MEM Producing Female Leaders at a Super Rate

The number of women pursuing STEM-based and leadership careers has continued to trend upward over the last several decades. According to the Census Bureau, the ratio of women in STEM careers jumped from eight to 27 percent between 1970 and 2019. Taking this trend to the next level, NC State’s Master of Engineering Management (MEM) Program boasts a staggering 61 percent female population compared to the 12.1 percent women in engineering management nationally. Let’s meet two of NC State’s female leaders from MEM: Melissa Pressley and Delshad Zaker.

Melissa Pressley

Young professional Melissa Pressley became one of the first two alumni of the MEM program, graduating over the summer. She originally graduated from NC State’s Industrial and Systems Engineering Program (ISE) in 2016, earning her Health Systems Engineering Certificate. This program inspired her to work in healthcare. Having built a solid foundation of technical skills through ISE, Pressley planned to grow her leadership skills and explore healthcare through graduate school.

Melissa Pressley leaning up against a glass wall with her arms crossed
Melissa Pressley

With a long list of MEM concentrations to choose from, Pressley chose Health and Human Systems, which married her background in industrial engineering to her passion for healthcare. “I want to be able to do something where, at the end of a career or at the end of every day, there is something that I have been working on that is going to improve the lives of other people,” stated Pressley, who now works as a management engineer for Duke University Health Systems. She works on process improvements in healthcare delivery, which tackles patient issues, such as wait times for surgery. Pressley is now doing what she loves, but she had to work hard to make it in a historically male-dominated career. 

Studying and working in STEM and business fields, she admitted there had been times when she was the only woman in the room. By seizing development opportunities and building relationships with female peers and teachers in the MEM program, Pressley built the confidence to say, “Yes, I’m the only one here, but that doesn’t mean my voice matters any less or that my opinion is any less valid.” She furthered, “I have earned my seat at this table, now it’s time for me to take advantage of it.”

Delshad Zaker

Coming from Tehran, Iran, where she began her journey earning an undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering, Delshad Zaker now calls NC State home. In 2017, Zaker worked for an engineering consultant company called Middle East Water and Environment as an industrial engineer before continuing her education. With her background in engineering and a passion for leading, Zaker felt that the MEM program at NC State best fit her career aspirations.

Delshad Zaker standing in the hall of a building on a college campus
Delshad Zaker

The diverse courses, accelerated timeline, networking and leadership development opportunities attracted her to study engineering management at NC State. Currently halfway through the program’s on-campus curriculum, Zaker plans to work in manufacturing or healthcare once she graduates in 2022. The global pandemic sparked her interest in healthcare, and her creativity contributed to her desire to pursue manufacturing. Regardless of which career path she chooses, Zaker feels prepared to lead. 

Growing up, she has always had the instinct to lead. Despite leadership positions being male-dominated, she hopes more women step up. “I think it is very important that we work in this field more and [take on leadership positions]. We have to for the next generation. [Men need to know] they can count on us like themselves,” Zaker explained. She encourages women to join programs like engineering management to find their place as leaders in society.