Cao is the Cardiss Collins Professor, Director of Northwestern Initiative for Manufacturing Science and Innovation, and an Associate Vice President for Research (AVPR) at Northwestern University. She was at the National Science Foundation as a program director for two years. As an AVPR, Cao fosters collaboration between the physical sciences and engineering and other disciplines. She is a Board member of mHUB, Chicago’s first innovation center focused on physical product development and manufacturing.
Cao is an elected Fellow of AAAS, ASME, SME, and the International Academy for Production Engineering (CIRP). Her major awards include Charles Russ Richards Memorial Award (2017) from ASME and Pi Tau Sigma, SME Frederick W. Taylor Research Medal (2016), ASME Blackall Machine Tool and Gage Award (2012, 2018), ASME Young Investigator Award (2006) from ASME Division of Applied Mechanics, and NSF CAREER Award. Cao is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Materials Processing Technology. She served as President of the SME North America Manufacturing Research Institute, and Chair of ASME Manufacturing Engineering Division. She is a recipient of ASME Dedicated Service Award (2011).