Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Highlighting Asian American Engineers Pt. 3

Meet and learn more about our early career professionals and graduate students in SWE's Asian Connections Affinity Group: Julia Di, Purva Vaidya, Kazi Tasneem, Caroline Juang.

In celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, SWE will be highlighting Asian American women engineers in a series of blog posts.

In this article, we will feature Julia Di (Robotics Ph.D. Student at Stanford University), Purva Vaidya (Project Engineer), Kazi Tasneem (Graduate Research Assistant, Vanderbilt University) and Caroline Juang (Ph.D. Student at Columbia University).


Julia Di (Robotics Ph.D. Student from Stanford University)

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Highlighting Asian American Engineers Pt. 3 asian pacific american heritage month

Julia is a NASA Space Technology Research Fellow at Stanford University. She graduated with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering at Columbia University in 2018, where she was dedicated to student activities such as the Columbia Space Initiative, Women in Computer Science, and the student Makerspace. 

Tell us about your background: Where are you from, and what attracted you to the world of engineering or STEM?

I’m from Maryland, and I definitely didn’t grow up thinking I was going to be an engineer. As a kid, I loved the arts: English literature, history, visual arts, dramatic arts, you name it. I was about to go to an art college for undergraduate studies, but I changed my mind and decided to give engineering a shot. The reason why I tried out engineering was that I thought to be an engineer, designing intelligent machines and robots, was the best way for me to use my creative talents to directly help people.

What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome to be where you are today?

Everyone experiences stress or self-doubt at least once in their lives. For me, the biggest obstacle has been myself; it’s easy to feel out of place as a minority in STEM but internalizing that feeling consumes you. Whenever I’m feeling down or like I don’t belong, it helps to remember all that my family has overcome to even get to this point. My grandparents are peasant farmers from China with an elementary school level of education, having dropped out of school to work. My parents immigrated to the US and learned the way of a new country where they didn’t speak the language and didn’t have any money. I am the first in my entire family to be born outside of China. When I am stressed, I remember that I never face my problems alone and that no problems are truly insurmountable because others have done it before.

What has been your personal experience as a (double) minority in STEM? What surprises (good or bad) have you encountered?

Being the only woman or the only person of color in the room is very isolating. Oftentimes, you are both. But I’m a big supporter of positive thinking, and that applies to be a minority in STEM as well. Use your uniqueness to your advantage. Because of the gender inequity in STEM fields, being a woman or gender minority is an automatic way of standing out in a crowd, which helps when meeting people, networking, and learning about new things.

Did you have any mentors or role models who helped shape your educational and/or professional path?

Growing up, I didn’t have too many role models because I never saw Asians represented on media. But nowadays, I have had many role models and mentors to look up to. Not all of these role models may look like me, but they all share positive qualities that I hope to integrate into my own life. If I had to choose one though, my answer would have to be my mother – Chinese culture is traditionally patriarchal, and she broke the mold by raising me to value my independence and self-sufficiency.

What is your philosophy in life?

Live a relationship-driven life. It’s not about the things you do, the clothes you wear, or the money you make; life is most meaningful when you care for other people, and when people care for you. Happiness is meant to be shared. Invest in your relationships with others, and that will be an investment in yourself and your own future.


Purva Vaidya (Project Engineer)

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Highlighting Asian American Engineers Pt. 3 asian pacific american heritage month

Purva earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Biomedical Engineering with a concentration in Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering from Drexel University. She currently works as a Project Engineer for a consulting and validation firm that works in the pharmaceutical and cell and gene therapy industries.

Tell us about your background: Where are you from, and what attracted you to the world of engineering or STEM?

I grew up in New York City. When I was little, I made my parents take me to the science museums in the city. I loved science at an early age and began to think about what I wanted to study in college. I had an interest in the healthcare field. My brother, who is also an engineer, encouraged me to consider biomedical engineering, as it was the perfect intersection of my love for problem-solving and the medical field.

What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome to be where you are today?

One of the biggest obstacles I have had to overcome is a feeling of self-doubt that has manifested throughout my academic and professional careers. When working on my Master’s thesis, I was anxious over not feeling like I could complete it. During training, I felt overshadowed by the others in my training class and felt as though I didn’t deserve to belong there. It’s taken a lot of work to quiet those thoughts and acknowledge that in each of the situations I thought I could not get through, I have done so, and that is how I have been able to attain the position I am in today.

What has been your personal experience as a (double) minority in STEM? What surprises (good or bad) have you encountered?

One challenge that I have continuously faced as a minority in STEM is people assuming that I was not as capable as others. Others often assume that I was not in charge of a project and immediately attribute it to someone else.  I’ve been talked over during meetings and faced coworkers who disregard the directions I’ve given them while I was the project leader. The good surprise in all of these was to learn that I have great team members and supervisors who have my back and advocate for me, and, most importantly are there to listen.

Did you have any mentors or role models who helped shape your educational and/or professional path?

I’ve been extremely fortunate to be able to seek out and find mentors throughout my academic and professional career thus far. My Master’s thesis advisor not only pushed me to become the best researcher I could be but also provided me unending support in exploring what I would want to pursue as a career. In school, my fellow SWE members acted as both mentors and role models, who I look up to to this day. At work, my supervisor has not only acted as a mentor but as an advocate for me with both our clients and our company, which has helped me learn and grow within my position.

What is your philosophy in life?

We all have continuous room for learning and growth, whether that be personally or professionally. I strive to improve myself and to help others, as well as pursue a career that brings me fulfillment and happiness at the end of the day.


