I could not be happier to shine a spotlight on Dr. Faeze Khademi, who is currently living out her career dreams as an engineer! She is uplifting other women around her by putting visibility on what is possible not only for young women, but for those who are immigrants, and children of immigrants, who are working hard to accomplish their career goals. Born in Tehran, Iran, and raised in Isfahan, she immigrated to the USA when she was 22 years old to continue her graduate studies at the Illinois Institute of Technology. She completed her master’s degree in 2015, and earned her Ph.D. in (Civil) Structural Engineering in 2017. This accomplishment made her one of the youngest people in academia to graduate with a doctoral degree in under three years, at just 26 years old! Her hard work and dedication was rewarded when she was not only hired by one of the largest railway companies in the world, but she was also granted United States’ Permanent Residency for her outstanding scientific contributions! I mean, let's be real, that is INCREDIBLY impressive.
In this Spotlight Interview, Faeze states that she believes that the solution to increasing the number of women involved in leadership within professional fields will require demonstrating that, as women, we are more than capable of building the trust, making an impact and successfully collaborating to help our fellow employees and our employers thrive and grow in a continuously changing society. Faeze truly embodies the Lift & Be Uplifted mission, through her passion and example, and particularly as a fellow Iranian American woman, I feel so proud to feature her in Spotlight #23.
Read more about Faeze's perspective below! You can also connect with her on LinkedIn HERE.
1. Rarely is someone's journey linear. Can you explain what you wanted to be when you grew up, and how your career landed you where you are right now?
Since childhood, I have always wanted to become a Civil Engineer. My father was a Civil Engineer also, and one of the driving motivations for choosing this path was the tremendous amount of respect and admiration I have always felt toward my father. He was such a wonderful inspiration to me. As a young girl, my father encouraged me to become familiar with all aspects of civil engineering by always using age-appropriate terminology when he spoke about his work. The more I learned about the theoretical aspects of this major, the more I fell in love with this field.
I am grateful for where I currently am career-wise. Having received my Ph.D. in a field that I feel connected to and interested in, and working in my dream job as a Bridge Engineer at CN Railway, one of the leading, and largest, railroad companies in the world. I'm also honored to be able to make an impact in my field by serving as a committee member and reviewer for various scientific journals and conference proceedings worldwide.
Despite these wins, I must admit that my journey has not been a simple journey of sole progress. There have been moments on mountaintops and moments in deep valleys of despair. It's the choices that we make at each of those transitions that shape our professional and personal life journey.
2. Which single word do you most identify with?
Hardworking! I am never content or gratified with my current achievements. I continuously strive for more understanding and look for new ways to grow within my academic and professional life. I believe with hard work and dedication anything can be accomplished.
3. What was the most defining moment in your career?
The most defining moment in my career was when years of diligence and dedication to pursuing my educational goals paid off! Within a period of just three years I was able to earn my Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, then just a few months before my Ph.D. graduation, I received an offer from a leading engineering company, CN Railway, for a fantastic position as a Bridge Engineer, which coincided with my being awarded permanent US residency, aka a green card! In recognition of the impact that I was able to make through numerous publications, citation records, and contributions to the field of civil engineering, I was awarded US residency through the National Interest Waiver process. This exhilarating period certainly was the most defining moment of my career so far, as it all happened in a period of a just a few months! I am proud that despite the many challenges, I never gave up on my passions, and as previously said, I proved that with hard work and dedication anything can be accomplished.
4. What do you think holds women back from fulfilling their greatest potential and going after their dreams?
In my opinion, one of the most significant things that hold women back is the tendency to underestimate themselves. I encourage women to focus on and learn how to prioritize their needs in order to to live the life they want. This means giving up unhealthy habits that are draining their mental strength that disrupt beneficial decision-making choices. The ability for this to happen requires a firm belief in themselves and their knowledge and abilities. There are so many examples of young women accomplishing amazing things, and I hope that this allows other young women who are their peers or coming behind them to realize that they can strive to be the best in everything they do so that they can exceed their wildest dreams and expectations.
Women are powerful beyond measure; all that is needed is to acknowledge this and accept it to find their authority. Every woman living on this planet is capable of accomplishing more than she thinks she can!
5. How do you suggest leaders in the workplace can be more inclusive of women?
From my personal perspective, organizations that undervalue the significance of women in leadership, are missing out. There is no denying that developing inclusive leadership culture for women will take time. I do not believe there are limitations within any male-dominated or female-dominated industries to one particular "type" of individual. What I believe in is gender equality and merit-based occupations. Talking about gender equality, nowadays we see more men in leadership positions than women. Increasing the number of women involved in leadership within their chosen professions, will require us to demonstrate, more than ever, that we can build the trust, impact, collaboration, and diversity needed for our fellow employees and our companies to thrive and grow in a changing society.
