast, we would want them to be able to continue the activity they enjoy, if possible,” says Dorsey. “My hope is that these sensors could sense size changes after a workout session, for example, and transmit that data so that the patient can be aware of what causes their lymphedema symptoms and avoid those particular activities or environments.”
This kind of impact-centered design is what drew Dorsey to Olin at the beginning of her college years.
When I found out about Olin I was totally enthralled with their focus on the impacts and implications of engineering out in the world.
When I was about to graduate, I realized that I felt really called to help work on some of those bigger societal challenges outside of engineering, so I deferred my acceptance to Carnegie Mellon University and spent a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer helping FIRST Robotics teams at Boston area schools get ready for competitions.”
Kris Dorsey '07
“When I found out about Olin I was totally enthralled with their focus on the impacts and implications of engineering out in the world,” says Dorsey. “When I was about to graduate, I realized that I felt really called to help work on some of those bigger societal challenges outside of engineering, so I deferred my acceptance to Carnegie Mellon University and spent a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer helping FIRST Robotics teams at Boston area schools get ready for competitions.”
Dorsey is now an associate professor at Northeastern University, jointly appointed in electrical and computer engineering and in physical therapy, movement, and rehabilitation sciences, as well as an MLK Visiting Associate Professor in the Media Lab at MIT. Dorsey is a dedicated mentor in the Boston chapter of Black in Robotics, and the PI for the Programmable and Reconfigurable Soft Engineered Systems (PARSES) lab.