Building Bridges Between Business and Academia
Global Head of Academies and University Alliances at SAP
About this episode
Karina Edmonds, Global Head of Academies and University Alliances at SAP, has spent her career building bridges between business and academia. She is passionate about promoting fairness in data science by bringing more young people, women, and underrepresented groups into the field.
Though Karina showed an early aptitude in math, her high school counselor advised her against pursuing an engineering degree. She ignored his advice and went on to earn her undergrad degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Rhode Island and a PhD in Aeronautics from Caltech. She landed her first job as a speech-to-text engineer at TRW where she was awarded her first patent. She then moved on to technology transfer as a patent agent at the Jet Propulsion Lab. She bounced back to academia, managing corporate partnerships for Caltech, and then returned to industry as Google’s University Lead for Google Cloud AI/Machine Learning. She is now at SAP as Global Head of Academies and University Alliances, continuing to connect industry and academia.
In her diverse career spanning business and education, she has seen increasing power concentrated in big tech companies through their ownership of immense datasets and computational power. Companies are also attracting talent away from universities that are now having a hard time hiring enough computer science faculty. She says there are some creative ways to bring back some balance by companies hosting visiting faculty and industry partners coming in to teach at universities.
Karina is also very concerned about ensuring fairness in data science. She explains that it’s not just the software that’s being developed, but the datasets that are used to create predictive models. If a company just collects data from one demographic and then applies it to everyone, that introduces bias, and then the algorithms amplify these biases. She believes that the only way to address this is to have more ethnic, gender and geographic diversity in the field of data science. She sees a vital need to encourage more women and minorities to enter the field to bring diverse perspectives to data science.
For people interested in pursuing a career in data science, she advises gaining the basic skills in math, science, and programming languages, but the most important quality is the ability to learn because everything is constantly changing. She recommends keeping your options open, acquiring as many skills as possible, and sharpening your interpersonal skills. Karina also says to challenge yourself. “We don’t grow in a space of comfort. You grow when you’re challenged, it’s okay to be uncomfortable because that’s likely the place of greatest growth. There’s no such thing as failure, you either win or you learn.”
About the Host
Stanford Professor [Emerita] Margot Gerritsen is the Executive Director and co-founder of Women in Data Science Worldwide (WiDS) and born and raised in the Netherlands. Margot received her MSc in Applied Mathematics from Delft University of Technology before moving to the US in search of sunnier and hillier places. In. 1996 she completed her PhD in Scientific Computing & Computational Mathematics at Stanford University and moved further West to New Zealand where she spent 5 years at the University of Auckland as a lecturer in Engineering Science. In 2001, she returned to Stanford as faculty member in Energy Resources Engineering. Margot was the Director of the Institute for Computational & Mathematical Engineering (ICME) at Stanford from 2010-2018 and the Senior Associate Dean for Educational Affairs in Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences from 2015-2020. In 2022, Margot took Emerita status to devote herself to WiDS full time. Margot is a Fellow of the Society of Industrial & Applied Mathematics, and received honorary doctorates from Uppsala University, Sweden, and the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. She now lives in Oregon with her husband Paul.