Distinguished Alumni Awards

Mary Jane Irwin

Mary Jane Irwin
For outstanding research, leadership, and service contributions to computer science and engineering, and for outstanding efforts to increase the participation of women in the field.

Evan Pugh Professor and Robert E. Noll Chair in Engineering, Pennsylvania State University

  • BS, 1971, Mathematics, Memphis State University
  • MS, 1975, Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • PhD, 1977, Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Honorary Doctorate, Chalmers University (Sweden)


Mary Jane Irwin has not only been a pioneer in computer science, but a strong advocate for women in engineering.  A leading faculty member at Penn State since 1977, she currently holds the title of Evan Pugh Professor as well as the Robert E. Noll Chair in Engineering in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

Irwin was one of the first researchers in computer architecture to predict that energy would become the next important constraint for high-performance system developers. To address these challenges, she led the creation of the first architectural-level power simulator to optimize power consumption and facilitate an energy-aware design approach.

Another landmark contribution to the field is the design of the first architecture for Discrete Wavelet Transform, a process that decomposes a signal into a set of basic functions necessary for solving problems in signal processing and image compression. To address bottlenecks in hardware design progress resulting from poor design tools, Irwin’s team developed a new logic synthesis approach based on optimizing communication complexity and used it to develop a new adder, known as ELM, which offers superior energy and performance characteristics that are now found in many computers.

For her research contributions, Irwin was named a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), and of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). She was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2003, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) in 2009.

Irwin has been active in promoting computer science and engineering to women, securing nearly $600,000 in funding for such activities from the National Science Foundation and industry sources.  She was a guiding force in the launch of the Computer Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W). She is currently a member of the College of Engineering’s Women in Leadership Team at Penn State.

Irwin received the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award from the Department of Computer Science at Illinois in 2011, and currently serves on the CS Alumni Advisory Board.