Dr. Kat Steele, an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Principle Investigator of the Ability and Innovation Lab, studies how engineering principles apply to the human body, and particularly to the neuromuscular and musculoskeletal systems. Her primary goal is to use human-centered design approaches to understand human movement and improve movement in patients with neurological disorders, such as cerebral palsy or stroke. Prior to joining the UW faculty, Dr. Steele completed her PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University and served as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. She has also worked as an engineer in multiple hospitals including the Cleveland Clinic, the Children’s Hospital of Colorado, and Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital.
What is Dr. Steele’s advice for women pursuing careers in engineering? “Be creative every day. Fail often, and have fun in the process!”
The following are questions and responses from an interview with Dr. Steele:
Q&A: Professional interests and diversity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)
Q: How did you become interested in your field of work?
A: As an undergrad, I studied mechanical engineering and completed two summer internships. At the time, I had been working in manufacturing. However, during my third summer, I started interning in hospitals. I worked at the Cleveland Clinic and later at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado. I realized that I love applying engineering principles to medical work with doctors, therapists, and patients on a daily basis. During my work I discovered two things: first, that I knew nothing about the human body and how it worked; and second, I really enjoyed working in areas where engineering and medicine intersect. Even though I had enjoyed studying manufacturing, it didn’t speak to me as strongly as working in clinical environments. My undergrad institution, the Colorado School of Mines, didn’t offer biology classes at the time, so to remedy my lack of biological and medical knowledge I decided to go to grad school. This is why internships are such an important opportunity for engineering students – they let us discover our passions.
Q: In your opinion, what are the benefits of diversity in STEM fields?
A: One of the advantages of having more women, underrepresented minorities, and individuals with disabilities [in STEM] is that we each bring our unique backgrounds, interests, and life experiences to our work. My passion happens to be working with clinicians at the interface of engineering and medicine, but each individual will discover her or his own passions. The more people with diverse interests and diverse life experiences that we recruit into STEM, the more we’ll solve really tough societal problems and meet needs that are currently going unaddressed.