Sarah. E. Kwan, E.I.T., Ph.D.

My main areas of expertise are listed below. More details can be found on my work in these areas below


Unconscious Gender Bias

Posts can be found on my Unconscious Gender Bias Blog.

Community Involvement & Stewardship

Design & CommunicatiON

Environmental Engineering

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Unconscious bias against women in STEM (and other classically male-dominated fields) is a real thing (we all have it sigh...) that manifests from our societal cultural norms. As a woman working in the STEM field and a mother who would like her daughter not to experience it and son not to add to it, I would like to find ways to help change the ways in which we perceive the different genders and help eradicate the outdated stereotypes we apply to them. With a goal of reducing implicit gender bias, in the workplace and in society as a whole, as it too often results in women (and other underrepresented groups) struggling with self-efficacy issues and not realizing why.

Highlighting issues of implicit bias helps us to be more conscious of them, and therefore helps eliminate them; so I thought it would be both useful and thought-provoking to post about my experiences, and the experiences of the women around me in our STEM filled work life,  the bias we experience, often from the most well-intentioned people, and open up these experiences to discussion to help others understand why they are perceived as gender bias and brainstorm ways to handle these situations differently. So, watch out for my posts, add your own experiences, and reflect on your actions so that we can make equality be a societal norm (there is of course way more than just gender bias out there and I believe and stand by equal rights for all).

Useful Definitions

Gender Bias

Gender bias refers to the unequal treatment of people or groups of people based upon their gender.

Gender Equality

Gender equality is the process of providing equal opportunities, resources, support, rights, and protections to all genders.

Gender Equity

Gender equity is the process of providing all genders with the opportunities, resources, support, rights, and protections needed to generate an equal outcome.


To mansplain is explain, or comment, on something to a woman in an overconfident, condescending, oversimplifying way.

Stereotype Threat

Stereotype threat is a situational dilemma in which people are, or feel themselves to be, at risk of conforming to stereotypes typically associated with their social group

Implicit Bias Tests

Want to test to see if you have any implicit biases, follow the "Project Implicit" link below and select which bias you would like to test. To lose our implicit biases, we must first recognize what biases we have

Project Implicit

Project Implicit is a non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition - thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control. The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the Internet.

Implicit Gender Bias

Engineering, like many STEM fields, remains a career path dominated by men, where gender bias remains a prevalent issue. This makes retaining the female students we have in our engineering disciplines of paramount importance. Why? The answer is not just simply a matter of equality but a fundamental need within the discipline because, among other things, engineering is a highly creative subject matter, to be effective in this field, as with any creative endeavor, you need an innovative and diverse team. Secondly, our engineering workforce must be diverse if we want to meet global needs and maintain global competitiveness. So why are there so few women graduating from engineering degrees, or going on to work in the engineering field?

The main reason women leave engineering programs and the engineering field as a whole has been attributed to low self-efficacy –  a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in a specific situation or task. Low self-efficacy in female engineering undergraduates is associated to the existence of gender bias – conscious or unconscious. Which in turn can be linked to societal acceptance of outdated gender stereotypes in which women are perceived as warm and humble but less capable and men as more capable, assertive, and confident; male traits naturally being the ones associated with successful scientists. Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, both females and males show equal levels of bias. We take for granted that self-efficacy is a trait that is developed during a student’s education, through mastery experiences, and successful completion of related tasks. However, this is not always the case.

Self-efficacy has been linked to observing the success of similar people within a related field/task and a person’s ability to gain social affirmation from others. However, female engineering students have less similar role models to look to, and they often receive more social negation than encouragement.

The objective of my work in this arena is to create identity safe academic environments that enhance student self-efficacy in undergraduate engineering women. Through this project I have and will be developing ways to create more inclusive, positive, and socially affirming academic environments by taking proactive measures to address the implicit biases we hold. My work aims to show that by simply being more aware of their existence we can substantially reduce, if not eliminate them.

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Community involvement and stewardship is a natural extension of my core values through which I promote diversity, inclusion, environmental protection, and education. These issues cannot and should not be tackled or obtained alone. A strong community gives people a sense of belonging, purpose, and ownership.

Fair Haven Family Stroll & Festival


The Fair Haven Family Stroll is a Festival (FHFS) and fundraiser to increase awareness about the importance of quality early childhood education while highlighting family-friendly resources in the Fair Haven community.

Volunteer Positions Held (2015 - current)

Friends center for children


Friends Center for Children provides early childhood care and education for children ages 3 months to 5 years. Our year-round fulltime program provides a child-centered learning experience, values-based curriculum and a community of care that includes skilled and dedicated educators, parent/caregiver co-op and involvement, and a comprehensive emotional wellbeing program.

Volunteer Positions Held (2015 - currenrt)

  • School Classroom Support

  • Social Media Correspondent: Facebook - @FriendsCenterForChildrenCT, Twitter - @FCforChildren

  • On-call carpenter, handy-woman, and furniture builder

  • Child clothes drive exchange program Organizer

Yale’s 2nd Annual “Equity in the Job SearcH” Symposium


This annual symposium provides practical, hands-on workshops to assist graduate students and postdocs at all stages of the STEM job search. We integrate this career advice with data-driven discussions of gender bias to expand the conversation of gender bias to a larger population.

Volunteer Positions Held (2017 - 2018)

  • Co-organizing Chair

  • Website Designer

Contents of this page is subject to copyright laws. Copyright © 2017 Sarah E. Kwan

Scientific Communication


Book Illustration

Community Art

Keats Kids

Keats Kids - A creative art project created for the 7th annual Fair Haven Family Stroll & Festival designed to celebrate the work of renowned children’s author “Ezra Jack Keats” and to celebrate the theme “Relationships”.

