Professor Spotlight

Women in Engineering

Spring 2021


Dr. Yalda Khashe

Lecturer of Industrial and Systems Engineering

Preferred Pronouns: she/her/hers

How long have you been at USC: I started as a faculty in January 2019, but I was a postdoctoral research associate at the Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation program (2018) and the Ph.D. candidate in the ISE department before that.

Are you a first generation college student: No

Favorite Class to Teach: Each class is a different experience and I like each and every one of them. But I specifically love teaching classes where I get to work closely with students on team projects.

Fun Fact that no one knows about you?: I was in the first graduating class that accepted women in Industrial Engineering in my university when I received my bachelor's degree. Now, in Iran, nearly 70 percent of university graduates in STEM are women.

How did you get to your current position at USC?: I started teaching part-time at Cal State University and Pepperdine university when I was a Ph.D. candidate, and then through my tenure as a postdoctoral research associate. I love teaching and USC has become a second home to me, so when it came time for me to chose a position, I decided to stay.

What ideas in the field excites you?: Technology implementation in complex Socio-technical systems: the role of human and organizational factors in safety and reliability of complex technological systems.

Racial and gender diversity in engineering is important. How do you see yourself promoting this in your current role?: As engineers, we design systems and devices that, hopefully, will improve the quality of life of its users. According to NAE, one of the guiding principles of engineering is the population of individuals who are involved with or affected by technology (e.g., designers, manufacturers, distributors, users), and they are increasingly diverse and multidisciplinary. We need a diverse engineering force to meet this challenge. As a Middle Eastern woman having mentors who championed diversity and role models to look up to has helped me navigate the challenges of working in academia.

What are some problems you have faced as a woman in STEM? What is one piece of advice you would give to other women in STEM fields?: I worked as a quality management consultant during my undergraduate studies and later as a project manager in a male-dominated energy sector in Iran. Those experiences made taught me to the value of diversity in engineering teams. Through the years, with help and support from mentors and allies, I have learned to value my voice as a woman. One of the reasons that I decided to stay at USC was the diversity of its faculty and students. 

Believe in yourselves. Don't be afraid to break the glass ceiling. Celebrate and promote your accomplishments. Champion other women in your field. Find a mentor who can help you find your way. And always remember that you are not alone.

Would you rather fight 100 duck sized horses or 1 horse sized duck?: 

I do not wish to fight either since they are lovely creatures. Assuming that the question is about selecting a great force vs. 100 smaller forces, in the absence of supporting information (i.e. is the fight inland or in the water, can we use any weapons, can we train the animals, the weather and climate conditions, etc.), I would choose the first option. The synergy between 100 smaller forces would result in a much stronger power, and we are better equipped to foresee and plan to combat one force rather than 100 unpredictable active agents.


Dr. Kelly Sanders

Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Preferred Pronouns: she/her/hers

How long have you been at USC: Since January of 2014 (7 years)

Are you a first generation college student: No

Favorite Class to Teach: ENE 215: Energy and its Environmental Impacts

Fun Fact that no one knows about you?: I have a tiny labradoodle named "Joules", after the English physicist. (Ok, everyone knows this about me, but there might be one of you left out there, who hasn't met her.)

How did you get to your current position at USC?: I had a very circuitous route. I graduated in biomedical engineering as an undergraduate and in mechanical engineering as a graduate student. But I believe the diversity of my engineering education has made me a better analyst of sustainabilty issues facing the energy industry, which is broad in scope.

What ideas in the field excites you?: I think it is exciting that in many cases, cleaner and more sustainable energy generation sources, are also becoming the cheapest. So we are moving into a world where renewable energy is a win for the environment, the economy, and energy security.

Racial and gender diversity in engineering is important. How do you see yourself promoting this in your current role?: I think diversity is incredibly important to the engineering discipline. We have entered a world of scalable technologies, where a single algorithm can affect the lives of millions (or even billions) of people. Thus, it is important that the people developing these technologies represent the ideals and interests at the society at large. To get there, we need more and more people from underrepresented populations to enter engineering and get into positions of influence to create opportunities for those that will come later.

What are some problems you have faced as a woman in STEM? What is one piece of advice you would give to other women in STEM fields?: I have been afforded a lot of opportunities as a female in STEM, but often those opportunities have been met with skepticism about whether they were granted because of merit or to meet a "diversity quota". This has created a constant internal pressure to always "be on" and to constantly feel like I need to prove myself to avert this skepticism. The good news is that it becomes easier and easier as time goes on. I have been very lucky in my career here at USC to have supportive colleagues, students, and mentors!

As an underrepresented minority, you will be asked to do a lot. Everyone will tell you to "learn to say no". This is good advice in theory, but some people are very good at saying "no", which creates an inequity in load, exacerbating the burden for others. So I would identify the things that are truly meaningful, and say "yes" to those, and "no" more to other requests.

Would you rather fight 100 duck sized horses or 1 horse sized duck?: 

One horse sized duck. It seems like two large duck feet present a critical vulnerability.

And one more thing...

I think its important to recognize that being a student of engineering is difficult for everyone, and there will be many points of feeling like a failure and like you aren't good enough. This is the experience of everyone! Every successful people I know has felt this way, so realize that its part of the journey, rather than internalizing it as a failure of your own talents.

Fall 2020


Dr. Brandi P. Jones

Associate Professor of Engineering Education Practice

Preferred Pronouns: she/her/hers

How long have you been at USC: 3 years

Are you a first generation college student: Yes

Favorite Class to Teach: Challenges in Urban Education

Fun Fact that no one knows about you?: I speak Japanese

How did you get to your current position at USC?: I was recruited to USC after spending nearly 20 years in higher education administration at various institutions (Princeton University, California Institute of Technology, Occidental College)

What ideas in the field excites you?: Promoting equity-minded action

Racial and gender diversity in engineering is important. How do you see yourself promoting this in your current role?: My entire professional career and research portfolio has been dedicated to equity in higher education. I strive to enlighten, engage, and empower to dismantle systemic inequities.

