Women in Systems Engineering

About Us

On this page, we will post women’s stories, telling you how they entered the field, what they do in their career, and why they find their work exciting.


 The goal of the Women in Systems Engineering page is:

  1. To motivate women to consider Systems Engineering as their area of study and career.
  2. To showcase the important work performed by women working in the discipline.

IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE)

the ieee Systems Council has adopted and supports the IEEE WIE pledge:

"IEEE WIE pledges to work towards gender-diversified panels at all IEEE meetings, conferences, and events, including our own."

IEEE WIE is one of the world’s leaders in changing the face of engineering. Our global network connects nearly 20,000 members in over 100 countries to advance women in technology at all points in their life and career. IEEE WIE members make lifelong friendships, acquire influential mentors, and make a difference for the benefit of humanity.

IEEE WIE

WISE Chair

Holly Handley

Old Dominion University
United States
2 (Eastern U.S.)

Featured WiSE Women

 

The following interviews are from the featured WISE women of the Systems Council.

Holly Handley

Old Dominion University
United States
2 (Eastern U.S.)
How did you get started in the field of systems engineering?

Back in 1999, I was a military spouse with three children ages 3, 5 & 7. We moved to Northern Virginia when my husband was stationed at the Pentagon. I decided it was a good time to go back to school to get a PhD - I have bachelor and master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering. George Mason University, the nearby state university, only had an umbrella PhD program called Engineering and Technology. I applied to the program and was accepted - but I needed to find a graduate assistantship to cover the cost of childcare while I was in class. I went to campus and knocked on the doors of both the Electrical Engineering Department and the Systems Engineering Department. Only the System Engineering chair answered the door. He had an assistantship available earmarked for a US woman student – he offered it to me immediately with the caveat that my dissertation had to have something to do with Systems Engineering. 20 years later I am an Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director in the Systems Engineering Department at Old Dominion University. My research program investigates the intersection of System Engineering and Human System Integration, with a focus on System Architectures and Model Based System Engineering.

What do you find interesting or exciting about working in the field of systems science and systems engineering?

Everything is a system! The system boundary is where you as the engineer define it. I always define the boundary with the human operator inside the box – this forces me to think through how the human is part of the system and how that influences the system design. Now I am expanding my vision to have automation and artificial intelligence replace the operator; this increases the design space even further as I seek new ways to define how this impacts our understanding of the system and its relationship to humans “outside” the loop.

What advice do you have for those just starting out in the field of systems engineering?

Engineering is all about details, but it's important not to lose sight of the big picture. It is an exciting time to work in the field of systems engineering.

Stephanie White

Senior Professor
Long Island University – Post Campus
United States
1 (Northeastern U.S.)
How did you get started in the field of systems engineering?

I worked for Northrop Grumman Aerospace in the Software Systems Department and became Head of Requirements Engineering and Architecture, working closely with the Systems Department on aerospace programs. I was fortunate to work with excellent researchers at the Software Productivity Consortium, NRL's Software Cost Reduction Project, and was the User Group Chair for the University of Michigan's Problem Statement Language/Problem Statement Analyzer Project. These groups recognized the importance of systems engineering in improving the outcome of software projects.

What do you find interesting or exciting about working in the field of systems science and systems engineering?

Systems scientists and systems engineers work on complex systems that are difficult to understand and build. The problems are interesting and diverse and the field is relatively new, so there is a lot that one can contribute.

What advice do you have for those just starting out in the field of systems engineering?

Study in at least one related field prior to studying or working in systems engineering, as you will need that background to contribute to the understanding of a system. If possible, select a position where others are excited about what they are doing and learning.

Sarah Sheard

Carnegie Mellon University (Retired)
United States
How did you get started in the field of systems engineering?

After leaving graduate school I spoke with a former office mate who was working in satellite systems engineering and had this extremely attractive job doing the overall system, and I met his boss. I consider myself very fortunate to have been introduced to this early in my career.

What do you find interesting or exciting about working in the field of systems science and systems engineering?

No two days are alike. The range of things you can do in any one year is practically unlimited, and the field changes from year to year in an increasingly rapid fashion. It is impossible to be bored. You can, indeed must, combine learning from multiple fields and use all your brain. Technology, people skills, business, what you know about law, math, everything is important. That little snippet you heard two years ago in a hall becomes important when tracking an anomaly. That person you met over coffee holds the key to getting hold of some parts you need. All your skills are important.

What advice do you have for those just starting out in the field of systems engineering?

When you don't know what to do and feel paralyzed because of it, ask yourself, "What would I do if I DID know what to do?" I did this once and realized that was easy, I'd ask around to find out who were the experts, call a meeting, send some emails,... and boom, I was off and running again. Our range of responsibility is so broad we can't be the experts and so it is no shame when we don't know something. We have to be used to just pushing through the uncertainty. Often just doing SOMETHING will get us the information we need to get closer to where we need to be.

Somayeh Sojoudi

University of California, Berkeley
United States
How did you get started in the field of systems engineering?

