EIT’s on-campus lecturer in Civil Engineering at Engineering Institute of Technology, Melbourne Campus, Dr Shasha Wang is a role model for many women in STEM. She is able to philosophize academia and the student experience and think about how it needs to improve.
That makes sense. Shasha made the jump from student to academic, and it gives her a modern lens to explore that line of reasoning, and how to cross it.
So where did her interest start?
“When I was a young child, I was intrigued by magic programs; I was old enough then to realize magicians use all sorts of gadgets to make magic happen. That’s probably where I was first inspired to enter engineering.”
She went to university, of course, and then obtained her Ph.D. degree in Civil Engineering (structural engineering) from the National University of Singapore.
She previously worked as a sessional lecturer at Victoria University and a research fellow at the National University of Singapore and became a member of many engineering bodies and completed some heady research.
These areas include high-performance concrete (HPC) and ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC), concrete materials and structures under impact loading, green concrete and low-carbon concrete structures, sustainable construction materials and repair and rehabilitation of civil structures and infrastructures.
This is one of the reasons she feels at home in academia.
“It makes sense if you enjoy finding creative ways to tackle engineering problems; it makes even more sense if you enjoy the feeling that you’ve contributed a little bit to help create creative engineers day in and day out.”
For her, academics are creative, and research is more fluid.
“I like the way academics approach an engineering problem: you’ve got to prioritize creativity and originality more than anything else,” she says.
At the end of the day, for Shasha, engineering is to solve real-world problems – and she considers that when she teaches.
“The world is changing and is changing fast, so must engineering. Should there exist anything in engineering that doesn’t change, that thing is the changing engineering itself.”
It includes how women students and engineers can effectively be part of the world.
“The past fifteen years have witnessed great progress made by various women in STEM programs around Australia and beyond in dealing with the inadequate representation of girls and women in STEM areas,” explains Sasha.
According to her often media representations of these women focuses on the strong positive influence women in STEM have.
“Complacency then kicks in, rightfully. But hang on, have we really made it to a stage where we can contentedly sit back and see those programs run their course? Is there anything we can add to make those programs even more successful?” she asks.
Dr. Shasha believes that too often we see Women in STEM through campaign photos of a young female engineer wearing a hi-vis vest and a hard hat.
“Surely these are inspiring, especially to those of the potential future female engineering students who may still harbor doubts about becoming a female engineer upon completion of an engineering course. Essentially, those photos are saying, loud and clear, ‘If she can become an engineer, so can you.”
While these photos have started to address the diversity within engineering, it doesn’t address the fact that women in STEM are often there because of genuine interest in the work and field of study.
“In the context of Women in STEM, there probably exists a niche market. There may be girls and women who are genuinely intrigued by cool engineering stuff but have no plan in seeking employment in an engineering area.”
“Have you ever come across girls who love playing with Legos? You would not put money on them being a brickie, would you? Maybe a liberal arts type of STEM short course meets the call.”
She wants engineering to address the missing middle relating to women with genuine interest, but are almost excluded from the dialogue that includes them in STEM education or the sub-categories of it.
“Typically, women in STEM programs are affiliated with engineering and/or science schools. The programs, therefore, have a vested interest in attracting more girls and women to STEM courses. Indeed, it is not uncommon that the enrolments of female students in relevant STEM courses are used to measure how effective a woman in STEM program is.”
She wants to see women in STEM also advocate for women in non-STEM, and vice versa.
“The fact of the matter is that, while there are many girls and women who have developed an interest in a STEM course thanks to a lot of hard work from Women in STEM programs, there are many other girls and women who may not be a big fan of any STEM course. If a Women in STEM program helps a female student make a well-informed decision to enroll in a course in a non-STEM area, it should be equally recognized and commended.”
The reliance on numbers to measure women and stem, not considering some students might only be in STEM ultimately not to take up employment space within STEM is a problem.
“Taking pride in seeing more and more female STEM students, a sustainable Women in STEM program should be able to gracefully point girls and women towards an area that they find the most comfortable to be in. For this reason, business and law schools should pay their fair share to fund Women in STEM programs!”