Women in STEM: Carla Mae Pausta on saving the environment one step at a time

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST)-Newton PhD Scholarship is a grant that awards Filipino researchers whose proposed PhD projects outline a clear path toward addressing distinct Philippine priority sectors—namely Health and Life Sciences, future cities, Agritechnology, digital innovation and security, and the improvement of environmental resilience and energy security. 

To be endowed with this prestigious scholarship offers researchers the opportunity to introduce projects that will contribute to the long-term partnership between the local universities and corresponding partner universities in the United Kingdom for up to three years, and Engr. Carla Mae Pausta, an assistant lecturer from the Chemical Engineering Department, is one of the grantees. 

Alongside Pausta are Pamela Tolentino from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, Maria Galarion from UP Manila, Julianne Vilela from UP Los Baños, Maria Fernandez from the Far Eastern University Public Policy Center, and Criselda Bautista from the Department of Health-Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. 

Pausta’s advocacy to protect the environment has taken her to various schools, institutions, and opportunities; ultimately, this brought her to DLSU and led her to conduct her current research of assessing the impact of nutrient recovery in improving urban wastewater management and protecting water quality in lakes. 

With her work, the DOST-Newton scholar aspires to formulate a “new generation of fertilizer” intended to support local farmers and ultimately aid in the socio-economic development of the country. She says, “In the long run, I  hope that we can help contribute in closing the loop and establish a circular economy”—an economy that aims to eliminate waste and employ the sustainable use of resources.

Discerning one’s vocation

While most of her efforts are geared toward the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), Pausta also believes in being a well-rounded person. During her collegiate days, she joined various organizations that emphasized the need to develop soft skills such as personal relations and public speaking. 

Apart from her interests and endeavors in the realm of Research and Development, Pausta also shares that she enjoys photography and is an avid cinephile. “While pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, I would sometimes attend filmmaking workshops,” she recalls.  If she had been given a chance to pursue another field, she says she would have instead dabbled in the Arts, specifically a career in Film or Photography. 

But the moment that ultimately led her down the path of Chemical Engineering transpired at her high school’s science fair. During a consultation, her adviser suggested pursuing a career related to research. A love for Physics and Mathematics, along with an aversion toward memorization, then led her to choose among the various fields of Engineering. 

Fast forward to the present, Pausta recounts that her experiences in Chemical Engineering—specifically Environmental Engineering—have not only been fun, but also insightful. She explains that because Environmental Engineering is a multidisciplinary course, she was given the opportunity to work with professionals from other disciplines such as Civil Engineering and Biology.

Minding the gap

According to the book Women in the Security profession, Bonnie Michelman wrote that “aside from occupational sexism, there is sometimes wage discrimination with men and women receiving different compensation for the same job or roles. This has recently improved greatly but can still be a problem for some.” She also cites that the “glass ceiling” syndrome, where a person’s gender is perceived to be a barrier to professional advancement, affects many women. 

While more and more women are gradually choosing a career path in STEM, only 29.3 percent of researchers around the world are women, according to a 2019 report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In the local context, the gender gap in the Philippines is minimal, with 49.5 percent of all Filipino researchers being women. These figures, however, are outdated as the latest available data provided by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics comes from 2015. 

While the issue of gender disparity remains to be addressed around the world, Pausta shares that she has never experienced any gender-based discrimination or any “criticism simply because I am a woman. [This can] be due to the fact I am close with my research advisors and research team.”

What’s next?

When asked whether she envisioned herself receiving the grant, Pausta tells The LaSallian that she has always been someone who “lives in the moment” as she simply applied for the scholarship when the opportunity presented itself. 

Despite being an individual who embraces the present and prefers to be spontaneous, Pausta is certain that she will continue engaging in research endeavors in the future. The DOST-Newton scholar also hints at the possibility of pursuing further studies abroad, but assures that she will ultimately return to DLSU. “[My goal is to] save the world and the environment. It’s hard here in the Philippines, but let’s do it—step by step,” she affirms.

Ryan Lim

By Ryan Lim

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