I got my master’s degree in Electrical Engineering with a focus on Control Theory and System Dynamics at Concordia University and this was the first time I started studying and doing research on systems engineering. After getting my master's degree, I attended the PhD program at California Institute of Technology, where I worked on theoretical aspects of control theory and optimization together with their applications in power systems, communication networks and medicine.

What do you find interesting or exciting about working in the field of systems science and systems engineering?

We are living in an era where almost every system is getting smarter. The legacy power grid is changing to smart grid to have more sustainability and resiliency, and smart transportation systems aim to enable the dream of driverless cars and automated highways. More generally, we are moving towards smart cities with many sensors, a lot of data to process, and many decisions to be made in real time. The operation of smart cities relies heavily on computational tools. Because of that, we need to have computational tools that are reliable and efficient so that they can be used for safety-critical systems, such as transportation and energy systems. With that in mind, my research has been focused on designing such algorithms and it is very exciting to see how that will help with transitioning to smart cities.

What advice do you have for those just starting out in the field of systems engineering?

Engineering is all about details, but it's important not to lose sight of the big picture. It is an exciting time to work in the field of systems engineering.

Kanika Singh

American Bureau of Shipping
South Korea
10 (Asia and Pacific)
How did you get started in the field of systems engineering?

In my life, there is an ever-growing list of role models of extraordinary engineers who helped me to shape up to the technological career. Though my first inspiration is my father who paved my path towards engineering field. My father’s remarkable achievements during his lifetime and now, still impact me to be a better Engineer. While pursuing Electronics and Instrumentation system engineering from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Delhi), my first research paper on piezoelectric system, presented at IEEE International conference, Atlanta, USA 1999 was awarded as best paper. I was selected to pursue further studies in University of Karlsruhe, Germany where I got exposure to micro/nano sensor system integrated with Automation & Control Systems. IEEE society membership since 1996 gave me several platforms and opportunities to interact with the pioneers of system engineering from various interdisciplinary field. During my Ph.D, from Pusan National University, South Korea, I was awarded the IEEE outstanding young engineer award. Further, my job as Senior Project Manager at ABS has broadened my horizon for sustainable digitalized marine & offshore system engineering.

What do you find interesting or exciting about working in the field of systems science and systems engineering?

System Engineering is a broad terminology which incorporates several multi-disciplinary fields. Effectiveness of systems engineering methods and innovative techniques are shaping the future and changing the world towards a sustainable world. It has several areas for which I am passionate especially for working in augmented reality, artificial intelligence system, and digitalization. Digitalization is the key to overcome industrial system challenges, eliminating duplicative efforts and providing data accuracy with IOT’s billion of smart sensor system analysis and data management system. It provides increased agility and better business model for Oil and gas industry. Digitalization of project management creates transparency in working process, accelerates delivery and pace up the business competitiveness.

What advice do you have for those just starting out in the field of systems engineering?

Systems engineers are the pillars of developing the efficient new systems. They design, conceptualize, integrate, and manage complex systems over their life cycles. System design needs to be backed up with market & risk assessment so that the innovative system can be deployed to appropriate applications. The key success factors are enabling a variety of feedback, tremendous insights, and professional peer support to help tackle specific problems to take your job to new heights. Position yourself to lead and ferment sustainability system project initiatives through your organization and try to the edge your way across.

Pierangela Samarati

Professor
Università degli Studi di Milano
Italy
8 (Africa, Europe, Middle East)
What is your current technical field and what made you choose that particular area of interest?

My technical field of activity is data security and privacy, with particular consideration of emerging scenarios. I am investigating different issues related to the problem of protecting data, regulating their access, sharing, and release, as well as protecting sensitive and confidential information from improper exposure. Data are the lifeblood of digital economy and today’s society. We are surrounded by smart and pervasive systems, and every action we do generates data, which are collected, stored, and analyzed in the name of better services and making the systems smarter. In such a hyperconnected world, there is a clear loss of control over data flow and usage, with consequent improper exposure of possibly sensitive information. Together with my collaborators we are working on different problems related to data security and privacy. Our goal is to empower owners with control over their data, addressing not only the problem of regulating their access and sharing, but also ensuring protection against direct or indirect leakage of confidential or sensitive information. I am currently leading a EU-funded project aimed at providing technical solutions for ensuring data protection and owner control in digital data markets. What I find appealing about my area of research is that it entails several theoretical challenges, while also having practical impact that can benefit society.

What’s been your greatest challenge and your greatest reward in your professional career?

The biggest challenge has been not to get discouraged when things do not go well. As for reward, I enjoy research: when you like what you do, you just do it and it does not feel like work. That enjoyment in what you do is already a reward by itself. I find particularly rewarding when you see your work having impact, being picked up, followed and recognized by the community building on your results. Maybe less obvious or visible are little rewards of everyday life, when you achieve interesting results on hard problems, when you see you have made a difference, and when you see that your advices to young scholars make a difference in their life and you see them succeed.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to a young person just starting out in their career?

