Introduction

We have interviewed women in computer science, electical engineering, embedded system, physics, and now Ena Hodzic joins us to tell her STEM story and how it lead her to a career in Aeronautics and astronautics! Continue reading for a more than motivational and inspiring interview with Ena!

May Interviews - #WomeninSTEM

The Interview - Ena Hodzic

  • Name: Ena Hodzic
  • Age group: 26-30
  • STEM Field of Study (or profession): Aeronautics and astronautics

Do you have a favorite quote? What is it and who is it from?

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” —Oscar Wilde


Personal Experience

Q: What was (or is) your favorite subject in school and why?

Ena: “Network Dynamical Systems. It fascinated me how many fields in our lives this topic actually touches - whether applied to a network of sensors, satellites, or a group of individuals spreading opinions.”

Q: What was your daily routine like (in school, work, or at home). How might this have impacted/influenced your participation in STEM?

Ena: “I am an individual who is never idle; I dislike feeling stagnant. My attitude that every day brings a new learning opportunity pushed me to pursue my love for math in high school, and my passion for technological advancement constantly pushed me to get more involved with STEM.

As a former water polo player, I was “programmed” to wake up far too early for morning practice and start my day with something non-school or work related. I am actually really fortunate for this since it has given me the habit of turning my brain off once in a while and switch gears.

Of course, no morning is complete without coffee - that’s one habit that has stuck with me since grad school and doesn’t seem like it will let up anytime soon.”

Q: Describe the first time you heard about STEM, why was this an appealing thing to be a part of?

Ena: “Honestly my parents were a large influence in my love for STEM. My mother was a math teacher when I was growing up and showed me the magic of numbers, while my father was a civil engineer who taught me about physics and showed me how math magic was applied in real life. Thanks Mom and Dad!”

Q: When was the first time you became actively involved in STEM? Do you recall a specific project or initiative?

Ena: “My first active involvement was in a science fair project. I remember I did a project with my group on capillary action inspired by biology.”

Q: How have your beliefs, motivations and aspirations changed over time? When did a career in STEM become a priority or choice?

Ena: “It’s easy to set high expectations for yourself, but it takes work to divide this main goal into smaller, more attainable segments. When I was a little girl I used to tell everyone I wanted to be an astronaut. I have since toned that down a little… now I just want to send stuff to space :)

A career in STEM has been a priority for me since I can remember; I love what I do, and I get to do what I love. I call that a win-win.”

Q: Who has served as an ‘influencer’ in your path to a STEM focused education and/or career?

Ena: “Apart from my parents (who I already mentioned were wonderful influencers), I have had multiple teachers and professors from high school to college who affirmed my love for STEM. My calculus teacher in high school laid a great foundation for math knowledge, and my advisor for my PhD is a fantastic example of a woman who can do it all. She is not only a rocket scientist, an academic figure, but a mother as well - an important counterexample of the belief that as women we have to choose between having a family and a career.”

Q: What is your dream job? Can you see any roadblocks or challenges which might be influenced by your gender?

Ena: “My dream job is to work as a control theorist developing robust control models for systems like networked satellites, robots, and other complex dynamical systems present in the aero/astro field. With recent advances in AI and machine learning, this field has had a lot of growth and I am very excited to see what new advancements are coming in the near future.”

Q: Are hobbies in STEM important? What about hobbies in general? Can you share some of your hobbies that may (or may not) have contributed to your STEM involvement?

Ena: “Hobbies are extremely important. When they are related to my field of study/work, I find it extremely valuable to interact and share ideas with coworkers or fellow students. Oftentimes I learned more from conversations of interest with others in my field than through lectures or assignments. There are few things more inspiring than listening to someone talk about their passion!

Hobbies not directly relevant to STEM are also very important, as balance is invaluable in all aspects of life. I personally love to be outside (hiking, biking, swimming… you name it). It reminds me that STEM is not just on a computer or in a lab somewhere, nature is extremely inspirational.”

Q: Has there been any point when you (or someone close to you) wanted to give up STEM (work, hobby, both)? What made you stay?

Ena: “I’ve absolutely had doubts about my path. Graduate school is difficult, and it’s weighed down on me multiple times. It is easy to default to frustration and want to give up… but then something amazing happens to you. You can see something clearer than before, a complex equation has a new meaning, your simulation runs without errors and does EXACTLY what you envisioned it to do… the list goes on and on. It is these seemingly small victories that keep you going. Honestly it becomes like an addiction. You want that high of learning and seeing the world with new eyes as often as possible, and it keeps you striving to keep going. It might sound crazy to some, but it’s a mental kind of adrenaline rush that I enjoy. “


Women in STEM Impact

Q: What does STEM mean to you?

Ena: “STEM is much more than a buzzword. To me, STEM includes:

Science (exploration to develop new ideas) Engineering (the development of these scientific ideas into useful applications) Technology (the benefits we can see as a result of good engineering) and Math (the “language” of science).

