One of the first recipients of a professorship named for Clemson University donors Bob and Kaye Stanzione is a working mom who is raising two children while taking on one of engineering’s toughest challenges.
Huijuan “Jane” Zhao is the new Stanzione Associate Professor and graduate program director in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Named professorships are high honors among faculty members and signal that they are held in high esteem at the universities where they work.
The success that Zhao has achieved at South Carolina’s top engineering college positions her as a role model for women. She has demonstrated that it’s possible to thrive in an engineering career without giving up a family and personal life.
It’s an important distinction because women remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math– a troubling trend that Zhao wants to reverse.
Zhao said that she has had the opportunity to talk with several students and to begin initiating new programs.
“This professorship will give me the support to pursue those directions,” she said. “The overall goal is to be a role model. I want to increase enrollment among women but not by sacrificing their personal lives.”
Zhao’s professorship was made possible by a $2.5-million Cornerstone Gift from the Stanzione family, a portion of which was earmarked to support faculty in mechanical engineering. Bob earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Clemson in 1969.
Zhao received her Ph.D. in mechanical science and engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2010. Her oldest son was 2 years old at the time, and she became a stay-at-home mom for about four months.
Zhao felt the pull back to work and found a great opportunity with Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Still, Zhao dreamed of becoming a professor and joined Clemson in January 2012.
In her research, Zhao focuses on computational materials, computational mechanics, multi-physics modeling and advanced sensor development for harsh environments.
Zhao has graduated 13 Ph.D. and master’s students from three different continents. Seven of those students were from underrepresented groups. Three students are studying under her now, including Ph.D. student Mahabubur Rahman.
Rahman said that he knows he can always turn to Zhao for help, whether it’s with his research or navigating a country still new to him.
“Whenever I have any problem, I can directly contact Dr. Zhao and tell her I don’t understand,” he said. “She guides me so that I can find my answer.”
Zhao said she likes that students are energetic and open-minded and that they bring new ideas that shift the perspective in her research. For some students, all it takes is a little push from a mentor to become a better person, she said.
“Sometimes they may not have a clear idea, but after I communicate with them and find out what their true pursuing is, I can help them be more prepared for their future.”
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