Dec. 16, 2020
STEM pioneer preaches kindness, adaptability and collaboration
Being a leader in a time of great uncertainty takes two key characteristics: the ability to pivot and to show grace.
That was the main message from Dr. Maria Klawe, BSc, PhD, as she received an honorary degree from the University of Calgary during online ceremonies held on November 26.
Dr. Klawe is the president of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, a role which represents the culmination and continuation of a long career in science and engineering leadership, excellence in scholarship, and advocacy for women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
She addressed the convocation for the Schulich School of Engineering by walking through her own journey, including living in Alberta for 12 years. She also met a few forks in the road.
“I wanted to do mathematics at a time when the world needed computer scientists,” Dr. Klawe stated. “I’ve ended up being both a mathematician and a computer scientist, being passionate about both disciplines and loving the opportunity to work at the interface.”
Following her friend’s brain cancer diagnosis, Klawe formed the Aphasia Project at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The project resulted in an assist device which allowed greater independence for those with aphasia and inspired a partnership between UBC and Princeton University, where Klawe later became the dean of engineering.
That collaborative approach is something she believes today’s students need to embrace, highlighted during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Learning a new discipline can be challenging and it’s surprising how different cultures and values are across disciplines,” Klawe said. “However, the most pressing challenges facing our world require expertise from many areas and the ability to bring together effective multidisciplinary teams.”
Klawe’s research work has been recognized by the Canadian Association of Computer Science and the Computing Research Association, among others. She was ranked 17 on the Fortune Magazine 50 Greatest Leaders list and received the 2014 Women of Vision ABIE Award and the 2001 Wired Woman Pioneer Award. In 2015, Klawe was inducted into the US News STEM Solutions Leadership Hall of Fame.
She has seen it all, and leaned on those honours and experiences to impart some more wisdom on the graduates.
“The ability to pivot, to learn new subjects and to work effectively across cultures will be of huge benefit to your career,” Dr. Klawe said. “And in this difficult time, everyone is experiencing much greater levels of stress than usual. When someone behaves differently from how you expected or hoped, show grace.”