All the amazing Ezra Jack Keats inspired artwork, dubbed the “Keats Kids”, were created with the students (4 months to 5 years old) of Friends Center for Children. This amazing art work decorated the 7th annual Fair Haven Family Stroll & Festival.

Collaborative artists: Sarah E. Kwan, Thomas A. Kwan (co-creative leads); Teachers and children of Friends Center for Children

We love New Haven Collaborative Canvas

This community art project was funded by the “Major’s Community Art Program” grant. This project was a hands-on, interactive art activity which took place during the 6th annual Fair Haven Family Stroll & Festival (FHFS). The 2016 FHFS brought together over 900 adults and children with community-based organizations providers in a festival environment. This annual event celebrates high-quality early childhood education and healthy communities and is organized by a partnership of Friends Center for Children and Elm City Montessori School. This art collaboration built upon previous years' arts programming for children (painting, interactive dance, drumming). Blank canvases and paint were provided to festival attendees, predominantly children, to decorate. The resulting artwork was displayed in the New Haven City hall to celebrate the New Haven community. We thank all participants in the creation of this community artwork and with them celebrate the strengthed bond created between local families and their neighborhood institutions.

Collaborative artists: Sarah E. Kwan, Thomas A. Kwan (co creative leads); Victoria Hunt, Kyle Bradley, community participants from the 6th annual Fair Haven Family Stoll & Festival

Interior Design and Architecture

Mount San Antonio College

Student Services: Building renovation design during my time at tBP Architecture

Small but fun projects

I graduated with a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering in 2018. During my Ph.D. I was a NSF Graduated Research Fellow, and an Advanced Graduate Leadership Program Fellow. My doctoral dissertation and research was entitled From Homes to Schools – The Impact of Ventilation and Cleaning on the Bacterial and Fungal Ecology of the Built Environment, was conducted in Prof. Jordan Peccia’s Environmental Biotechnology lab. Through my work, I utilized interdisciplinary techniques that integrated molecular biology with engineering to address the need to create inherently safe indoor microbiological environments. My work, which focused on prevention rather than treatment of these ailments, is helping to improve the lives of children with asthma and allergies in economically feasible and culturally sensitive ways by advancing our understanding of the relationships between ventilation and cleaning, in our homes and schools, with microbial communities and exposure. With this understanding, a rational engineering approach can be applied to decisions on where and when ventilation and cleaning interventions should be used in indoor environments leading to the reduction of indoor air contaminants that add to the burden of global disease, namely asthma and allergies.

Indoor Microbiome

Human exposure to microorganisms occurs largely in the indoor environment. On average humans spend 90% of their time indoors in environments ranging from homes, places of work, and schools to restaurants, with ~70% of that time in the home environment. More than half of the air humans inhale during their lifetime is inhaled in the home. School indoor environments, where children spend ~30% of their day, often have higher concentrations of contaminants, compared to other environments, due to high occupancy, higher levels of physical activity associated with children, and a more diverse array of contaminant sources. Indoor sources that influence the indoor microbiome include emissions from occupants, tracking in or infiltration of outdoor microbes, and microbial growth due to moisture. These sources coupled with built environments physical separation of indoor and outdoor air allows for the concentration of biological material, particles, and chemicals indoors. Consequently, microbial communities that develop indoors are distinct from outdoor communities and due to their high concentrations and human sources add to the burden of global disease, namely childhood asthma and allergies.

I am developing ways to create inherently safe indoor environments for children of the Cherokee Nation with asthma and allergies through my Indoor Microbiome research. To do this I utilize interdisciplinary techniques that integrate molecular biology with engineering to address the need to beneficially shape our indoor microbiomes.

My work, conducted in the Peccia Environmental Biotech Lab, focuses on prevention rather than treatment of asthma and allergies. The goal of this work is to improve the lives of children with these aliments in economically feasible and culturally sensitive ways by advancing our understanding of the relationships between ventilation and cleaning, in our homes and schools, with microbial communities and exposure. With this understanding, a rational engineering approach can be applied to decisions on where and when ventilation and cleaning interventions should be used in indoor environments leading to the reduction of indoor air contaminants that add to the burden of global disease, namely asthma and allergies.

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This section is under construction, please excuse its temporaty apperance

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Membrane-based technologies play an important role in various separation processes at the water-energy nexus. However, these processes are hampered by fouling due the environment of water treatment membrane.  Membrane fouling can be classified into four main categories, organic, inorganic, colloidal, and microbial.  Of these four microbial fouling, known as biofouling, is the most ubiquitous.

My previous studies, in The Elimelech Research Group, looked at biofouling dynamics of reverse and forward osmosis membranes. These studies showed that reverse osmosis biofilms reduce the efficiency of the process mainly through two mechanisms. First, the dense biofilm architecture constrains salt transport away from the membrane increasing the osmotic pressure of the water near the membrane surface. Second, bacteria produce extracellular polymers that inhibit water flow through the membrane surface. Both of these mechanisms work together to decrease the efficiency of reverse osmosis process resulting in the need to increase the necessary operating pressure.

Although biofouling in reverse osmosis has been studied for several years, biofouling in forward osmosis and membrane distillation are not as well characterized. My studies also helped characterize these biofilms and compare them to the well-studied biofilms in reverse osmosis. To do this, I used model organisms to characterize biofilms with, among other techniques, confocal laser scanning microscopy and TOC measurements. These techniques allow me to observe hydrated biofilms in their natural environment. Gaining a better understanding of the formation and characteristics of such biofilms allows membrane fabricators to design fouling resistant membranes, and membrane processes.

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