Photo by Anna Chandra Photography  

Interview with Sakshi Srivastava (BSEE '15)

by Huan Wu, UIAAAN Secretary intern, sophomore majoring in Psychology at UIUC


  • UIAAAN: Why did you choose engineering as your major and your future career? Did family background, childhood experiences or any specific incidents play a role?

SS: I have always been interested in science. I enjoyed math and loved physics. All the numbers and the formulae made sense; they seemed very intuitive to me. Becoming the secretary of the science club in middle school was a positive reinforcer. The more I understood science, the more I could appreciate its power to better our lives. I realized that, by being an engineer, I would be able to put my passion for science, and for helping others, together. My parents, who are medical doctors, were very supportive of my interests and helped me in the pursuit.

  • UIAAAN: What makes you interested in research?

SS: The most interesting part about research is that it encourages me to innovate. Being at the technology end of the spectrum, I feel that research truly pushes the boundaries of science and helps in making cutting-edge products that most definitely can bring about a change in society, as we can see from the advent of wireless communication, prosthetics, artificial intelligence, and much more.

I think about academia as a large family where everyone is trying to do something new. In that process, we inherit the legacy of scientists and researchers who have worked before us and have provided us with the foundational knowledge, which we now build on.

  • UIAAAN: What have you learned from your experience as a research assistant and involvement in the research field?

SS: The importance of persevering, being resilient and having an attitude of constantly learning has become very evident as I move forward in my academic career. I continuously learn from my advisor, professors and fellow graduate students. I have learned that you should not be hesitant to ask questions if there is something you don’t understand.

  • UIAAAN: What activities or coursework at the University of Illinois have helped or nurtured you most in your personal and career development?

SS: My academic growth happened through my classes, and my involvement in organizations and in on-campus positions nurtured my personality development, for the most part. It was through my classes that I realized that I thoroughly enjoy working on antennas and towards developing better wireless communication systems. On the other hand, as a resident advisor, I gained a better understanding of privilege and my responsibility towards society, and being the voice of people who are not as privileged as I am. I became more understanding of cultures and opinions different than mine. Being involved in Women in Engineering, I have learned how to appreciate diversity and the need of diversity in engineering.


SS: If one goes to an engineering campus or in industry, they can see that how disappointing the gender ratio is skewed, with not many women aspiring to be engineers. Coming from an all-girls’ school in India, this was a drastic change for me. In my freshman year, I wrote a research paper on the underrepresentation of women in the science community, for a class. In doing literature review, what caught my eye was that women don’t see themselves represented in these fields and hence choose to be a part of a profession where they know someone like them can succeed. Erecting a statue of a woman engineer would be our way of letting young girls know that they can be engineers and that, at Illinois, we endorse their dreams and goals.

SS: There are two important lessons I have learned from the Woman Engineer statue project. First, I learned how not be discouraged by criticism, but how to use to it make your argument stronger. Throughout the process, students and members of the community gave feedback, which was both positive and negative. Knowing how to use the feedback for the project played an important part in its evolution.

Second, I learned that when a group of motivated people come together to work on a project they are passionate about, they will find a way to make it happen. I have met students, staff and faculty who believe in the project and have provided so much support and help. For that, I am very grateful.

  • UIAAAN: How does the volunteer work you participate in influence you?

SS: As a sixth grader, I came up with the idea to set up a polio vaccination booth in my neighborhood on one of the Pulse Polio days in India. My friends and I helped set up tables and went around gathering kids under the age of 5 years to come with their parents to get vaccinated. As far as I remember, we vaccinated about 250 children that day. Since then, I have become a firm believer in the role that volunteering plays in community-building. I have continued volunteering on campus for different organizations, including iHelp, Engineering Open House and Women in Engineering. Volunteering helps me make new friends, learn from them, and, most importantly, be aware that together, we can make a difference.

  • UIAAAN: What do you consider to be your greatest challenge so far, and have you been able to overcome it? If not, what kinds of resources do you need and how can UIAAAN assist you, if possible?

SS: The greatest challenge for me was to decide on and work towards coming to one of the best engineering schools in the world, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I come from a city named Allahabad in India, where there were not enough resources to prepare me to take entrance exams like the SAT and TOEFL, or a culture to support going abroad after high school. How I got through it was by not giving up, by truly believing that I could get in and by seeking support from my family and friends.

The way UIAAAN can help is by having active members who can help fellow Illini reach the places they want to be. It is a strong organization, and it can be even stronger by building a good accessible network.




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