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Migration Stories: A salsa dancing mechanical engineer from Bosnia

Today I bring you the story of a young scientist from Bosnia, Lana Stekovic.  Bosnia is a country in Southeastern Europe, located on the Balkan Peninsula, and Stekovic is from its capital, Sarajevo. Stekovic’s family immigrated to the US in 2000 to Tennessee, when she was just 11 years old. Her family never had money, so growing up was a struggle. As an immigrant, she had to learn English from scratch, and making friends was difficult. Despite her family’s financial difficulties, Stekovic was extremely ambitious. She had begun reading science books before she even knew English, and as a child in a Balkan country, her knowledge of mathematics was more advanced than that of her peers given the country’s emphasis on math education. Growing up, she wanted to be a lawyer. However, after working on cars as a teenagers, she got into Mechanical Engineering. Stekovic’s talent landed her scholarships to allow her to attend a private high school in TN. After that, she went on to complete her undergraduate studies in Tennessee Tech University and receive a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.

Stekovic then worked at the Oak Ridge National Lab for 2 years as a post baccalaureate, ultimately choosing UIUC for graduate studies. The people she met during her recruitment visits were so warm, wonderful and inviting, that it made her want to come to UIUC even more than she already did. And there is a great amount of graduate women at UIUC. She has a fascination towards studying energetic materials so that led her to work with her current advisor, D Scott Stewart for an Masters and Ph.D in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, with a focus of studying the reactivity of liquid nitromethane.

Now, Stekovic is a 4th year Ph.D student in the Mechanical Engineering department’s Theoretical and Applied Mechanics program. Her research focuses on computational and theoretical studies of reactive materials that undergo high-impact shock propagation. This work was inspired while Stekovic was an undergrad and working on Department of Defense applications. She wanted to better understand energetic materials and how people work with them, use them, mathematically characterize them, and make them.

During her time in Champaign-Urbana, Stekovic has been involved in various campus and community activities. She was involved in GradSWE for 3 years, as the Social Director, Lunch Coordinator, and weSTEM Attendee Relations Director. GradSWE is a graduate women’s student organization at UIUC with the aim to “promote diversity in graduate education in engineering and science to enable innovative and creative solutions to the future technical challenges of society.” Additionally, she has been an active leader in various other student organizations, such as the Mechanical Engineering Graduate Women’s Group, Graduate Student Advisory Committee in the College of Engineering, and Girls Building Awesome Machines.

Along with her involvements on campus, Stekovic has been involved in teaching and dancing Salsa. “I’ve been involved with dancing since I was a little kid. I studied ballet since I was five years old in Bosnia, and then switched to Latin dances after coming to the US. This has been a big part of my life here,” says Stekovic. She has performed in shows all around Champaign-Urbana, including Bangladeshi Night 2017 at the U of I. Stekovic is often spotted with her dancing shoes in Downtown Champaign. Some bars that regularly host Latino dance nights are Cowboy Monkey (Wednesday nights) and Soma (Saturday nights).

Stekovic hopes to graduate with her Ph.D as a well-prepared young professional in Mechanical Engineering. Behind Stekovic’s beautiful smile and numerous accomplishments was a story of a young, bright-eyed Bosnian girl with big dreams of success. She seems to be well on her way.

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