To mark the 9th International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, 2024, we spoke with Andrea Calvo-Echenique, R&D Engineer at ITAINNOVA, Zaragoza, Spain. Andrea’s journey in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) exemplifies the spirit of this day, emphasizing the importance of promoting women and girls in science. In this enlightening interview, Andrea discusses her background, her role in the LEVIS project, and the guidance she offers to young girls aspiring to pursue STEM careers.
What is your background, and what sparked your interest in STEM as well as your specific field of work?
I earned a degree in Industrial Engineering in 2013 and subsequently pursued a master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering in 2014. Following this, I embarked on a PhD journey in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Zaragoza, culminating in the successful completion of my thesis dissertation in 2018.
Growing up in an environment where science and engineering were not prominently visible or encouraged, I always felt a natural inclination towards the sciences rather than the humanities. Maybe by chance or following some hidden instinct, I ended up studying engineering, but it was not until my fourth year that I was convinced that this was my true calling. This year, inspired by a memory of a comment from one of my first-year professors, I engaged myself with the mechanical engineering department. It was there that I found my passion, research. Until then, I hadn’t envisioned myself fitting into the routine of day-to-day engineering work, however, in research there was always something new to read, to try, to discover.
In 2018, I had the opportunity to join ITAINNOVA and dive into their groundbreaking research projects. Since then, I have switched topics, from human health to structural health, and it is truly amazing to see how much they have in common!
Could you describe your role within Leartiker and elaborate on your specific contributions to the LEVIS project?
At ITAINNOVA I work as a research engineer at the Department of Materials and Components, in particular, my field of work is mainly focused on the area of structural integrity and structural health monitoring. In my day-to-day work, I manage projects, perform technical work and propose new ideas for future projects.
In the LEVIS project, I’ve been working as a technology developer in WP4, defining a methodology to incorporate continuous monitoring features into automotive components with the aim of reducing maintenance costs and increasing user safety.
Is there a particular female scientist, engineer, or role model who has had a significant impact on your career, and what qualities or achievements inspire you most about them?
When I think about my role model, the first person that comes to my mind is my mother. She is not a scientist, nor an engineer, but she is an incredibly brave and smart person. Throughout my life, she has instilled in me the values of hard work and pursuing my dreams, supporting me despite she might not understand what I was studying.
As I look around today, I see myself surrounded by an inspiring community of women making their very successful careers in biomedicine, renewable energies or informatics. These remarkable individuals, many of whom are my friends, are not only regular girls but also top-notch scientists.
What aspects of your involvement in the LEVIS project do you find most fulfilling, and how do you envision its potential to influence the future of the automotive industry?
LEVIS pursues very challenging objectives about circularity, eco-design and sustainability. Working towards a more sustainable future of transport is a big motivation for me. Furthermore, the development of advanced maintenance management systems which will increase safety, not only for the automotive industry but also scalable to other sectors such as aeronautics or renewable energy systems, is very satisfying.
If you could offer guidance to young girls aspiring to pursue STEM careers, what advice would you share with them?
If I were to offer advice to a young girl deciding on her future, I would encourage her to keep her mind wide open, because you can find your way in the most unexpected place from a comment that may seem casual.
Also, I would tell them that they should not be afraid of trying. Regardless of external opinions or expectations, everyone deserves the opportunity to explore, experience, and decide on their own path.