"Shrinking yourself won't make the table any bigger. Take your seat and make it known you're there.” - Holly Pascal

As the saying goes, Ts. Uma Shangery Aruldass’s childhood fascination with newspaper stories by her mom and curiosity led her to a career as an aerospace engineer and Technical Services and Planning Manager at Berjaya Air.

The sky is no limit! Emerging as the winner of 2024 Women’s Space Awards – Business category, we had the honour of interviewing the pioneer that we all should look up to.

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Asking about her journey into this aerospace field:

“When I was a kid, my mom would read the newspaper out loud. One day in 2003, she read about a NASA mission where the astronauts didn’t make it back to Earth. That was the first time I heard about NASA and space,” says Uma.

From her dad bringing her to the Thunderbirds airshow at the Malaysian Air Force Base to watch those planes fly in all directions to bringing home posters of fighter jets with detailed engineering diagrams; indeed, an ah-mazing experience and memories she had during her teen days. And the fascination drove her to study Aerospace Engineering.

With much gratitude and determination, Uma pursued a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering, and a Master’s in Aviation Management and is now, doing her PhD in Air and Space Law.

Stepping into the career path as a Project Engineer making aircraft cockpit parts for an airline and she became an Engineering Technical Services and Planning Manager. Besides having a plethora of experiences, and knowledge – amid the pandemic period it was a rollercoaster ride for Uma, yet it wasn’t prolonged as she has begun to explore international opportunities and work with space experts on various projects.

There’s no denying that she has stepped into the spotlight and shown the world what she is made of.

Saying that proudly, hailing from a small city in Malaysia, Uma has felt proud to stand on an international stage in Las Vegas, USA, and give her speech. One of the coolest opportunities that she had was in this field.

Asking about how she managed to grab such a mind-blogging opportunity:

“During COVID-19, I had extra time to conduct research and share my findings online. Giving talks at virtual events has prompted her to apply for the Diverse Dozen (D12) at ASCEND 2022, focusing on Space Sustainability. To my surprise, I was selected as one of the 12 Space Debris Experts worldwide.”

That was cool!

Complementing her inner drive and natural curiosity was her realization that you have to stand up for yourself in her field and that there’s no room for wallflowers.

However, life is not a bed of roses, and it's full of thorns for all of us.

“As a woman in STEAM, I have faced unconscious biases. People sometimes worry about giving me certain tasks, assuming they might be "too much" for me. However, I always uphold my responsibilities and believe tasks are not gender-defined but role-defined.”

As a strong supporter of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), I truly believe in the power of the Arts to make complex science accessible to everyone.

In male-dominated enviroment, women are often expected to take on secretarial roles. It came to our surprise that she managed to tackle these challenges by demonstrating her technical skills and professionalism by seeking mentorship and participating in professional networks that have provided essential support.

A lack of women leaves future women with no one to look up to or be inspired by, with the consequence being that the cycle continues.

“I advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workplace and support other women in STEAM to create a more inclusive environment,” says Uma.

Whatever it inspires YOU to do — embrace that!

Seeing a person as an inspiration and what makes us look up to them is seeking their advice:

The world is your playground. Keep exploring and never stop learning – education extends beyond classroom walls.

“My advice to young girls aspiring to pursue STEAM careers is to follow your passion and stay curious. Don't let societal stereotypes or gender biases deter you from your goals. Surround yourself with supportive mentors and role models who can provide guidance and inspiration. Never hesitate to ask questions and seek help when needed.”

Everything is within reach. As the world is at your fingertips; use the technology available for you to connect with role models and seek industry mentors.

Remember to never be afraid of rejections; they are merely stepping stones to progress. There will be challenges, but each obstacle is an opportunity to learn and grow. Your unique perspective as a woman in STEAM is invaluable, and your contributions can make a significant impact.

A post shared by Uma Shangery Aruldass (@umashangery)

Inspiration to inspire Uma!

“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness” – Oprah Winfrey

They say having an inspiration in our life is like having a secret weapon for success, and we couldn't agree more. It's like a little spark that ignites our passion and fuels our drive toward success. And likewise, for Uma:

“Many women in STEM have inspired me to reach where I am today, especially Malaysian women who have made significant contributions. Tan Sri Mazlan Othman, Malaysia’s first astrophysicist and former Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), broke incredible barriers and served as a role model for many. Ts. Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan, who was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Biotechnology worldwide in 2015, resonates closely with me due to our similar backgrounds.”

Each inspired generation builds on the achievements of the previous one, setting new standards and enriching our community and country with STEAM talent.

The aviation and engineering industries are making strides towards greater diversity, but there is still significant room for improvement. Over the past few years, there have been increased efforts to promote diversity and inclusion, such as mentorship programs, diversity training, and initiatives aimed at encouraging more women to enter STEAM fields. These efforts are encouraging and have begun to create more opportunities for women and underrepresented groups.

However, systemic barriers and gender biases still exist, and addressing these issues requires ongoing commitment and action. It's crucial to continue advocating for inclusive policies, supporting diversity initiatives, and creating a workplace culture that values and respects all individuals. By fostering an environment where diverse perspectives are welcomed and valued, the industry can drive innovation and better reflect the communities it serves.

From small beginnings to greatness, Ts. Uma's journey from a little girl's dream to a thriving aerospace career is truly inspiring. Her story of passion, grit, and determination shows that even the sky isn't the limit.

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