Sunday, May 8, 2016

Pioneering Founder and Trailblazer in Electrical Engineering

Dr. Carol Espy-Williams

University of Maryland (UMD) - Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE)
Institute for Systems Research (ISR), Faculty Member
CEO & Founder - OmniSpeech

Academic Research

Communications and Signal Processing Laboratory (CSPL)

Professor Espy-Wilson's research interests include the integration of engineering, linguistics and speech acoustics to study speech communication. She is developing an approach to speech recognition based on phonetic features, articulatory parameters and landmarks to better address variability in the speech signal. She also conducts research in the areas of speech production, speech enhancement, speaker recognition, single-channel speaker separation and language and genre detection in audio content analysis and forensics. A major focus of her research is to gain a better understanding of the relationship between articulation, acoustics and perception and to use this knowledge to develop effective speech technologies. Prof. Espy-Wilson heads the Speech Communication Lab where postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate students perform research. Her research has been largely supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Professor Espy-Wilson teaches the undergraduate courses Numerical Techniques in Engineering (ENEE 241), Signals and Systems (ENEE 322), Digital Signal Processing (ENEE 425), and the advanced graduate level course, Speech and Audio Processing, ENEE 632.


Carol Espy-Wilson received her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 1979. She received her SM and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from MITin 1984 and 1987, respectively. She was on faculty at Boston University from 1990 to 2001 and is Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Maryland, College Park. She directs the Speech Communication Lab at UMD.

She is the recipient of the NSF Minority Initiation Award (1990-1992), the Clare Booth Luce Professorship (1990-1995) the NIH Independent Scientist Award (1998-2003), the Honda Initiation Award (2004-2005), and a Radcliffe Fellowship (2008).

Dr. Espy-Wilson is a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) and a Senior Member of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE).  She served as Chair of the Speech Technical Committee of the ASA from 2007 to 2010, as an associate editor of the ASA's magazine, AcousticsToday, and as an appointed member of the Language and Communication Study Section at NIH, 2001-2004. Currently, she is an Associate Editor of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, an elected member of the Speech and Language Technical Committee of IEEE and a member of the National Advisory Board for Medical Rehabilitation Research at NIH.

MIT Journey

Carol Espy-Wilson, the first African-American woman to earn a PhD in electrical engineering at MIT, is both an academic and an entrepreneur. A professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Maryland and a member of its Institute for Systems Research, she does research that integrates engineering, linguistics, and speech science. She’s also founder and CEO of OmniSpeech, which improves voice clarity on cell phones and other communication devices in noisy ­environments.

Espy-Wilson grew up in Atlanta, earned her undergraduate degree at Stanford, and interned at Bell Labs. After MIT, she taught at Boston University and then, in 2001, made the move to UMD College Park. UMD’s Venture Accelerator program urged her into entrepreneurship in 2009. “I was not thinking about starting a company,” she says.

OmniSpeech targets emerging markets that rely on inexpensive phones with poor sound filtering. “We use the unique characteristics of speech to extract it from the noisy signal, even if the noise is dynamic—like music, or people talking in the background,” Espy-Wilson explains. “I’m really excited about the potential to improve all kinds of communication devices, including wearables, push-to-talk radios, and hearing aids.”  MIT’s Speech Communication Group shaped Espy-Wilson’s approach. “It was such a unique group—engineers, linguists, phoneticians, and psycholinguists. We even had a dentist who conducted research into speech motor control,” she says. “I attribute the speech enhancement algorithm we developed at OmniSpeech to that holistic background.”

Espy-Wilson’s husband, John Silvanus Wilson, worked in development at MIT for 16 years, and the two were housemasters at MacGregor House. He is now president of Morehouse College in Atlanta. “We have a commuting marriage,” she says. “We both want each other to realize our dreams, so that makes it a lot easier to do this.” They have 26-year-old twin daughters and a 20-year-old son.
A Radcliffe fellowship brought Espy-Wilson back to Cambridge in 2008, when she also served as a Residential Scholar at Simmons Hall. And this past April, she delivered the keynote address at the Black Alumni of MIT graduation celebration: “I talked to them about finding their passion and purpose, trusting that, as the Bible says, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us,’ so that they will be courageous and take risks—and the need for them to lift as they climb.”

Honors and Awards

• Institute of Systems Research Fellow Award (2015 - 2017)
• University of Maryland Distinguished Scholar-Teacher (2012 - 2013)
• Maryland Daily Record Innovator of the Year Award (2010)
• Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (2008-2009)
• University of Maryland Invention of the Year Award (2009)
• Acoustical Society of America Fellow (2005)
• Honda Initiation Award (2003-2004)
• NIH Independent Scientist Award (1998-2003)
• Clare Booth Luce Professorship (1990-1995)
• NSF Minority Initiation Award (1990-1992)

Academic Degrees

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
PhD, Electrical Engineering

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
SM, Electrical Engineering

Stanford University
BS, Electrical Engineering

Photo Credit: UMD

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