Without any one of these, it would be difficult to solve real-world problems in an efficient way. This is why STEM is more than a buzzword - it is a necessity!”

Q: Can you recall any times when you questioned your involvement in STEM because of your gender?

Ena: “In all honesty I cannot recall a time I questioned my presence in STEM due to my gender alone. If anything, it made me more motivated to bring a female presence in a formerly male-dominated field.”

Q: What are some of the personal experiences - or compelling arguments - that have influenced your thinking around gender and STEM, and have motivated you to get involved in being an advocate for change?

Ena: “As an undergraduate, I noticed the skewed demographics of females vs. males in my classes, and as a graduate student I was happy to see the scales balancing out. I personally love going to educational talks by leaders in the field; when these leaders are women it inspires me even more to persevere on the path that I am on.”

Q: Can you talk a bit about some of the specific ways you have advocated for change? If so, please tell us more about the successes and challenges you faced?

Ena: “I believe the change comes from inspiring younger generations of STEM-lovers. Whether they are young girls or boys, I see the future in the developing brains of those excited kids. Because of this, I think exposing kids to STEM fields early on can pave the way to a very bright and rewarding career. In college I participated in a number of outreach events doing exactly this; I still love talking to kids about the magic of math.”

Q: Do you have a network of women in STEM around you to share knowledge and remind you you are not alone? If so, how did you go about creating that network?

Ena: “Yes, although I must admit it is easier for me since my PhD advisor is a successful woman in STEM. The University of Washington has a student organization WOA (Women of Aerospace), a group of women in the department that meets to support each other both emotionally and academically. It is a great resource to have a group like this to go to.”

Q: Do you have a mentor or friend who inspires you? How/Why? (someone you know personally)

Ena: “Just like for many women out there, my mother is very inspirational to me. She has developed a successful career as a data scientist, taking her knowledge in mathematics and information science and applying it on a global scale. Perhaps it was her algorithmic mindset, but she taught me the lesson that working smarter and not necessarily harder is the key to success.”

Q: Are you involved/can you recommend any organization(s) that support Women in STEM (shoutouts)?

Ena: “Yes. SWE (Society of Women Engineers) and WOA (Women in Aerospace at the UW - “It’s like… whoa.”)”

Q: Can you name any women who have made a strong impact in the STEM community? How has their impact made an influenced your life?

Ena: “A modern STEM influencer whose work I follow is Jill Tarter. She is an astronomer who is a major player in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).”

Q: Are there any (YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, etc…) influencers out there who inspire you regularly? How/Why?

Ena: “I must admit I am not much of a social media junkie, but when I do find myself in an Instagram black hole of sorts, I enjoy following the posts of @nasa, @CERN, @spacex.”

Q: Top three changes which could make life easier for Women in STEM?

Ena:1. More advertising of the amazing contributions that women have already made to STEM fields. 2. More opportunities for younger children, particularly girls, to become involved in projects that could potentially lead them into STEM careers. and finally, 3. More public knowledge that many STEM fields are in fact already female dominated (or neutral). I think this would aid in changing the perception that gender plays an influence in one’s success in STEM. In my opinion this may be the most important change. If we can move away from highlighting the LACK of women in these fields and shift the focus to women who succeeded in STEM, I believe we can encourage more women to crush the stereotype bias and join the list of influencers.”


Advice to the younger you and women considering a career in STEM

Q: Which achievement do you look at and think “I’d love to go back in time and tell younger me that this was possible”?

Ena: “Younger me (who did not even know English) would be stunned that I am enrolled in a PhD program in the United States, on the path to become a player in the advancement of space exploration. How exciting!”

Q: Did you ever stay at a place where politics got in the way of curiosity, technical progress or personal growth? How did you realize, and at which point did you decide to move on?

Ena: “Whether it’s in the workplace or academia, politics and rules will always be in place which can potentially hinder technical progress or personal growth. It is important to notice when this is a firm line or just a product of circumstances and guidelines that have evolved over time. Certain lines are black and white and should not be crossed (these are often obvious), and others are more flexible. As scientists we should push boundaries, this is how great discoveries are made - usually it’s because somebody was bold enough to ask “why?””

Q: If you could go back and change one thing in your STEM path, what would that be?

Ena: “I wish I was more steadfast in my pursuit of my personal passion for space exploration. I took a bit of a roundabout path to get here, picking up a different engineering degree on the way, but I have no regrets. Everything is a learning opportunity and should be valued as such.”

Ena: “It is ok to question your choices, that is ultimately how you affirm the decisions you have made. Question everything, but always trust yourself.”

What’s Next?!

As a reminder… TOMORROW! We will be meeting with Ana aka @anaqueenmaker of @EpicQueens. To read more about this week’s interview, and to learn how to participate, be sure to checkout the 96Boards OpenHours website! Countdown and instructions on how to join can be found there!