Meet Shreenu Sivakumar, a bubbly twenty-one year old that hails from the liberal haven of Seattle. The majority of her eighteen years there were spent living and breathing Taylor Swift lyrics, dissecting her feelings, and ambitiously trying to plan the next 40 years of her life. Now, besides being a history enthusiast and barre fanatic, she’s a kickass biomedical engineer with a coveted summer internship at Microsoft.
My first encounter with Shreenu was spent discussing the Mughal Empire and tudors over copious amounts of chocolat-chaud whilst getting our nails done. One of the first things that struck me then was her insane work ethic and complete and utter dedication to honing any skill. Whether it be running a 5k after a self-prescribed fitness lesson or spending countless hours painting water colors to accompany a school project - Shreenu is what you’d call a high capacity person. She also had the innate ability to work any crowd. Two friends who could not be any more unalike were easily able to relate to her. She was that good.
Now painting a picture of anyone is incomplete without etching in the struggles, shading in the insecurities and cross-hatching all the failures. Despite having a knack for the humanities, Shreenu initially closeted her deep passion for history and the languages and spontaneously applied as an engineering major in search of a rigorous and respectable job. Expectedly she caught herself regretting this very decision. Yet questioning what drove her to choose engineering led her to realizing her love for having creative control. With STEM she was able to understand the principles that guided design and functionality. In the same way that she loved stringing sentences, she picked and chose the way in which she designed products and built her case around the efficacy of her creations. While it successfully led her to her co-op it wasn’t all smooth sailing from there either. Just like any other lady in the workforce she too felt troubled in work meetings. She’d never had a problem speaking her mind until she was put in a room of experienced older male engineers. When asked to lead a meeting, all of her confidence and energy would dissipate and she would be hesitant to even nod in agreement during the dreaded hour.
“As women, we struggle with the feeling that we need to know every little detail about a topic or a situation before we have the “right” to voice our opinion on it. There is a statistic about men feeling confident enough to speak when they only know about 40% of the information about a topic and women only speaking up when they know between 90-100% of the knowledge base. The worst thing about being a female engineer is that we restrict ourselves so much because we think that everything we say or do has to be perfect. I don’t think it applies to every situation, but often we lose out on opportunities on building a strong reputation because we fail to take that first step.”
Taking that first step is one of the many things she would tell her Freshman self. In both her personal and academic life she would say “start caring about the way you treat yourself and everything and everyone else will start to make more sense.” Both inside and outside of the boardroom or classroom Shreenu has now learnt to carefully cultivate a balance of living in her head and experiencing the places, conversations, and vibes that the world has to offer. Her favorite quote still remains: “The day that you start thinking that love is overrated is the day that you are wrong.” –Haley James Scott
“This is from One Tree Hill, my favorite show of all time. There’s a lot I love about this show, from the characters to the length and depth of the storyline, but my absolute favorite part about the show is how real everything is. Every character is unapologetically fierce, loyal, and rooted in their emotions, all characteristics I look up to. I credit this quote with being a wake up call to embrace resilience and find the strength to see beauty in things that have upset me. “
In my first attempts to showcase incredible women engineers like her, I was after their magic. I wanted to learn their deep-rooted secrets and life hacks. I desperately needed to know what made their eyes sparkle - what allowed them to fabulously glide, skip and hop across the hoops of life. I know now that on the contrary the answer does not lie in the twitch of a nose like Nicole Kidman in Bewitched. The thing about these women is that they are exactly like you and me. Their stories, concerns and struggles have taught me just that. The answer is not magic. The answer is being authentic – to yourself, to what makes your eyes sparkle and to unapologetically pursuing just that.