Seizing Opportunities: Dr. Lu Liu’s Inspiring Journey in STEM

Welcome to our interview with Dr. Lu Liu, an accomplished researcher in the field of civil engineering and environmental science. Originally from China, Lu’s journey in STEM began at the University of Oklahoma, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in environmental science. Driven by a passion for sustainable engineering, she pursued a Ph.D. in civil engineering, culminating in her graduation in 2017. Following her academic pursuits, Lu’s expertise led her to work as a postdoctoral researcher at Rice University before embarking on her current role as a faculty member at Iowa State University since the fall of 2021. Join us as we delve into her inspiring journey and the impact of her work in the realm of STEM.

In our insightful interview with Dr. Lu Liu, a passionate researcher in civil engineering and environmental science, she shared the motivation behind her chosen field, driven by a deep concern for environmental issues prevalent in her home country, China. Her interest in water resources and water scarcity issues fueled her academic pursuits, leading her to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in environmental science with a focus on water resources. As she embarked on her journey as a young Asian female faculty member, Lu encountered challenges in student perceptions, noting the influence of her identity on their reactions. Despite these obstacles, she remains hopeful that time will help bridge the gap and foster a more inclusive learning environment.

“It started from my home country, the environmental issues there bothered me, and I wanted to do something about it while in school.” Dr. Lu Liu

In her journey through civil engineering and environmental science, Dr. Lu Liu exemplifies the transformative power of pursuing one’s passion. With a strong desire to address environmental problems, particularly water-related issues in her home country, she delved into the field of environmental science and civil engineering. As a young Asian female faculty member, she acknowledges the unique challenges that come with her identity in a traditionally conservative field. Her experiences serve as a reminder of the importance of promoting diversity and inclusion in STEM, creating spaces where all individuals can thrive and contribute their unique perspectives.

“Engineering, especially civil engineering, is a very traditional type of study. They haven’t seen many faces like this, so they’re kind of skeptical.”

Dr. Lu Liu

In our enlightening conversation with Dr. Lu Liu, a dedicated researcher in civil engineering and environmental science, she shared her diverse professional journey, which includes brief stints in industry and valuable experiences in a nonprofit organization. While working in the traditional oil and gas industry didn’t align with her passion, her time in the nonprofit sector provided her with invaluable skills in grantsmanship and networking. Lu’s insight highlights the hidden potential and career growth opportunities that nonprofit organizations offer, urging students to consider them as valuable learning experiences.

Dr. Liu also shed light on the changes she observed in the STEM field for Asian women since joining Iowa State University. Although there has been some progress in increasing the number of female faculty, she noticed that the percentage of female students in the department has remained stagnant. In her pursuit of improving diversity and inclusion, Lu emphasizes the importance of increasing female faculty representation as it could positively influence female student recruitment. Moreover, she was surprised to discover that her department had its first female full professor only a few years ago, despite its 150-year history, exposing the need for further progress in gender equality in academia.

Dr. Lu Liu shared a recent memorable achievement in her research journey. Co-writing a news article about flooding in the U.S. with her male colleague, they published it on an online platform called The Conversation, dedicated to public education about STEM topics. Surprisingly, their article garnered widespread readership and caught the attention of organizers from the Indiana Water Summit. As a result, they were invited to speak at the prestigious water summit in August—an opportunity that came unexpectedly but highlighted the power of seizing chances and being courageous.

Lu’s experience offers valuable insights for junior faculty, especially Asian females, who may sometimes doubt their qualifications or hesitate to take up opportunities. Her male colleague’s encouragement served as a reminder that self-belief and confidence are crucial in navigating the academic landscape. Driven by a desire to challenge skepticism, Lu’s journey exemplifies the potential rewards of being open to new opportunities and showcasing expertise in the field of water resources.

“We wanna take the opportunities as much as we can, and also be courageous about it.”

Dr. Lu Liu

Dr. Lu Liu’s success story serves as an inspiration, encouraging individuals, especially women in academia, to embrace their expertise and contribute fearlessly to scientific discourse. By sharing her achievements and experiences, Lu empowers others to break free from self-doubt and seize the unexpected paths that can lead to transformative opportunities and recognition in their respective fields.

Gain a deeper understanding of Dr. Lu Liu’s remarkable journey in STEM by watching the full interview provided above. As an environmental scientist and civil engineer, she shares her motivations for addressing environmental problems, particularly water scarcity issues. Dr. Liu candidly discusses the challenges she faced as an Asian female faculty member in a traditional field like civil engineering, emphasizing the importance of diversity and inclusion in academia.