Kazi Tasneem (Graduate Research Assistant, Vanderbilt University)

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Highlighting Asian American Engineers Pt. 3 asian pacific american heritage month

Kazi is a Ph.D. Candidate in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Vanderbilt University. She has a double MSc in Materials and Environmental Engineering and a BSc in Chemical Engineering. Kazi is a collegiate member of SWE and is actively involved with GradSWE serving the role of FY20 WE Local Programming Liaison.

Tell us about your background: Where are you from, and what attracted you to the world of engineering or STEM?

My name is Kazi and I am originally from Bangladesh. I am a Ph.D. Candidate in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Vanderbilt University. Prior to my current graduate work, I received an MSc in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Central Florida and an MSc in Environmental Engineering with Dean’s Fellowship from Carnegie Mellon University. I completed my BSc in Chemical Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. Engineering fascinates me because it implements scientific knowledge and mathematical understanding to develop our society. STEM makes a difference to lives by playing a role at the forefront of technology – from this perspective, I consider myself a STEM advocate. Beyond the academic setting, I have been strongly involved in professional societies promoting STEM and women in technology.

What has been your personal experience as a (double) minority in STEM? What surprises (good or bad) have you encountered?

As an international female engineer coming from a different culture and atmosphere, being successful in your career is going to be challenging. However, all of my experiences in the academia space and in professional societies (such as SWE) are very positive and welcoming. The diversity I have encountered around me gives me hope that I will survive and thrive when I step into the real-world engineering profession.

What courses do you feel are valuable in your early career?

I am a graduate researcher aiming to pursue an R&D position in the future. Since the world is moving toward developing a computational framework for many engineering problems, I find the graduate-level course “Applied Math in Chemical Engineering ” very pragmatic for a Chemical Engineer.

What is a project or accomplishment you are most proud of?

In my graduate research, I have the opportunity to work on developing a new method of preclinical toxicity, safety testing of chemicals and pharmaceuticals in microfluidic organ-on-chip technology, and enabling an ethical platform to accelerate the world’s transition from animal testing methods to a human-centric approach to chemical risk assessment. I feel proud that my work on computational modeling of flow and mass transport in organ-on-chip devices has been filed as US Patent.

What is your philosophy in life?

We should explore interests beyond the boundaries of technologies and look to the human factors to become well-rounded individuals. We are better than our resumes. In the world, you can be anything – be kind to yourself and others to make the world a better place.


Caroline Juang (Ph.D. Student at Columbia University)

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Highlighting Asian American Engineers Pt. 3 asian pacific american heritage month

Caroline Juang is a Taiwanese-American scientist and artist from Long Island, NY, with an interest in Earth, space, and creating. She is currently a first-year Ph.D. student in the Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University where she used satellite data and statistical modeling to understand natural hazards, particularly fire activity. She is motivated by her passion to increase access to opportunities in STEM and dedicates her time to mentoring students and volunteering for outreach and diversity initiatives in aerospace.

Tell us about your background: Where are you from, and what attracted you to the world of engineering or STEM?

I am an American-born Taiwanese and I grew up in Manhasset, NY, on Long Island. My parents have backgrounds in medicine and oncology. Their selflessness inspired me to be my best self. They gave me opportunities to explore many fields, which compels me to serve my community and give that same excitement I received about STEM to other young women and minorities. STEM attracts me because I can investigate the complexities of living and nonliving processes. I found my current research on how fire, vegetation, and human activities interact in today’s rapidly changing climate very fascinating.

What has been your personal experience as a (double) minority in STEM? What surprises (good or bad) have you encountered?

A New York Times article that came out this past December 2019 about the lack of minorities in graduate programs in geosciences was published in Nature Geosciences by Dr. Kuheli Dutt, Assistant Director for Academic Affairs and Diversity at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. I saw that some hallways at NASA were lined with older, white men. An article in Nature Communications in 2018 (Ford, Brick, Blaufuss, & Dekens) found that women were given fewer opportunities to speak or present compared to men at the largest American earth science conference. Despite these barriers, I am lucky that my Department encourages race and gender discussions. I am also fortunate to find other women and allies to whom I can share these discomforts and work with them to bring more diversity and inclusion.

Did you have any mentors or role models who helped shape your educational and/or professional path?

I am incredibly grateful to the many role models who have shaped my career path. I’m thankful to Dr. Dalia Kirschbaum, who was my supervisor at NASA GSFC. I’m also thankful to my senior thesis advisors Dr. Steve Wofsy and Dr. Bill Munger who oversaw my Harvard honors senior thesis research on statistical modeling carbon exchange. They made sure I had the tools I needed to do research, used their valuable time to walk me through challenging steps, believed in my ability, and pushed me when I was stuck. I am currently working with Dr. Park Williams at Columbia and am looking forward to learning from his research and STEM outreach!

What’s your first memory of wanting to pursue STEM?

In my senior year of high school, I applied for the NASA internships online and was offered to study landslides at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, MD when I transitioned from high school to college.  I discovered that there is a lot to learn about the Earth from space, including tracking landslides using satellite data on rainfall. I declared Earth & Planetary Sciences as my concentration at the end of my freshman year at Harvard and continued my winding yet purposeful path through earth science and space.


Related Content

Author(s) Information

  • Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Highlighting Asian American Engineers Pt. 3 asian pacific american heritage month SWE Blog

    SWE Blog provides up-to-date information and news about the Society and how our members are making a difference every day. You’ll find stories about SWE members, engineering, technology, and other STEM-related topics.

>
Scroll to Top