Malia Steward (MSEE ’18)

What inspired you to choose the master’s in electrical engineering program at UW Bothell?

What inspired me to choose the master’s in electrical engineering program at UW Bothell was the quality of courses and engaging faculty. I completed my undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at the UW Bothell, with a double minor in computer science and software engineering, and mathematics. As a UW Bothell bachelor’s degree alumni, I knew I would receive the same quality and opportunities when pursuing a master’s.

I started research as an undergraduate – summer of my junior year – under the direction of Dr. Seungkeun Choi, where his research focuses on organic electronics. I was assigned the project of fabricating organic solar cells. His passion for research was contagious, and I was motivated to pursue graduate studies. Prior to completing my master’s, I knew I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in the near future.

Any big question you asked yourself before enrolling to make sure the program was the right choice for you?

I was very confident in enrolling in the MSEE program at UW Bothell because of the very enriched quality of courses, which enabled me to be competitive in today’s job market, and being awarded the National Science Foundation (NSF) Fellowship.

What would you say makes the program unique or innovative?

What made the program unique and innovative were the constant one-on-one mentorship with faculty members, inside and out of the classroom, which allowed me to grow academically. Another unique quality is the diverse faculty members (male, female, and those of diverse ethnic backgrounds), which brings a uniqueness of teaching, where they share real-world applications from a global, international perspective. I was very enthusiastic to learn about the numerous experiences professors had working in industry. Their shared work experiences helped me relate fundamentals to the real world. A connection to real-world applications helped solidify my understanding of many topics.

What are some highlights from your student experience?

A highlight includes participating in the IEEE Photovoltaic Specialist Conference (PVSC) as the first presenter, and first author. Being involved in research during my undergraduate and graduate studies opened opportunities for me to be involved in cutting-edge research and to contribute to solar energy work among the greatest scientists, engineers and researchers. In addition, one of my greatest highlights and achievements from my student experience was being awarded the Graduate Research Fellowship Program from the National Science Foundation (GRFP NSF) upon completing my master’s. This, by far, made me realize that the mentorship and quality of teaching from UW Bothell was the right choice for me.

What courses did you enjoy the most, and was there an area of research that inspired you?

All courses I took as a graduate student, from Embedded Systems Design (B EE 525-526), CMOS (B EE 545), Biomedical Devices (B EE 533), Power Electronics (B EE 550), and Power System Analysis (B EE 571), Probability and Random Processes (B EE 510), were all great courses. The greatest impact was doing solar energy research with Dr. Choi. Since I started as an undergraduate researcher, the introduction to microfabrication equipment and tools made a significant impression on me. Just the idea of creating a working device that is smaller or comparable to the diameter of hair using equipment I have never used, is one-of-a-kind experience.

Understanding how solar energy is one of the most influential parts of renewable energy, I wanted to be part of the impact that helped reduce the usage of fossil fuels. Organic solar cells are in the beginning stages of development. Therefore, I have a strong interest to be involved in this exciting phase of development, where I can contribute to this emerging technology to make it comparable to its competitors.

What was the most challenging and rewarding parts of being a student?

The most rewarding parts of being a student were getting one-on-one mentorship, participating in group collaboration, and receiving helpful insights from faculty members (i.e., corporate experience). Being involved in research as an undergraduate student was a challenge, in regards to balancing course work, and your research schedule; however, it was such a rewarding experience where I had the opportunity to co-author a research paper, participate in a conference (National Conference of Undergraduate Research), and present in research symposiums (UW Seattle and UW Bothell). In addition, continuing in my master’s, I co-authored an additional paper, and participated in a second conference sponsored by IEEE as first presenter and author. Ultimately, my greatest reward during my master’s was being awarded the GRFP NSF Fellowship to start my doctoral studies.

Do you have any advice for future students?

  • Don’t give up – There are times when failures will constantly occur (some more of an impact than others), more than you’re used to. More often than not, they will be rough and difficult to a point it’s challenging to move on. However, realize you’re more than capable to push through it – that same energy you carried with you to be where you are now. It is all part of a learning experience and encourages – if not enforce – maturity and development in your academic career.
  • Find a mentor – Find that special mentor (or a group of mentors) who will support your goals and help guide you while providing endless encouragement. I find that to be essential in graduate studies. Often times, your mentor(s) will see something in you what you cannot see in yourself. Take initiative to get to know your professors, whether you are taking a thesis or non-thesis track. You can always gain insight and diverse perspectives from professors of different, or specialized areas.
  • Be patient – It is easy to compare yourself to others, but focus paving your own pathway. Stick with what you believe is right for you and do not allow others to steer you away from your goals. With preparation, dedication, and perseverance, your time will come. This is where a great mentor comes in to play. Countless times, I hit road bumps in my research, doubting my abilities, and therefore, lowered my self-confidence. However, my research mentor would always snap me out of it and we would work together to find an alternative route to a problem, each of us bringing in a fresh perspective.

Where are you currently working, and what is your job title?

Doctoral student in mechanical engineering at the University of Washington.

Do you feel the degree prepared or supporting your professional career? How did this job opportunity come about?

Yes, this degree definitely prepared and supported my academic career. Working on a Ph.D. came about from extensive research experience starting from my undergraduate studies, up to the completion of my master’s studies. The awarding of the NSF Fellowship was, in itself, an opportunity of a lifetime, which allowed me to start on my PhD.

Are there any other thoughts or advice you would like to share?

I believe the School of STEMs mission statement clearly summarizes why a student should attend UW Bothell to pursue higher education.