Radhika Nagpal, Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science, who received the 2015 Capers W. McDonald and Marion K. McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising

Radhika Nagpal receives the McDonald mentoring award from then-Interim Dean Harry R. Lewis. (Photo by Eliza Grinnell/SEAS Communications.)

The poet Robert Frost once wrote, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” The same could be said about Radhika Nagpal, Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science, who received the 2015 Capers W. McDonald and Marion K. McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising.

A tradition at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences since 2008, the award recognizes leaders in engineering and applied sciences who, as exemplary mentors and advisors, have significantly and consistently supported the personal and professional development of others.

Nagpal, who received more than 20 nominations from current and former students, as well as faculty colleagues, was honored for inspiring and coaching others to reach their full potential. She was also recognized for volunteer service at numerous community events that encourage children to consider STEM careers.

“As a mentor for both undergraduate and graduate students, Radhika is unmatched in her gifts for finding and nurturing talent. What truly distinguishes her approach as a scientific advisor is an instinctive understanding of the creative process,” wrote one of Nagpal’s former Ph.D. students.

She was also lauded for her support of SEAS student initiatives. Nagpal has served as advisor for the Harvard Intercollegiate Genetically Engineered Machine Competition team and the Robotic Futbol Club, and currently advises the Harvard Undergraduate Women in Computer Science (WICS), an organization she was instrumental in creating.

In 2010, began a “one woman crusade” to secure funds to send female computer science students to the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. More than 100 SEAS students have since attended the annual meeting, which showcases new developments and provides opportunities to network with leading female technologists.

“[Nagpal’s] dedication and passion for encouraging women to pursue fields in computer science has helped foster a more welcoming and supporting community for women at Harvard,” wrote a past president of WICS.

Nagpal, who is also a core faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically-Inspired Engineering, has distinguished herself as a researcher. Her group focuses on bio-inspired algorithms, programming paradigms, and hardware designs for modular robotic systems. A past recipient of the NSF Career Award, Nagpal draws on her research experience to provide guidance and career advice for aspiring scientists.

“She understands that scientific risks are worth taking, and encourages her students—both undergraduate and graduate—to pursue interdisciplinary projects that open new areas of inquiry, rather than settling for low-hanging fruit,” wrote a former Ph.D. student.

In addition to advising and mentoring students and post-doctoral fellows, Nagpal teaches the popular courses Autonomous Robot Systems (CS 189) and Biologically-inspired Multi-agent Systems (CS 289). She joined the SEAS faculty in 2004.