You can’t talk to Shoba Krishnan for even a few minutes without getting excited about how mathematics and physics touch our lives everyday. The Santa Clara University Associate Professor of Engineering has pioneered ways to systematically train college students to communicate that interest and enthusiasm to primary and secondary school students.
That’s why the State Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski named her a California Assembly District 25 Woman of the Year for 2013. In addition to teaching engineering at SCU, Krishnan also teaches a Math is Fun class at San Jose’s Third St. Community Center, sponsored by SCU’s Ignatian Center.
She’s also the advisor of the IEEE and the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) student chapters at SCU. And she founded two Girl Scout robotics teams – the Space Cookies and 4Evergreen – that expose students to electrical and mechanical design and programming.
Krishnan grew up in an engineering family and she’s married to an engineer. Both her father and grandfather were engineers, and one of her aunts was a nuclear physicist who worked with Robert Oppenheimer. “I grew up knowing women could do really well in non-traditional fields,” she says. “I loved math growing up, and I liked to use it, not just do it.”
Krishnan’s unique educational program grew out of a desire to provide encouragement and a similar sense of possibilities for other young women.
“A lot of communities are underrepresented [in STEM disciplines] because they don’t know these are possibilities,” she explains. “They aren’t even aware that these are possible career choices for them.” To have the maximum impact, Krishnan’s experience has shown that robotics programs should start in middle school.
Krishnan takes her passion for engineering a step further, teaching engineering students how to inspire new generations of engineers. Her current SCU course, Engineering Projects for the Community, gives students guidance on how to launch build STEM education programs in the community.
Krishnan started the program about five years ago. “Every quarter is different,” she says. “Students pick what they want to teach and then develop their lesson plans.” And, she notes, “Students get more excited at working with young adults.”
Krishnan’s students have worked on projects in Santa Clara Unified’s Wilson Adult and Peterson Middle Schools, as well as at Walden West Science School, and SCU’s Bronco Urban Garden. “My inspiration is getting my students to see how engineering can make a difference,” she says, “and realize that engineers help people directly.”