Meet women who inspire us in the Faculty of Applied Sciences – International Day of Women and Girls in Science

February 08, 2022

February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a day for inspiring action to achieve full and equal access, and participation of women in science. In British Columbia, only 15-20% of the technology workforce is female. The underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines can make it challenging for young girls and women to consider pursuing a career in these fields. The Faculty of Applied Sciences (FAS) leads a number of initiatives to remove barriers and make STEM accessible to girls at a young age to spark their interest, and continues to provide support throughout their academic and professional careers. The results are encouraging as we are seeing an increase in female representation in our programs - our newest School of Sustainable Energy Engineering, recently opened in 2019, boasts more than forty percent female student enrolment.

This week, let’s meet a few of our amazing female students, lecturers and researchers, who inspire us, in SFU’s Faculty of Applied Sciences. Read about their research interests, what inspired them to be in STEM and what they do when they are not in the lab or classroom.

Finally, thank you to all those who promote women in STEM and make it more accessible.


Angel Xuan Chang, Assistant Professor and Canada CIFAR AI Chair

Research focus. Connecting natural language to the 3D world. Chang and her research team are developing agents to help understand the three-dimensional environment we live in and with the ability to communicate with us using spoken language. An example would be instructing the robot to bring a water bottle from the kitchen. The robot would need to break down and analyze the instruction, be able to navigate through the physical spaces in the house to reach the kitchen, identify the water bottle in its position, pick it up and return to the requestor.

Chang’s inspiration to be in STEM. “My parents, who both have PhDs, value an education in math and science. My mother introduced me to interesting puzzles and computers and I have been programming since I was in high school. I started to code by following books on how to render the Mandelbrot set and other fractals.” – Angel Chang

Currently when Chang is not working, she tends to watch TV or read. In the past, she also enjoyed playing board games, jigsaw puzzles and drawing.

Shiva Sanei, Student, VP of Computing Science Student Society

Areas of interest. Sanei is interested in embedded systems, web development and game design.

Sanei’s inspiration to be in STEM. “I’m very competitive and I always wanted to do something that was considered a challenge for a woman. It has not been an easy path, but I’m really proud that I stuck to it and came this far with.” – Shiva Sanei

When not studying, Sanei enjoy playing computer games. Her current favourite games include Valorant, Minecraft and Don’t Starve Together.


Bonnie Gray, Professor

Research focus. Applications of microelectromechanical systems, nanomaterials and microfluidics. Gray and her research group are recognized as leaders in the development of polymer nanocomposite materials with magnetic and electronic functionality with applications to wearable systems, human health, safety, energy and biology. Her group has collaborated with industry on projects, including biological cell trapping and sorting, biosensors to detect SARS-CoV-2 and chemical sensors for the energy sector.

Gray’s inspiration to be in STEM. “I grew up in a small rural town, where not many people, much less girls, went to university to study STEM. My older brother and I share a love for science for his entire life. He inspired me to not just treat my love of science as a hobby, but as a career. My high school vocational electronics teacher was also a huge inspiration, giving me extra projects, and helping me to get my amateur radio license. In my junior year of high school, I was chosen to attend the state’s Governor’s School for the Sciences on full scholarship. I met 99 other students from different backgrounds and learned that STEM is the most fun when enthusiastic people work together to solve problems.” – Bonnie Gray

When not working and despite being a former backpacker, Gray loves camping in her giant 4-season tent, which can have a wood stove in it. You can also find her hiking, walking and sitting in parks with her dog. She also enjoys yoga, reading science fiction and riding her recumbent tricycle.

Paniz Najjarrezaparast, Student, VP Social of Engineering Science Student Society

Areas of interests. Najjarrezaparast is interested in learning about computer firmware, operating systems and wireless communication, some of which stemmed from learning about communications on the Women in Engineering Design Team. She is also interested in how bias is present in artificial intelligence.

