As someone who loved maths as a child, she was also blessed to have parents who thought that a love for maths was actually cool, little did she or her family know that someday Jelena Kovačević would be named the first woman Dean of the prestigious NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. Never one to create a career trajectory for herself, she was really and truly blown away when she was offered the position and now she aims to encourage women students at the university by supporting them through their STEM programs. After she was named Dean in 2018, this year’s incoming class has more numbers of women students than before, it has gone up 81 percent since 2015 which much higher than the US average of 23 percent.
NYU has shown how the leadership of women in such institutions changes everything for women and the entire industry
NYU speaks a very different story because the rest of the STEM industry is very bleak because of the lack of women, not to mention that they are earning 10 percent less than their male counterparts. When she got her bachelor’s degree in Yugoslavia, she had no idea about the gender gap in STEM, it only struck her when she set out to get her Ph.D. in the United States at Columbia University; she graduated in 1991. Hence, Kovačević’s entry into NYU has surely changed the University for the better and also it has shown how the leadership of women in such institutions changes everything for women and the entire industry. According to her, it’s very important to have frequent dialogue with the students directly and she talks to them about how they can better the school. ‘She has been working to form student groups and mentoring opportunities through the Women at Tandon Committee, which consists of administrators and faculty who are committed to seeing female advancement in STEM fields,’ reported NBC News. She strongly believes that young men, women, and children need to see that a scientist, an engineer or even dean does not have to look a certain way.
“My mom had infinite confidence in me and believed I could do anything I wanted. The only time I remember her being disappointed was when I sold myself short”
Overall, her main focus is on the students, saying, “My favorite part of this job is really the students — it has always been students. I think I went into academia because of students, I love to teach, I love to talk to them, I love to hang out with them.” She advises other people with the advice she was given, “Carry people with you.” Also, she adds that people need to understand other more, by getting to know where they come from, “I think this is what teachers do naturally — you have to gauge the feeling and the atmosphere and the energy in the room to see whether people are with you. Being cognizant of where people are and how they’re hearing what you’re saying is very important.” Hence, it comes as no surprise Kovačević does inspire so many of the students at the Tandon School and she also thinks that seeking out a mentor at an early age is the best thing that you can do for your career. She was lucky to find a great mentor in her mother, “My mom had infinite confidence in me and believed I could do anything I wanted. The only time I remember her being disappointed was when I sold myself short.” Having been influenced by both her parents, she agrees that your early influences have an impact on your later life and hence, it is important that young girls have parents who are their pillars, rather than their critics.
Image credit: Medium