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Women in Engineering: Advice for the next generation

Updated: Feb 23, 2021

FISITA works to promote excellence and diversity in the advancement of automotive mobility systems engineering and associated technologies – we are committed in our support of ‘Women in Engineering’ campaigns and member activities.

We recently caught up with Dr Corina Sandu, President of the International Society for Terrain-Vehicle Systems (ISTVS) – a FISITA Affiliate Society Member. Dr Sandu is Robert E. Hord Jr. Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Virginia Tech, Associate Department Head for Graduate Studies, and Director of the Terramechanics, Multibody, and Vehicle Systems (TMVS) Laboratory. She is also Editor-in-Chief of the Mechanics Based Design of Structures and Machines; An International Journal, and Associate Editor of the ASME Journal of Computational and Nonlinear Dynamics, and Editorial Board member of the Journal of Terramechanics. She received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Service (2012 and 2020) and Virginia Tech Teacher of the Week (2017).

As an influential female lead within international engineering, we are delighted to share Dr. Sandu’s insightful advice, information, and encouragement for the next generation of female engineers:

What skills/qualifications/experience do aspiring mobility engineers need?

The mobility industry is undergoing a very rapid evolution. In recent years it became clear that there is a stringent need for even more interdisciplinarity than before to be successful in this area. I believe that a very strong background in fundamental areas of engineering continues to be critical, but knowledge of machine learning, internet of things, and autonomy-related aspects are becoming more and more relevant. Furthermore, the human-machine interaction plays an increasing role in developing new vehicles, as well as psychological aspects related to the acceptance of autonomous vehicles.

Are placements/work experience the best way of gaining experience?

I have spent most of my career in academia. I think that work experience is critical for future engineers in gaining experience in a real-world environment, and strongly encourage all of my students to pursue internships and co-ops. It is also my belief that they benefit the most from the work experience if they profoundly understood the material covered in their courses and in their research, as they are thus in a position to understand why certain things are done the way they are done in industry, how the theory relates to practice, and how they can bring their own contributions.

What was your first professional experience in the mobility industry?

My first professional experience in the mobility area was during my graduate studies. That is when I learned about vehicle dynamics, modelling and simulation of multibody systems (including vehicles) – both, for off-line simulations as well as for real-time simulations – and Terramechanics (vehicle-terrain interaction). Later on I joined several professional societies related to my research directions (ASME Vehicle Design Committee, SAE Chassis and Suspension Committee, ISTVS).

Do you think you’ve faced challenges in the mobility industry that male counterparts may not have?

I noticed early on in my career that there are very few women at the conferences and other mobility-related events I attended. I learned to not be intimidated to be among the few or sometimes even the only woman in the room, but I never felt unwelcomed or mistreated at such events. I let my work speak for me and when I faced a challenge, I took it as an opportunity to overcome it, but did not attribute it to my gender.

What is your biggest achievement?

I enjoy all aspects of my work, but, as a professor, I feel that the most rewarding aspect is to see the new generation of engineers I help mentor become successful. I am very proud of the achievements of my past students, including the 17 Ph.D. and 21 M.S. students I graduated during my career at Virginia Tech. The majority of them went into the mobility industry and have very successful careers.

I am also humbled by the trust placed in me by my peers, as they elected me as the Chair of the ASME Design Engineering Division (2017-2018), Chair of the SAE Chassis Design and Vehicle Dynamics Committee (2014-2015), and ISTVS President (2020-2023).

One thing I tell my students is that life doesn’t wait for us to finish one thing to start another; this includes work and personal life. I am proud of the fact that I managed to pursue my graduate studies and have a family at the same time; both of my daughters were born during my Ph.D. studies.

Do you have a favourite resource for women working in mobility?

I personally find the mobility industry to be an excellent opportunity to work for, to make significant contributions to, and to build a career in. There are many intellectual challenges to be addressed, many technological discoveries to be made – it is very exciting! I am trying to convey all of these to my students and strive to be a good role model for my female students. I encourage all the women interested in working in the mobility industry to reach out and identify mentors who can guide them. If they want to pursue a career in this area, they can do it!

In 3 words how do you see the current mobility engineering industry?

Full of opportunities!


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