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Meet Sandra Aparcana

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

Sandra Aparcana holds a PhD in Waste Management from University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences ( BOKU), Vienna, Austria and currently works as a Senior Advisor at UNEP DTU Partnership with Circular Economy (CE), Waste Management Projects and Research in Developing Countries, exploring the link of CE, and Climate Change Mitigation.

STEM to Sandra means, “the possibility of contributing to create a better, fair, and sustainable world.” Sandra believes STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the (liberal) arts, and mathematics) field is more interesting and holds more potential for innovation than any other field. She loves to apply science and research in actual feasible projects, because that allows her to see the change for helping developing countries to get better, and to use their ressources in a more sustainable way. Sandra mentions that for her it is very important that knowledge and science can be used in real life to help people and not stay only in books. Seeing actual results from science gives an explainable sense of accomplishment. Sandra considers her father her role model, it is he who to pushed her to be better and to become independent, and to question and investigate things.

Sandra graduated as a food scientist in Peru and completed the Master’s programme in International Material Flow Management – Circular Economy in Germany. She also holds a PhD in Waste management with focus on social sustainability assessment (Social LCA) from Trier University of Applied Sciences, Birkenfeld, Germany. She works within the exciting field of circular economy and waste management at UNEP DTU. UNEP DTU is a leading international research and advisory institution on energy, climate and sustainable development. The UNEP DTU a bridge between the Technical University of Denmark and the UN. Sandra considers her biggest achievement to be the fact that she is working in Europe with her field of study. In her home country it has been and still is very difficult to do applied research (of any kind), especially in her field. People who choose the same career path as Sandra get the opportunity to work with food waste reduction strategies, research in CE (e.g., reducing solar PV waste in Africa), measuring the contribution to CE to reducing carbon emissions, methodologies for social impacts of recycling systems, identification of waste management technologies and strategies for developing countries.

To make life easier for women who are already in STEM, Sandra would wish that there were more job opportunities. She wishes that companies were more open and welcoming towards international researchers. She thinks, generally women are interested in STEM, but the problem is that in the job market, men are preferred or given higher importance. Another issue also is in the job market, foreigners find it difficult to get hired, due to language or cultural differences, therefore more openness from companies is needed.

Sandra agrees with our ideology at NWiSTEM of the fact that female representation is missing and that makes some lose their interest. However, the reasons that girls have lower representation in STEM is more society based e.g., cultural/social expectations - it is not expected that they study STEM, but being more in shorter studies. For as long as time, women have been expected to focus on family and prioritise family over career, but these 2 things can exist in parallel. The job market is dominated by men due to the companies preferences. One of the reason, STEM is so male-dominated is because people think that women will start a family, and would need maternity leave to take care of kids, while men do not, because they have their wife to do that. Young women are expected to prefer children rather than career. This should change to transmit the message that women are also allowed and expected to develop a career. However, Sandra think that there is still a long way to go to change the thinking of many. Sadly, she believes that changes cannot be made fast enough, as these thoughts have been rooted in our thought processes for a very long time. Change in the society’s values, and expectation of women should start from within families. Sandra’s father told her to study and be independent and to investigate. He never told her that the purpose of her life is to only start a family. This allowed Sandra to let go of that kind of expectation and chose to explore science.

Lastly, here are Sandra’s closing words of encouragement for young girls who want to join a STEM field:

“Be curious and challenge everything.”

You can contact Sandra Aparcana on LinkedIn:

I thank Sandra Aparcana for taking part in this project and answering all the questions in a very informative manner. I hope, your experience and STEM story will inspire a young girl to join a STEM field and excel just like you have.

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