While women remain relatively underrepresented in engineering, Elena Uchiteleva is optimistic, doing her part to build on the momentum of women entering the profession.
“I have been involved in promoting and advocating for women in engineering for the past five years and I see the number of females entering the field and staying in the field growing – slowly. But it is growing and it’s promising,” said the electrical engineer and Western PhD candidate.
Uchiteleva, who was raised in Russia and came to Canada from Israel where she completed an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, has been an avid researcher and supporter of women in the field both as a researcher and an academic, locally and nationally.
For her dedicated work and continued advocacy efforts, Uchiteleva recently received the Senior Women Academic Administrators of Canada Graduate Student Award of Merit. The award was established to recognize women who have demonstrated outstanding leadership at their university and in the community while maintaining an exemplary academic record. Uchiteleva’s academic record, teaching, scholarship and community outreach made her “a standout candidate,” according to SWAAC committee members.
The SWAAC graduate award come to Ontario every four years; Western students were named recipients in the two most recent competitions.
“I came to Canada to become a better specialist in wireless communications and I gained a solid background in digital wireless communication theory. I joined a very active optimized computing and communications research group at Western. I enjoy research and want to expand my knowledge,” Uchiteleva said.
She has taken every opportunity available to do just that. Wireless communications, specifically wireless sensor networks and machine learning, continues to fascinate Uchiteleva. Digital collection, processing and transfer of real-time data has wide implications for the world we live in, she explained, and touches on everything from the Internet to home information, to smart health-care and industry.
“These networks are making our life more convenient and our workplaces safer,” she said. “Machine learning allows us to learn from data collected by wireless networks and further improve processes and equipment, service and security.”
Uchiteleva’s research focuses on a critical element of wireless networks – resource virtualization, security and encryption. In the last year of her Engineering PhD, she has been active in internships, applying her research. She is currently at a placement in the steel industry, working to optimize real-time data analysis and machine learning to make plants safer and smarter.
At Western, she is seeing the number of women entering Engineering programs climb. Professionally, she knows there are strides to be made still.
“In my internship in the steel industry, there is a lack of female engineers. There are a few, but the ratio is not even and there is an obvious underrepresentation of females, even with a respectful team, supportive managers and great mentors,” Uchiteleva noted.
“As I understand, the lack of females in engineering is arising not because females are not wanted here; it’s because they don’t apply for the job. In general, in engineering, the numbers of females are lower, but I see there are more women enrolling in recent years. I’ve been a dedicated volunteer for that in the community.”
Uchiteleva’s involvement and outreach efforts started with Spark, a conference and engineering design competition with a focus on inspiring young students to explore the field of engineering. From that, she moved on to chairing a local Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) committee for women in engineering, moving those efforts to national events, then to international conferences.
“I’m very passionate about what I am doing and I can accomplish much more on a team of women. Alone, you can do so much. When you have a team and motivated group, you can accomplish much more and that has motivated me to set up a larger goal for leadership,” said Uchiteleva.
“This has all allowed me to engage with amazing women in the country and internationally.”