Jessica Boles Creates Paths of Empowerment
Jessica Boles is someone who leaves a place in better shape than when she arrived. From UT to MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), she built a legacy of community engagement that resonates for future students.
Boles earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, in 2015 and 2017 respectively, from UT’s Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. As she researched ways for improving power electronics, she made connections with fellow Engineering Vols and generous alumni for organizations and events like SYSTERS and WomEngineers Day, two important building blocks that helped form the college’s Women in Engineering Program.
“These were highly formative experiences for me—learning how to mentor, how to lead, and how to pursue something important,” said Boles. “Today, these themes are present in both my PhD research and in the team of bachelor’s and master’s-level students that I’ve built along the way.”
Boles deeply appreciates being able to invest in student colleagues through mentorship and guidance—important factors that should accompany the technical work of engineering—especially for those with less access to such benefits.
“I’m certainly a product of mentorship myself,” she said. “I would not have pursued graduate studies if it weren’t for those who invested in me, and for that I’m very grateful.”
The investments paid off for Boles, who completed her PhD in 2022 in the Power Electronics Research Group at MIT. She began her latest role as an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in January 2023.
“These experiences also opened my eyes to how important it is that we engage and support women and other underrepresented groups in engineering,” said Boles. “We all share this responsibility, and I look forward to continue working in this space as a faculty member.”
While at UT, she developed a battery storage system emulator for a power-electronics-based grid testbed. At MIT, she focused on miniaturizing power electronics for next-generation technologies.
“Power electronics are at the heart of processing electricity for computing, wireless communication, renewable energy, transportation, manufacturing, healthcare technology, and many more things we use every day,” said Boles, offering as example the box on a phone charger that plugs into the wall. “My PhD focused on a new way to design these, and I think we’ve really only scratched the surface of what’s possible with that. I’m looking forward to building on it going forward.”
Though she is far from Rocky Top, her Volunteer Spirit shines brightly through her ongoing approach.
“I’ve always enjoyed investing in the communities and individuals around me,” said Boles. “At MIT, I worked with my departmental and school administration to improve graduate student experience, particularly in regard to research advisor/advisee relations.”
She also co-chaired an MIT annual research conference in January 2021, which was her second conference chairing experience—the first being WomEngineers Day at UT.
Her efforts advocating for graduate students earned Boles the MIT EECS Department Head Special Recognition Award in 2019. She also earned MIT’s Collamore-Rogers Fellowship, adding to a history of earned support that included UT’s Bodenheimer Fellowship and the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.
“Fellowships give students significant freedom in terms of which research topics they pursue,” she said. “My PhD focused on a high-risk, high-reward topic enabled in part by this support.”
Outside of her professional life, Boles is an avid hiker and landscape photographer. She has hiked in 48 of the 63 US national parks since finishing her degrees at UT.
“There’s something exciting to me about going where few have been before—in both research and in nature—and trying to create something special there,” she said. Boles has walked the walk as a true Vol in this regard—creating something special every step of the way.