“We need to encourage curiosity and commend wrong answers when the approach is good. Students need to be able to think critically and creatively in order for Pittsburgh and our future workforce to continue pushing the boundaries of innovation and tech."
We spoke to accomplished engineer and Carnegie Mellon professor, Dr. Jayan, about innovation in Pittsburgh, how we can cultivate students for jobs of the future, and her favorite places in the Burgh.
Engineering talent is in such high demand you could have gone anywhere, why Pittsburgh?
Carnegie Mellon brought me to Pittsburgh. CMU pioneers an interdisciplinary approach that celebrates bringing together skills and ideas to see what’s possible. Interdisciplinary teaching and research has become very appealing in recent times, but CMU has always been a champion for this style. CMU encourages its faculty, staff, and students to come up with ideas that bring together unrelated, even surprising viewpoints in engineering, sciences, and policy. CMU wholeheartedly supports such collaborations and this was very exciting to me from a professional perspective.
What cutting edge research do you see happening in Pittsburgh? What are you working on?
There’s so much going on in Pittsburgh and at Carnegie Mellon from manufacturing to data science and machine learning, robotics. Additionally, you have world class facilities in biomedical research and healthcare applications. The fact that we can make significant contributions to these emerging fields on a global scale because of our brain power and resources locally is really inspiring.
My research explores novel, energy efficient methods for manufacturing materials like ceramics and polymers for application ranging from energy storage batteries to biosensors. I was diagnosed with celiac disease when I was working on my PhD and I continue to work toward finding a material that can act as a sensor for proteins like gluten. Gluten is in everything, so to create a product that consumers and doctors can use to test for allergens would be game-changing. On a related note, CMU brought me to Legume when I interviewed, which is still a favorite restaurant, and their gluten-free offerings fully tipped my decision-making scale in favor of Pittsburgh!
You were recognized as one of the 2018 40 under 40 individuals whose creativity, vision, and passion enrich the Pittsburgh region. What advice do you have for young people looking to make an impact and pursue a career in STEM?
No matter how technology changes, the first advice I give to students is to have strong fundamentals in physics, chemistry and math because these give you the foundation to become a good engineer. The second, and possibly most important, is to keep your mind open and take opportunities to study other fields. We are in a period where technology is changing rapidly and engineering challenges are becoming more complex. Be curious about new fields, ask lots of questions, collaborate, and become comfortable with failure.
As a non-Pittsburgher, what’s something that surprised you about the region that you wish other people knew?
I was amazed at how young and dynamic Pittsburgh is and it’s wonderful to see the kind of initiative that runs through the city. Pittsburgh is changing rapidly which brings challenges, but there are people working together to solve problems, create opportunities, and make this a city for everyone.
I was also pleasantly surprised by how dog-friendly Pittsburgh is! I got my dog Tiberius “Tubby,” when I moved to Pittsburgh, so we’re the same age in Pittsburgh years. It’s a great way to engage with new people and explore the city. Schenley and Frick Parks are two of our favorite places and I love that there is so much open, green space in Pittsburgh.