Women of Stem

Women of STEM

Women are under-represented in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), making up only 29% of all people in science research and development globally, according to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Europe and North America are slightly above average with 32% of women in STEM compared to the lowest numbers of 19% in South and West Asia and the highest at 48% in Central Asia.

In the U.S., 80% of all STEM jobs are in engineering and computer science, but women make up only 12% of engineers and 26% of computer scientists, an article in the Global Policy Journal reported earlier this year. They face three main challenges: redefining what a scientist looks like  because they lack female role models; a “leaky” pipeline because women drop out of STEM fields during their educational and career journeys, leaving their female peers in STEM feeling isolated; and gender biases that face women in the workplace, in other fields as well.

Promoting women in STEM careers has been a goal of imec, an international hub for research and development as well as innovation. Based in Belgium, imec opened an operation in Kissimmee in 2016 and is now part of the growing NeoCity project that includes BRIDG, a state-of-the-art facility that fabricates 200-millimeter microelectronics.

Four imec scientists who are based in Central Florida talk about why they chose their careers and what keeps them motivated day-to-day.

Dr. Sabine O'Neal Dr. Sabine O’Neal

As an imec USA assignee who is on the faculty of the University of Central Florida, Sabine O’Neal works in imec’s nanoelectronics design center. Her role is to help identify and develop new and improved laser technologies for active imaging systems. O’Neal attended the Technische Universität Darmstadt in Germany, where she obtained a master’s degree in physics, and then went
on to the Netherlands, where she completed her doctorate in physics at Leiden University. After graduating, she worked in academic publishing as an editor for five years before moving on to positions that included consultant,
expert witness, and research scientist or director for several institutions, including UCF.

What’s your big “why” for choosing to go into STEM?

I always liked to figure out how things work. Take things apart, put them back together, improve them. And while I also really liked to learn languages, speak them and get to know other cultures, I felt that I had better career chances in STEM.

Who or what was your inspiration for going into STEM?

My dad. He was an architect, but in his free time he would read physics and astronomy books and he would tell me about the fascinating things he learned. He was always interested in learning new things.

What keeps you motivated day to day?

Curiosity. The desire to understand things at a deeper level and to improve them. The fun-to-do experiments and to make things work.

Why did you choose imec?

I enjoy working on a great team, being encouraged and enabled to explore ideas and to help others with experiments to test out their ideas.

Dr. Veerle ReumersDr. Veerle Reumers

An R&D manager in the imec Florida office, Dr. Veerle Reumers initiates new collaborations and research projects in imaging and space health. She obtained her master’s and doctorate degrees in biomedical sciences from the University of Leuven. Before joining imec, she performed her postdoctoral research on molecular imaging techniques in neurosciences at Harvard Medical School. In the life sciences department at imec, she explored different applications of imec technology blocks in the field of cell biology with a main focus on lens-free imaging and multi-electrode array electrophysiology. As R&D team leader, she was in charge of research and development projects ranging from public-funded academic collaborations to industry-driven bilateral projects. 

What’s your big why for choosing to go into STEM?

In elementary school, I was fascinated by how the human body works, and I asked for my first anatomy kit with a miniature human skeleton and all major organs. I initially aspired to become a surgeon, but in middle school I wrote my thesis about gene therapy and during my literature research I found my passion for learning all about the molecular aspect of that complex field. I couldn’t stop digging deeper into all the research that was being done at the time to push that field toward clinical trials. At that point, I decided I wanted to go into medical research to ultimately heal so many more people than I would be able to affect as a practicing clinician.

Who or what was your inspiration for going into STEM?

My parents have always been the two smartest people I had ever met. Although we didn’t have a surgeon or academic professor in my family or circle of friends, they have always supported me to chase my dreams and gave me the confidence to believe I could become whatever I wanted to be.

What keeps you motivated day to day?

When I was in more basic research in the academic world, it certainly came with a lot of frustrations when the research results were not what we had hoped for or when we realized that even the promising results would take decades to translate to improvements in patients’ lives. However, I would always feel the drive to keep going when meeting patients and being confronted with the absence of an adequate cure — or even more when the diseases I was working on were affecting people close to me.

Why did you choose imec?

I feel imec is filling this gap, and I have the opportunity to work toward concrete technology solutions that will translate much faster to patients’ lives. I have been part of projects with both academic partners and industry collaborators, from exploratory feasibility work to specific organ-on-chip demonstrators. What keeps me motivated is the feeling I get when we are all working together as a team, aiming to achieve great things.

Dr. Galia GhaziDr. Galia Ghazi

Born in Tehran, Iran, Dr. Galia Ghazi studied for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering in Iran at KNT University and the University of Tehran. Then she moved to the United States to earn her doctorate degree, graduating from Northeastern University in Boston. While pursuing her doctorate, she conducted research on millimeter wave imaging for anomaly detection in security screening systems such as the ones that are currently used in airports. She joined imec as part of the computational imaging team and now works on developing the system and algorithms for millimeter wave imaging issues such as automotive driving with radar.

What’s your big why for choosing to go into STEM?

My father is a medical doctor, but he had studied mathematics and was always passionate about math and physics. I got acquainted with these subjects through him and I loved them, which continued throughout my studies because of great teachers I had. I always wanted to be able to help solve problems, so I went into STEM.

Who or what was your inspiration for going into STEM?

My father and all of my great math and physics teachers in school inspired me when they answered every one of my questions with patience and encouragement.

What keeps you motivated day to day?

I enjoy working on problems and getting one step closer to the solutions.

Why did you choose imec?

Because imec is a research-based company which does state-of-the-art work, and that is very interesting for me.

Jennifer HewittJennifer Hewitt

As a doctoral student in the optics and photonics program at the University of Central Florida, Jennifer Hewitt is specializing in hyperspectral imaging. She is an awardee of the U.S. Department of Defense SMART scholarship, with sponsorship from the Air Force Research Lab in Dayton, Ohio. She works part-time with the imaging systems group at imec and is currently working to develop a system that will help address the issue of finding invasive Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades.

What’s your big why for choosing to go into STEM?

I grew up with a family that does puzzle games and problem-solving at the dinner table for fun. With a career in STEM, I get to do that as my job.

Who or what was your inspiration for going into STEM?

My mother is my biggest inspiration for going into STEM. She is an electrical engineer, and she taught me a lot of the concepts that I use today.

What keeps you motivated day to day?

An engineer’s job is to explore existing problems and come up with solutions. There is always work to be done.

Why did you choose imec?

The organization is well-equipped for the type of work I want to do, and everyone is supportive of each other here.

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About the author

Diane Sears

A career journalist, author and advocate for business growth, Diane Sears is the CEO, editor and publisher of i4 Business. She is also the founder and president of DiVerse Media LLC, which has handled content marketing projects including nonfiction books, white papers, executive speeches and scripts since 2000. She is co-founder of the nonprofit Go for the Greens Foundation, which helps connect women-owned and minority-owned business owners with growth opportunities internationally.

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