Some valuable advice I can offer to women who want to progress in leadership professions, is to strive to deepen their self-awareness, and basically to work toward becoming comfortable in their own skin. This will be a determining aspect of not just carrying out acts of leadership, but maintaining success as a leader. In addition, as leaders, develop and utilize an influential tool called “Listening”. Listening to understand is a great advantage in resolving conflict, increasing efficiency, and practicing inclusiveness. Last but not least, take steps to continually improve; meaning, it is typically small things over an extended period of time that add up to the big achievements one is able to attain. Getting accustomed to small progress on a daily basis will result in a huge payoff over the long haul.
6. Favorite ice cream flavor?!
7. Describe a time when you were underestimated in your career/life. How did you react? What did you learn?
I am not sure if I can call it an underestimation, I would phrase it more as a challenge on my way to take on more responsibilities. As I mentioned, I am a Bridge Engineer. The majority of my work is using different engineering software and programs to do bridge theoretical analysis, which requires mostly office work. A small portion of my job is participating in the bridge field-testing projects and observing how the testing missions are carried out. These bridge testing endeavors are largely considered male-dominated projects due to the amount of strength, force and machinery that is necessary in order to accomplish this field work. Throughout my testing visits, I was determined part of the actual project and not just partake as an observer. I started by learning how to grind and how to install the strain gauges. I was even able to train for my truck driver`s license and get it right away. At the same time, as a female, I managed to become qualified for this tough and challenging field work in male-dominated projects. I am extremely proud of stepping out of my comfort zone, to make progress for myself and the women who will come after me, in this professional career.
8. You have had extensive education! What are each of your degrees in? And what is something you didn’t learn in school that you had to learn through experience “on the job”?
Thanks for the compliment! I received my B.S. in Civil Engineering in 2013 from the University of Kashan, IRAN. I also received my M.S. in Civil Engineering (Structural Engineering) in 2015, and Ph.D. in Civil Engineering (Structural engineering) in 2017, both from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Your career can provide you with far more than a stable income and on-the-job experience. Many people experience some of their greatest personal growth moments in the workplace. Being open and willing to learn these lessons is the key to both personal and professional improvement. One valuable thing I learned through my work has been finding out what I am truly good at, and developing my strength in those areas. Determining where I can shine career-wise, and focusing on this while striving for growth is one of the most gratifying aspects that wouldn't be achievable outside the workplace. Working in the industry helped me understand where my strengths and passions lie which assisted me in setting better goals for my career and also showed me better ways of achieving them. It is an undeniable fact that no one realizes professional success overnight and we have to put the effort in to get to where we want to be. Those who find pride and satisfaction in their career will progress more than those who do not-so choose thoughtfully and wisely!
9. As a fellow Iranian American woman, what is your favorite thing about Persian culture?
My favorite thing about the Persian culture is that Iranians as a whole significantly value education. Many seek to have higher education credentials on their resume. Throughout human history, Persia has always been a cradle of science, contributing to the very foundations of mathematics, engineering, architecture, medicine, astronomy, and philosophy. Iranians consider this to be a defining aspect of our cultural heritage. During ancient times, Persia was the center of scientific accomplishments and was often the conduit of knowledge that spanned from Greece and Rome in the West, to China and India in the East.
There are many contributions from Persia, with some of the greatest scholars shaping the history of the world, whose legacies and reputations are the pride of Iranians, including Avicenna, Algoritmi, Rhazes, Omar Khayyam, Maryam Mirzakhani, and many more.
The scientific golden age of Iran is not only limited to ancient Persia. Modern Iranian scientists are now cautiously reaching out to the world, making substantial contributions to the fields of science and technology through training and education. As you may have heard on the news recently, the scientific growth of Iranian scholars is recognized as significant worldwide.
10. What advice would you give a young women who is struggling with the confidence needed to navigate her way through a male-dominated industry?
Confidence is the key to moving forward in any workplace. In order to nurture it, I would encourage you to understand your own strengths and weaknesses. Play to your strengths and use those skills to enhance your career. Try to overcome your weaknesses by stepping forward and being more assertive.
Remember that you will be valued at work according to the amount of exceptional work you are delivering for the company--not by your gender! If you are waiting for someone to recognize the value you bring, you may well be waiting forever. Believe in yourself and get your thoughts out there. Recognize the incredible value of your natural intuition and believe that what you have to share is worth taking into consideration. Make your voice heard and deliver your message with strength and conviction. No one can appreciate your contributions until you yourself appreciate them first. Work hard to become known as someone who can be relied on.
Talent is great and hard work is indispensable but having the confidence to back these up is what makes it easier to follow your path to advancing. Practice this advice to build confidence and to become that person everyone turns to when a tough job needs to be done well.