We had the privilege of speaking to Engr. Dr. Maria Riaz, a truly stellar engineer from Pakistan who has shattered glass ceilings and reached all the way to Google. Maria graduated from NUST (MCS Rawalpindi) as a software engineer, and later received a PhD from North Carolina State University. She is a true role model in both academic and career streams, and her story is sure to inspire many more superstar women in STEM fields from Pakistan. Following is Maria's story, and her very inspiring message to the women both already in the field and those aspiring to join in:
"I grew up in a closely knit family with two sisters and one brother. The strong bond that I have with my family is a blessing and provides me with a lot of positive reinforcement. I am thankful that growing up, I was never compared with others and was rather expected to do the best I can in a given situation. This has helped me feel empowered to learn and grow without any external constraints.
My favorite subjects in school were Mathematics and Physics. I was always encouraged to develop an understanding of the subject over rote memorization. Later in undergrad, I really enjoyed logical reasoning and programming related courses. All of these provided a strong foundation for analytical thinking and problem solving. The knowledge itself, but more so the underlying skills to understand the requirements and constraints of a given situation and figure things out, definitely helps in day to day situations.
Growing up in Pakistan, we are not exposed to a lot of the career options that are out there. I was motivated to be an engineer as I felt inclined towards subjects and concepts that are closely associated with engineering. This was not the most popular choice for girls and many individuals encouraged me to choose a different career path. Initially, the biggest barrier was that people were constantly questioning my choice and I had to justify why I would rather not be a doctor or something deemed more suitable for women. I think it is important to realize that engineering is not one profession, there are many options available and many type of career paths and job opportunities to meet different types of interests within engineering. There is room for everyone to explore their individual strengths and passion when choosing a STEM career.
I am thankful to have had strong role models in all walks of life, be at home, school or as part of other social / professional interactions. I feel inspired by individuals who are kind and compassionate as providing a little encouragement and reassurance can go a long way.
I think it is very important to have a support network as no one individual has all the answers. The most trusted way to create a support network is to be of support to others where and when you can. I would like to see newcomer girls, and all newcomers in general, to develop strategies that help them be resilient in the face of challenges and not be afraid to seek guidance and opportunities that can lead to personal growth and excellence."
Who inspired you to STEM forward?
Do you know any extraordinary Woman in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medicine? Help us Nominate Role Models for the coming generation!