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Aruna Shekar

Aruna is Innovator-in-Residence at Massey University's ecentre (entrepreneurship hub) where she connects students with businesses to work together on real-world projects.

Aruna ShekarWhat do you do on an average work day?

I meet with business clients to discuss projects, I supervise students and guide them in their projects to create innovative solutions, and I present seminars on the latest methods and best practices in Product Development.

These projects can range from a novel educational resource for teachers, to finding better ways of re-using cattle feedbags, or designing a smart helmet for firefighters. So there’s plenty of variety and its always fantastic to see an idea come to life and solve a real problem.

What did you study at school? And after high school?

I studied science and maths at high school and then later on Consumer Psychology and Product Development.

Was your study directly related to what you do now?

Yes and No. There’s a common thread of my interests in people and their behaviour that goes right through my career. However, I have stayed close to innovation education within science and engineering.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?

Try and explore a range of options and learn different skills, because it is less likely that you will be in one career for life. There will be jobs in the future that we have not even thought of today. 

Be open-minded to try new things and study a range of subjects across disciplinary borders. 

Stay curious and never stop learning.

Aruna being awarded Lecturer of the Year in 2016

What are some of your career highlights so far?

Seeing my students do really well and win awards for their useful, innovative solutions is definitely a highlight. 

Another is being nominated for the ‘Lecturer of the Year’ award by students four times in a row.

I'm also proud of establishing the PDMA (Product Development & Management Association, a non-profit professional body) here in New Zealand in 2006, and serving as VP (Asia-Pacific) for PDMA in USA.

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?

STEM is incredibly important in New Zealand because it drives innovation and solves real problems, so we need more youth taking up STEM and applying their critical thinking skills to improve the quality of life for everyone.  I have led projects in Humanitarian engineering to encourage more students to understand the social impact of science and engineering in society.

Aruna at the PDMA Conference in Chennai, India.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?

We need to see an equal representation of women and men in engineering classes – and we are far below this 50% level because we are not getting sufficient numbers of women into these areas at University. We need to change this.

I believe there are huge opportunities for women in engineering and product development, as they can bring their unique perspectives to problem solving and creativity.

Innovation thrives on multiple perspectives and team-work. The best teams have a balance in terms of skills, gender, disciplines and nationalities.

Aruna with students who won the 2014 Engineering Without Borders Championships

Aruna is Innovator-in-Residence at Massey University's ecentre (entrepreneurship hub) where she connects engineering students with businesses to work together on real-world projects.

Read about the school air quality project that Aruna is mentoring

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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