What are some problems you have faced as a woman in STEM? What is one piece of advice you would give to other women in STEM fields?: 

Throughout my career, I have faced microagressions, microinsults, and microinvalidations. [My advice is] never shy away from bringing your full identity to work/school.

Would you rather fight 100 duck sized horses or 1 horse sized duck?: 

1 horse sized duck — I’d rather focus on one heavy duck that has no real bite and can’t get off the ground.

Fall 2019


Dr. Leana Golubchik

Professor in Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering

How did she get to her current position at USC? Professor Golubchik is a triple Bruin–she got her Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D. degrees at UCLA, and continued on to teaching at Columbia University, University of Maryland, and is now a Professor of Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering here at USC.

What ideas in the field excites her? Dr. Golubchik’s background is in performance modeling, and she is passionate about distributed machine learning and understanding how large-scale systems can democratize machine learning in ways that can make these systems more efficient and useful to people.

What is WiSE? Women in Engineering & Science (WiSE) started in 2000 when an anonymous donor gave the university a 20 million dollar gift to support Women in Science and Engineering. At the time, Viterbi only had 3 women faculty, and a total of 15 women faculty in STEM-related departments at USC, so their mission is to support students and faculty in STEM-fields. Through programming, mentorship, and providing research opportunities, WiSE’s mission is to pipeline undergraduate students to grad school, then from grad school to academia to take on positions as faculty members and researchers in their respective fields. WiSE also plays a crucial role in the recruitment and retention of women faculty.

Since 2000, the number of total women faculty in science and engineering at USC has increased drastically from 15 to 68, and WiSE is now celebriting its 20th anniversary. As Program Director, Dr. Golubchik is working on adding an industry component to WiSE. She understands that not all STEM students are interested in going into academia–many are interested in industry careers and bringing their skills to the industry workforce. Her current focus is on creating a partnership between WiSE and various STEM-related industries to provide greater access to jobs and internships for students, as well as opportunities for professional development so they are in a good position to apply for jobs when it comes time for graduation. Dr. Golubchik stresses that support for women in STEM must come from many different outlets, and a large part of WiSE’s success has been due to their support from all faculty (not only those in WiSE), Deans, and the Provost’s office.

What are some problems she’s faced as a woman in STEM?  Often there’s a lack of role models, and which is why she has focused on increasing faculty representation as Director of WiSE. Very often, when undergraduates get involved in research, they are the only women in their labs and can feel isolated as a result. Dr. Golubchik recalled having no female faculty instructors in her undergraduate career and only one in her graduate career and understands the importance of having support systems to ensure the success of female students in STEM.

What is one piece of advice she would give to other women in STEM fields? The one piece of advice she would give to other women in STEM fields is to perservere, and to not let what other people might say or how they behave deter them from doing what they love and what they’re passionate about. She also emphasized the importance of reaching out for help and encourages students to come out to WiSE events to find that support network of faculty members and other students in STEM.

If you are interested in getting involved with WiSE, please contact WiSE Program Manager, Mallory Redel (, or visit their website at

We thank Dr. Golubchik for her continued dedication to WiSE and for serving as a great role model for undergraduate women pursuing careers in Engineering and the Sciences.


Dr. Fariba Ariaei

Professor in Electrical Engineering Systems

How did you get to your position at USC?

I did my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and my Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering-Systems. My specialty is in Control and Dynamical Systems. I studied celestial mechanics, under-actuated mechanical systems, sensor networks, and hyperbolic geometry before finally focusing on my Ph.D. thesis on analyzing (human) heart dynamics. Then, I continued my research during my postdoctoral fellowship in cardiology/electrophysiology at the Johns Hopkins University. After completing my fellowship, I started teaching courses in Physics, Controls and Information Theory at Pennsylvania State University before coming to USC.

What ideas in your field excite you and what do you currently work on?

I have always been fascinated by the elegance and complexity of the universe, dreaming of the day when traveling to outer space will be as ordinary as driving your car to work! Living in that dream, I started profoundly studying dynamical systems; that was when I realized the beauty and power of mathematics in modeling and analyzing complex/chaotic systems, with broad applications from space to the human body. I am truly amazed to see how research in science and engineering can change human lives and their futures. My current research is in analyzing the heart as a complex dynamical system with the focus on studying electrophysiology and ECG signal processing to detect and prevent arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death.

What are some challenges you face as a female engineer?

We, female engineers, are living in a male dominated world of engineering! I, as one, have had many challenges to reach my goals. One of the most highlighted challenges that I have been facing, and I think that is the same for many other female engineers, is to prove my proficiency and capabilities.
Female engineers are underestimated; they have to work very hard in their fields to earn the trust and respect of others compared to their male peers. I hope one day, engineers and scientists will be evaluated merely based on their knowledge rather than their gender.

What is one piece of advice you would give to other women in engineering?

Advancement of technology, especially robotics, will change the world in a few years. The next generation of engineers, scientists and educators will face a world very different from what we are living in! Imagine this new world, with robots replacing the laborers, automatic transportation, warehouses maintained and managed by robots, and medical science revolutionized by computer science. But the fact is, robots and software cannot make decisions; despite all of these advancements, we will need leaders and decision makers who are scientists and engineers with superior social skills to lead the world with their passion and knowledge.

My advice to the young female engineers is to believe in themselves and that they have all those abilities needed to lead the future world in the right direction. So, be passionate, be knowledgeable, be critical thinkers. Be the leaders!

Published on September 8th, 2020

Last updated on March 7th, 2022