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Sarah Lukes

Agile Focus Designs, LLC, USA

Sarah Lukes

Country of Birth: USA
Country of Residence: USA
Educational Background: BS in Mechanical Engineering; PhD in Electrical Engineering
SPIE Early Career Professional Member


Creating and building things have been my passion from an early age. During high school, my chemistry teacher suggested I apply for an electrical engineering internship at our state university. I co-designed and built a cable hexapod flight simulator and became hooked on engineering.

Now I run a startup company that creates medical devices designed to improve people’s lives. I design and innovate new products, write grants and reports, manage our customers, market our products, and oversee employees.

I love the creativity of my field, but I have encountered unwelcoming environments for minority groups in engineering. Personally, after having a child people expected me to lower my career ambitions and provided me less resources to perform my job. One of the drivers in starting my company was to create a welcoming atmosphere, so all feel empowered to pursue their creative interests and thrive in the field. My business also allows me to freely attain my career aspirations.

When I started in engineering I was surprised to experience frequent, subtle discrimination. Underrepresented individuals should get guidance to constructively deal with these microaggressions and to advocate for oneself with compassion. I grew immensely from these experiences by learning to not seek external validation. Sometimes I had to choose between professional advancement and feeling a loss of self-respect. For instance, once I advocated for similar pay as my male counterparts but failed to achieve it. I continued to work hard, but I honored my sense of dignity by creating strong boundaries around my work hours. It is important to not only consider career advancement, but also your sense of self-worth when making decisions.

I love Brené Brown’s work and books. Her insight that everyone needs a creative pursuit and a sense of belonging resonates with me. Playing my violin and enjoying the outdoors provides my sense of belonging. Engineering fulfills my creative pursuit. It is one of few jobs where you can perform design work with only an undergraduate degree. The degree opens doors, because the coursework teaches problem solving and successful completion of the rigorous curricula demonstrates persistence.

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