Between her work as an author, scientist, motivational speaker, entrepreneur, and university administrator, AAAS Member Pamela McCauley, Ph.D., keeps busy.
McCauley, whose background is in industrial engineering, has written more than 100 technical publications, books on STEM leadership, and an ergonomics textbook, “Ergonomics: Foundational Principles, Applications and Technologies,” that’s used all over the world. The research she’s working on in her research laboratory at North Carolina State University focuses on the biomechanics and ergonomics of footwear, with an emphasis on women’s footwear. As associate dean for academic programs and diversity equity and inclusion at North Carolina State University’s prestigious Wilson College of Textiles, McCauley is also exploring sustainability and how to design ergonomically sound, personal protective equipment that doesn’t have to be thrown out, since the textile industry has a large environmental footprint.
“Most of the research that’s done on footwear is done from an athletic standpoint for men,” McCauley says. “And so, there’s a huge disparity or gap in the body of knowledge as it relates to biomechanics and ergonomics of footwear for women.”
Right now, she’s researching the biomechanical and ergonomics parameters that lead to discomfort, premature fatigue and resulting injuries. She’ll eventually build and test shoe prototypes and share her findings with the shoe manufacturing industry so they can incorporate it into effective shoe design for women.
For McCauley, this project is personal. Her love for shoes, difficulty finding ones that are comfortable and fashionable and the foot problems she developed from years of wearing high heels inspired her to conduct this research.
“Poorly fitting shoes are a real risk factor for anyone, but more often, women will wear the wrong size shoe,” McCauley notes.
Outside of her academic pursuits, McCauley has been president of her company, TSTEM Research and Expert Witness Services, since 2012. The company provides expert witnesses to testify in courts around the country. These witnesses use plain language to help juries understand the science involved in cases. They are called upon for testimony in cases involving biomechanics, ergonomics, human factors, product liability and occupational safety.
For example, if there’s a case about a car accident, McCauley might elaborate about how the angle of the force would impact vehicle occupants. From a biomedical standpoint, she would speak to how she would expect the muscular and skeletal systems to respond to that force and how likely the accident produced the injury by identifying and quantifying the mechanism(s) of injury.
Through her company, McCauley is also working on some intelligent platforms that will facilitate greater collaboration, particularly for women and people of color as it relates to innovation and research opportunities. One that she’s presently seeking funding for is an intelligent social networking platform to connect STEM professionals for secure innovation and research-focused engagement. As a motivational speaker, McCauley often talks about the staggering lack of diversity in STEM fields.
During AAAS’ 2023 Annual Meeting in March, McCauley appeared on a panel called, “Four Black Women STEM Leaders: Who Gets to Innovate, Lead and Participate.” She and the other panelists — Fay Cobb Payton, Tonya Smith-Jackson and Michelle Rogers — talked about being the first African American women to serve as program directors of the National Science Foundation’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Directorate.
McCauley worked as a program director for NSF’s Innovation Corps. She remembers being told she was not only there to manage the program and its I-Corps Site grants, but to also enhance and grow diversity throughout the program nationally.
“As a Fellow of both the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE) and the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers (AIMBE), I am fortunate to interact with outstanding scholars nationwide and all too often, they do not represent the diversity of our nation,” emphasizes McCauley. “I sometimes feel like the town crier, saying ‘we’ve got to do something about this,’ so I cannot stop speaking about this, and we’re fortunate that others are also continuing to sound the alarm as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM.”
McCauley’s own academic career pointed her to this critical need. When she earned her doctorate in 1993 from the University of Oklahoma, she made history as the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in engineering in Oklahoma. For her, that was a sad milestone, so she made a commitment to help change those numbers. As a professor, she has served as the Ph.D. advisor to 11 Black/African-American men and women who earned doctorate degrees in engineering and textiles. She has also been a part of numerous dissertation committees for additional under-represented students throughout her career.
“That makes me so proud when I think about how I was one lone person in 1993. One of my goals is for my career and efforts to change that narrative so there won’t be so few of us having the benefit and impact of an amazing career in STEM.” To meet the scientific needs of the global society, we need every capable person involved in STEM to come together to fully understand how we can solve the world’s problems, McCauley notes. And it’s going to take a diverse pool of individuals to do just that.