Professor appointed by President Biden to National Science Board speaks on journey and work

Professor appointed by President Biden to National Science Board speaks on journey and work

Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska at an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) test campaign in Berlin, Germany. Courtesy of Dorta Grejner-Brzezinska

Ancient navigators and Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska share a key characteristic: a curiosity to explore, discover and map the world.

Grejner-Brzezinska, the vice president of knowledge enterprise and a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering, followed her childhood fascination with maps to a career working with GPS and the Global Navigation Satellite System. As a result of that ambition, Grejner-Brzezinska was appointed to the National Science Council by President Joe Biden on Jan. 13, according to a White House press release.

“It’s not just a recognition — it’s actually quite a bit of work,” Grejner-Brzezinska said. “I don’t shy away from this type of work because it’s potentially very impactful.”

Grejner-Brzezinska said the 24-member National Science Council plays several roles, including developing new policies related to research, development and education “in science and engineering.” The board also advises the president and Congress on science and engineering, according to the press release.

Allison MacKay, chair of the department of civil, environmental and geodetic engineering, said the board oversees the National Science Foundation, an organization that supports national research.

“Many of the graduate students at Ohio State are funded by grants that have come to faculty from the National Science Foundation,” MacKay said.

Grejner-Brzezinska said her journey to the council began in Poland where she studied geomatics engineering, a way of surveying the Earth. While there, she said she came across a new concept – the Global Positioning System.

“I said, ‘I have to get to the bottom of this thing,'” Grejner-Brzezinska said. “When I was a student, there was still an embargo on GPS equipment in my home country [Poland]so I applied for a Fulbright scholarship for the geodetic science program at Ohio State.

At the time, GPS was considered a Department of Defense project with no anticipated civilian applications, Grejner-Brzezinska said. That has since changed.

“We have evolved over these more than 20 years, from enabling GPS itself to so many different applications,” said Grejner-Brzezinska.

As GPS expanded, so did Grejner-Brzezinska’s research interests, she said. She is currently co-director of the university’s Satellite Positioning and Inertial Navigation Laboratory with Charles Toth, a research professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering.

“Students and Dr. Toth and I have been working on developing the next generations of what we call integrated navigation systems, or multisensor navigation systems,” Grejner-Brzezinska said. “We developed algorithms and methods and ultimately prototyped new systems to extend the capabilities of GPS in those areas where GPS is not available.”

Toth said that Grejner-Brzezinska’s and his own specialties complement each other nicely, making the two “effective in going for grants and doing a variety of projects.”

Grejner-Brzezinska said she only planned to stay at Ohio State for one year; however, it became 30 because she is “still learning”.

While at Ohio State, Grejner-Brzezinska said she served as a researcher and as a professor and in various leadership positions throughout the university, including as an associate dean for research in the College of Engineering.

“I like to focus on enabling the success of other people, so I like working with the junior faculty,” Grejner-Brzezinska said. “I like to work across the boundaries of disciplines.”

MacKay said Grejner-Brzezinska’s interdisciplinary mindset is one of her greatest strengths.

“She has an incredible ability to quickly understand what the key elements of research are in many different areas,” MacKay said. “Not just within the area that she personally specialized in – published in, but to be able to look across many other different areas.”

Grejner-Brzezinska said boundless curiosity is what fosters that mindset.

“Curiosity will guide you,” Grejner-Brzezinska said. “Asking questions to colleagues and researchers and students from outside your own discipline will open horizons and generate even more questions, but it’s really a way to learn.”

From a young girl fascinated by stories of ancient explorers and maps, to Ohio State’s first woman inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, to now a member of the National Science Board, Grejner-Brzezinska said she will one piece of advice to her younger self.

“Be curious and ask questions,” Grejner-Brzezinska said. “Every question has a reason for being and deserves an answer. And if you’re not satisfied, keep drilling.”

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