Meet Sanjana Tewathia, a space exploration junkie with a passion for teaching, traveling and reading. As much as she loves doing research in the Georgia Tech Space Systems Design Lab, volunteering as a FIRST robotics mentor, and being a Teaching Assistant for Data Structures and Algorithms, Sanjana lives for experiences that expand her personal growth and happiness outside of the classroom. While those who she works with see a determined and serious colleague, her friends and family see her as a bubbly, happy-go-lucky dog-lover.
Growing up, Sanjana always knew she wanted to be a scientist – an individual committed to furthering our understanding of the unknown. To her, that meant either the bottom of the ocean or deep space. As she delved deeper and deeper into her education she quickly realised that she had an affinity for math and science and a love for creating structures with legos and craft techniques. Now she would like to use her combined mechanical and computer science skills to work on building and improving autonomous systems for space exploration missions.
How does she do it? Well, Sanjana's three-step recipe for success and happiness is as follows: stay organised, keep your eyes on the prize and stick around. Its simple, intuitive and the best advice she's received.
"College is a challenge because its suddenly up to us to maintain our schedules independently and time management becomes a beast when for the first time we're in charge of taking care of ourselves. Without staying organised and focused, its really easy to lose oneself in the chaotic blur that is college life. Nailing time management is really the key here."
Her other challenge lies in fighting the negative stigma that is attached to her profession due to the low population of women engineers, making aerospace seem more daunting than it really is.
"We should use our statistics as encouragement. Saying, “more girls should become engineers” is better than saying, “engineering is harder or worse for women because there are so few of us”. Engineering isn’t harder or worse because there are fewer women, it’s a complex subject for us all regardless of gender, until we figure it out - together."
Sanjana believes that we should use our positions as a minority to strive to become louder advocates and role models for future female engineers, which is exactly what she aims to do: help girls who are already on the path to becoming engineers.
"Having a female role model to help them hold their head up high can be a huge asset to their success. As an alumni of a high school robotics team, I know that the support of my female mentors was incredibly helpful in building my confidence. This is why I volunteer as a FIRST robotics as well as RoboJackets mentor - to hopefully become someone's role model some day."
That being said, there are a few changes that she feels needs to be more strongly implemented in industry, such as increasing the awareness and respect for the needs of women in the workplace.
"When I was interning at GE Aviation, a few of my older coworkers had a discussion about the struggles women faced when they had kids and started breastfeeding. One of them said that she had to send a very awkward email to her team because people would knock and interrupt her when she needed to pump breast milk and would interrogate her for being temporarily unresponsive. Furthermore, when they found out she was pumping they would treat her differently- as if she were weaker or more delicate and couldn’t handle her regular workload, or by avoiding her altogether. If more awareness was spread in the workplace for issues such as these, women would definitely be more comfortable in their offices in the long run."
When Sanjana becomes disillusioned by these anecdotes she looks to the short poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay for inspiration:
“My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends-
It gives a lovely light!”
"I came across this quote when I read an interview of one of my favourite childhood authors - Roald Dahl, a quirky, imaginative writer that inspired my own imagination in many ways. It was his favorite quote, and as a young child this quote stuck with me so strongly that it is still deeply engraved in my mind to this day. The ephemeral “candle” that Millay describes can be interpreted as many things, but one common interpretation is that it symbolizes life itself, which is short and beautiful - one that must be appreciated while it lasts. Right now, for me it represents college life, which is an exhilarating experience that I plan to appreciate every second of."