Assembled Spotlight: Sakshi Srivastava

“But, I don’t see how women have contributed in the development of Science,” said a male friend, a fellow freshmen at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 13 words and the hard work of umpteen female scientists and engineers was brought down to nothing.

I hail from Allahabad, a small town in India where no one knew going abroad for undergrad is an option. Guidance for college applications came from Google search and online forums. Explaining the process to the staff at high school came at the price of being told that I won’t succeed. I had to travel to Delhi, even to get books for standardized tests. With no school counsellor, my parents were my only supporters. Having put so much sweat in finding my place in one of the best engineering schools in the world, I found it absurd and demeaning to have the labor of my gender being invalidated by someone who was socio-economically more privileged than I was.

I decided to approach the problem using science and published literature. In my freshmen year, I wrote a paper for a rhetoric course on “Underrepresentation of Women in the Science community.” Turns out that a key factor that keeps women from Math, Science and Engineering is that young girls don’t see themselves represented as successful entities in STEM — a female CEO, Professor, Dean. By the time I was a junior, I’d had enough of “she got the internship because she is a girl”, “women get more scholarship opportunities, I wish I was a girl”, and “there is a need to start Men in ECE organization.”

We need to find a way to communicate to young women that they belong in engineering. In “Towards the Understanding of Sculpture as Public Art”, Curtis Carter wrote that “public art might aim at fostering unity among people by idealizing the sentiments of the community, or by focusing on some areas of common agreement.” I believe that a statue of a woman on the engineering campus will inspire prospective students, who visit the campus for tours and Engineering Open House, to aspire to be a part of the Engineering at Illinois family. It will also serve as a reminder to the current female students in engineering that the community supports their goals.

I started an online petition to collect signatures in support of erecting a woman engineer statue on campus, in Fall 2013. The Illinois Student Senate endorsed the proposal followed by an assent from the Academic Senate. Within a year, I was working with the College and the ECE department on multiple aspects of the project like fundraising, forming the student committee, and deciding the location for placement of the artwork. In March 2015, Texas Instruments announced that they will be sponsoring the statue. Following the dedication ceremony, the Dean of the College of Engineering, Andreas Cangellaris, said, “Always remember Sakshi, it takes just one person to change the world. Going from 0 to 1 is the hardest step. 1 onward the path gets easy.” This is something I will never forget as an engineer and as a human.

During my time at Illinois, I have had over 6 on campus jobs, including being a resident advisor and a tutor, and have led multiple committees. I have constantly observed the benefits of having a tolerant, diverse community where people are driven by empathy, respect and ambition to make this world a better place. During the last semester of undergrad, I received 4 leadership awards including some of the highest honors given by the college and the university. I managed to bag another one for my undergraduate research and, drumroll please, graduate admission at Illinois. Needless to say, being surrounded with some of the best brains, loving community and a wonderful advisor who is one of the smartest women I have come across, I chose to continue at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Currently I am pursuing my MS in Electrical Engineering and plan on getting my Ph.D. As far as the statue is concerned, News Gazette did an article on it in March. Check it out!

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