Najjarrezaparast's inspiration to be in STEM. “I was inspired by many of my math and science teachers growing up. They were incredibly encouraging and validating, and were so good at spreading their passion in their field to students. As I considered an engineering degree more and more, I was inspired by the idea of being able to have a vast range of skills at my fingertips after graduating. The more I learned about engineering, the more I realized how applicable it is to almost any field.” – Paniz Najjarrezaparast

When she’s not working, Najjarrezaparast likes to paint and make art. Recently, she has gotten into nail art; she finds it rewarding to make art that she can look at any time because it’s right there on her hands! She also loves listening to music and recently, she’s been listening to the Studio Ghibli movie soundtracks.


Helen Bailey, Lecturer

Areas of expertise. Bailey’s research background is in mechanical engineering with a focus in ocean technology and marine renewable energy converters.

Bailey’s inspiration to be in STEM. “I always enjoyed math and physics in high school, specifically the problem-solving aspect of it. STEM seemed like the obvious choice and it never occurred to me to do anything else.” –Helen Bailey

When not working, Bailey is generally found outside trying to stay upright, either on a bike, skiing, kayaking, climbing. or just running or walking.

Elliott McWilliams, SFU Student Ambassador, VP Communications of Mechatronic Systems Engineering Student Society

Areas of interests. McWilliams is an engineer in training with an interest in healthcare, and by proxy, biomedical engineering. She plans to pursue medicine after graduation with a dream to work with Mercy Ships, an organization that provides world-class healthcare to developing nations. Through the co-operative education, she had an opportunity to work under mechatronics professor Carolyn Sparrey, whose research is in biomechanics and spinal cord injury recovery.

McWilliam’s inspiration to be in STEM. “When I was a little kid, I watched a TV show that followed a group of doctors as they volunteered in developing communities. I thought, ‘that’s what I’m going to do when I grow up.’ I love my degree and all it offers. The constant challenges allow me to develop new skills and create opportunities for problem solving. Knowing that I will have these skill sets when I graduate, I feel confident that I will be able to tackle any problem in a wide variety of industries.” – Elliott McWilliams

When McWilliams is not studying or volunteering at SFU, she reads. She also spends quite a bit of time on knitting, sewing and playing Ed Sheeran songs on the piano!


Molly McVey, Lecturer

Areas of expertise. McVey is committed to creating an inclusive classroom community where all feel welcome, able to learn and share their knowledge and experience. She utilizes active and cooperative learning to support student engagement with their learning. Her engineering background is in biomechanics, specifically human balance and effects of age and Parkinson’s disease in response to balance disturbances.

McVey’s inspiration to be in STEM. “As cliché as it sounds, I wanted to help people. I initially wanted to go to medical school but found that I really hated memorization and enjoyed classes like physics and thermodynamics where I had to solve complex problems. I felt like I found a way to do both when I went to graduate school in mechanical engineering and got to work on the development of early detection measures for balance problems in people with Parkinson’s disease.” – Molly McVey

McVey has three boys of 6, 8 and 11 years of age. Most of her free time involves watching their soccer games, skiing with them and trying to get them to do their homework. She also loves to run and is happiest when she can get a run in with her friends early in the morning.

Emma Hannaford, Student, President of Sustainable Energy Engineering Student Society

Areas of interests. Hannaford has an interest in innovation and entrepreneurship, specifically in sustainable building design and energy storage for remote communities.

Hannaford’s inspiration to be in STEM. “I love how engineers have the ability to create any system imaginable with the purpose being to solve a problem. The world currently faces many large-scale problems including climate change, water pollution, and energy poverty. Professionals in STEM will need to work together to develop innovative solutions to tackle these issues and I want to be a part of this.” – Emma Hannaford

When not studying, Hannaford enjoys distance running. Her farthest run is a half marathon, or 21.1 kilometers! She also enjoys traveling and is currently on a Co-op term with Modulous in London, UK.