Preeti Jagadev, an assistant teaching professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, is the first person in American academia to win the prestigious SPIE Diversity Outreach Award. She is also the first Indian and first Asian woman to win the award.

SPIE, the International Society for Optics and Photonics, recently honored her for her work promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). It is the highest recognition given by SPIE in that field, and the selection of the awardee is made from around 128 countries.

“I feel very happy and excited about this recognition,” Jagadev said. “I am glad that my efforts of advocating for DEI in around eight countries for the past five years has been recognized. I am aware that this prestigious award has given me global recognition, and it is a dream come true for me.”

SPIE brings together engineers, scientists, students, and business professionals to advance light-based science and technology. Every year, the group recognizes an individual who has made outstanding contributions to promoting diversity in the education, training and participation of people from historically excluded groups in optics and photonics. 

Jagadev was featured on SPIE’s website in January, where they announced her award. 

“Jagadev has always pursued research that simultaneously contributes to the advancement of science as well as to the betterment of human health,” according to SPIE’s article. “Jagadev’s own experiences made her aware of the barriers faced by underrepresented groups in STEM, leading to her advocacy for diversity, equity, and inclusion in those areas.”

Before coming to Syracuse, Jagadev was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Michigan where she designed artificial-intelligence algorithms to diagnose the deployment-related respiratory diseases prevalent in war veterans. Prior to that, she was the only woman pursuing a Ph.D. in her group in the Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering at the National Institute of Technology Goa (NITG) in India. 

She developed a novel, high-performance medical module for the real-time monitoring of human respiration in a non-contact, non-invasive and automated manner, using infrared thermography and artificial intelligence. She presented the work at a variety of international platforms, including SPIE conferences.

As the outreach chair of the Optics Society at UM, she worked with Ann Arbor’s Peace Neighborhood Center to provide STEM-related programs to underrepresented children. She also collaborated with UM’s Females Excelling More in Math and Engineering Sciences (FEMMES) to help with their STEM-focused camp for Ann Arbor schoolgirls. 

Jagadev also volunteered for UM’s Science Engagement and Education for Kids program, served as the DEI lead of the radiology department of Michigan Medicine and was the postdoc liaison officer, as well as the DEI officer of the Graduate Society of Women Engineers at UM.

SPIE featured Jagadev in 2021 as part of its SPIE Women in Optics Planner.

“I want girls to know that the only permanent thing in life is your identity, so please work towards building that,” Jagadev said. “Follow your dreams, and don’t rest until you achieve them.”