Look for interesting problems, think outside the box, and do things you like to do, suiting your passion and inclination. Take things seriously, commit and maintain commitment. Always do your best, do not take easy shortcuts or easy way out, put all yourself in the things you do and make sure to do always your very best. This will be the most rewarding aspect in every result you achieve.

Ashley Madni

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL/Caltech)
United States
6 (Western U.S.)
How did you get started in the field of systems engineering?

My career as an Aerospace Systems Engineer had an unconventional start. Growing up, I always enjoyed math and science classes, and was fascinated by outer space. When it came time to decide on a University and Bachelor’s Degree program, I found Washington University’s Biomedical Engineering program incredibly interesting because it applied the principles of engineering, science and mathematics to develop technologies that had a positive impact on human life. However, during my Junior year, I realized that while the field of BME was fascinating, space exploration was my true passion that I wanted to work on every day. I was fortunate to be accepted to the NASA Ames Academy internship program that summer, and that experience solidified my desire to pivot into a career in aerospace engineering. After graduating from WashU, I completed my Master’s degree at CU Boulder in Aerospace Engineering Sciences, specializing in Bioastronautics, and learned about the field of systems engineering. I knew that this discipline would not only be most interesting to me, but also utilize my skillsets from my broad range of educational and research experiences that I had to date.

After graduating from CU Boulder, I accepted a position at Boeing in their Systems Engineering Rotation Program, where I worked as a systems engineer for the XS-1 Reusable Launch Vehicle and Crew Space Transportation (CST-100) programs. I had an incredible mentor who handed me the NASA Systems Engineering Handbook on Day 1 and taught me how to apply these systems engineering fundamental principles throughout a real and major project mission lifecycle. Now as a Systems Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), I continue to employ the systems engineering fundamental principles I’ve learned through my work on NASA’s Psyche Mission.

What do you find interesting or exciting about working in the field of systems science and systems engineering?

I love being a Systems Engineer on space exploration missions because there is always so much to learn and engage in! I enjoy the challenge of understanding technical details while keeping the larger picture of the integrated system in mind, balancing technical breadth and depth. My favorite work is interfacing between the mission scientists and engineers, helping translate science objectives into engineering requirements. Additionally, as a Systems Engineer, I get to tackle complex system level engineering change requests and trade studies, which involve leading interdisciplinary teams to arrive at a solution that adequately meets all stakeholders’ needs. It’s a great feeling when you see these final solutions come together to enable our mission’s success.

What advice do you have for those just starting out in the field of systems engineering?

Finding great mentors to teach and guide you throughout your career is important in setting you up for success in your career, knowing what future job opportunities are available, and continuing to engage in learning opportunities. I also encourage new systems engineers to say yes to growth opportunities to build up their technical and leadership toolset. The most successful systems engineers I look up to have a wide range of knowledge based on their collective experiences deep diving into technical areas throughout their careers. And last but not least, it’s important to foster strong relationships with your team because systems engineering relies on the contributions from each discipline to produce a successful and operable integrated system.

Chantelle Dubois

Canadian Space Agency
Canada
7 (Canada)
How did you get started in the field of systems engineering?

I think my first real introduction to the concept of systems engineering began during my time in undergrad when I was a member of the University of Manitoba Space Applications and Technology Society (UMSATS). At the time, this group participated in the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge, which is a competition for university team's to build nanosatellites. Part of our responsibilities while competing was to define our system requirements, and then build our nanosatellite accordingly. I became really interested in the idea of systems engineering as a career from that point, since it appeared to be a very versatile role that involves having a really good top-down view of an entire engineering project and coordinating with different technical teams. This intersection, which was technical but also people oriented, really appealed to me.

What do you find interesting or exciting about working in the field of systems science and systems engineering?

I find systems engineering interesting because, no matter what domain you work in, every engineering project needs (or could use) a systems engineer (or many). The process and skills won't differ that much, even if the quirks of the project do. Space systems engineering, as a process, probably looks a lot like agriculture systems engineering, and so on. What I think makes systems engineering exciting, is that in my experience you meet other systems engineers who often simultaneously have really deep domain knowledge, but now are applying it in a systems way to support a project. I love seeing how that intersection changes your perspective on engineering problems and the solutions that you come up with. It's moving from the micro-details to the macro-details.

What advice do you have for those just starting out in the field of systems engineering?

I'm an early career systems engineer, so I can only speak from my limited experience: if you are still a student, get involved in an engineering student group. Ideally, one that is actively building something and involves other types of engineering students. Learning about systems engineering in a classroom is one thing, but seeing it in action for an actual thing you are building and applying the principals is another thing completely. For those just entering the work force, I'm finding that not being afraid to ask your more senior colleagues for advice is very helpful. Additionally, not being afraid to take initiative, and not to worry too much if you don't know something. There is a learning curve, and the more complex a project is, the bigger that curve will be.