“More women and girls in science equals better science.” This is the simple equation proposed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres during February’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
While women remain underrepresented in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the last decade has seen more and more ambitious female students enter and advance in traditionally male-dominated technical professions.
Below, we speak to three promising young women who have benefited from HKUST’s pioneering WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) scholarship’s aim of enabling top caliber female students to realize their STEM dreams. Striving to make their marks in fields of aerospace engineering, physics, and computer science, all three WISE students are an inspiration for younger girls who wish to use technology and innovation to positively impact our world.
A WISE Move for Taking Off
Currently a postdoctoral researcher in Aerospace Engineering at HKUST, Dr. Dajung KIM was born in Busan to a traditional Korean family. Longing for a son, her parents did not expect much of their scientifically-oriented daughter than to find a husband.
The young Dajung beat all odds to earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Aerospace Engineering. After spending seven years working in Korea’s defence and maritime sectors, she took the bold step of moving to Hong Kong and embarking on a PhD at HKUST in 2018.
Upon admission, Dajung was awarded a WISE scholarship which ultimately proved invaluable in giving her the confidence and sense of responsibility needed to excel. “In striving to become a successful female engineer and scientist, I also believe in giving back to society.”
Don't be disheartened if you feel that your upbringing did not prepare you for aerospace engineering. You can always accomplish great things by continuing to work hard.
As a devoted aerospace engineer, Dajung focused her PhD research on flight path optimization. Integrating operational data and flight dynamics physics models, the field’s ultimate aim is to minimize aircraft noise and fuel consumption. Towards the end of her studies, Dajung won the HKUST RedBird Academic Excellence Award for continuing PhD Students. “I was happy because it proved I could be competitive without the ‘women’ title.”
At the same time, Dajung was giving back to society by inspiring younger students to realize their potential. As a teaching assistant during her PhD years, she always did her best to answer every single question raised in her classes. Her efforts paid off, and won her two Runner-up Best Teaching Assistant Awards.
Before moving to Hong Kong, Dajung’s remarkable accomplishments included the 2014 development of a ship collision avoidance system in 2014 for a large Korean maritime research institute. She even achieved one of her dreams by learning to fly small planes.
Having completed her PhD in 2022, Dajung is now conducting postdoctoral research into the incorporation of flight data into multi-disciplinary aircraft design optimization. She remains determined to become an engineering professor and inspire a new generation of female technocrats. Reflecting on her own experience, her advice to girls in aerospace engineering is, “Don't be disheartened if you feel that your upbringing did not prepare you for this field. You can always learn something unfamiliar and accomplish great things by continuing to work hard.”
Two WISE scholars, 10 years apart
In 2013, Iris LEUNG became one of HKUST’s earliest WISE scholarship awardees while a freshman in International Research Enrichment (IRE) majoring in physics. “I was surprised to discover there was a scholarship specifically for females. Such support is very encouraging for female STEM students,” Iris recalls. “Ultimately my recognition by WISE helped boost my confidence and gave me the courage to believe that I could excel in my studies.”
My interests evolved from physics’ more abstract aspects to its application side. In applying my mathematical and logical thinking skills to solve real-world problems, I hope to make meaningful impacts.
As a scholarship awardee, Iris was able to concentrate on her studies without having to worry about taking part-time jobs to meet ends meet. Her abiding memory of her undergraduate years is “doing research under the supervision of very brilliant professors.” Having spent over two years on a capstone project, Iris eventually earned a summer research internship at the University of Chicago. Her involvement set the theme for her subsequent research — Higgs physics — after her 2017 move to the University of Pittsburgh to study for her masters and doctorate.
While Iris has spent years studying physics, her future choices are not limited to academia. Upon graduation from her PhD program this May, she will join a major US hedge fund as a research engineer. “While studying for my PhD, my interests evolved from physics’ more abstract aspects to its application side. In applying my mathematical and logical thinking skills to solve real-world problems, I hope to make meaningful impacts.”
My ambition is to be a product or software engineer and create a tech-related start-up to invent and develop sustainability-related products.
Sharing Iris’s passion for solving real world problems is YEUNG Wun Lam, one of HKUST’s five WISE scholarship awardees for 2022. “The award has encouraged me to work harder towards achieving my dream,” says the freshman who is planning to study Computer Engineering with an extended major in Artificial Intelligence. “My ambition is to be a product or software engineer and create a tech-related start-up to invent and develop sustainability-related products.”
Describing her first semester as “productive,” Wun Lam has received training from the HKUST Robotics Team and joined a group which recently won two awards in the Sustainable Smart Campus Student Competition. Asked for her advice for other STEM applicants, she says, “Join any related competitions to better understand how interested you are in your field and get a new perspective on it.”
Be a WISE girl and pursue your dreams
In the decade since the scholarship’s 2012/13 establishment, some 100 female students have benefited from WISE funding. All current and prospective students who are interested in applying for WISE support can click here for details.