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Texas A&M University at Qatar

By Gwendolyn Brown Lucas

Focus on women in engineering

Shaymaa F. Khalifa (pictured above)
Class of 2010
electrical engineering major

Engineering has always been a male-dominated profession.

According to the American Society for Engineering Education, women accounted for 18 percent of engineering bachelor's degrees and 22 percent of master's and doctoral degrees in 2011. And in U.S. universities, women make up 13.8 percent of tenured and tenure-track faculty. 

Kathy Banks, vice chancellor and dean of engineering, says that she plans to address this gender disparity during her leadership of the Texas A&M Engineering Program, which includes the university's branch campus in Doha, Qatar. 

Dr. Banks visits with women from Qatar campus

Vice Chancellor and Dean of Engineering Kathy Banks, visits with Assistant Professor Mashhad Fahes (far left) and petroleum students at Texas A&M University at Qatar in Doha. Students pictured from left are Umaira Nisa, Mahida Waheed and Andrea Ayala, all class of 2013.

"It's unfortunate," she says, "that young girls often are not encouraged to enter the engineering profession. Anyone who has passion for creativity and learning and discovery, anyone who wants to change the world for the better, should consider a career in engineering."

Qatar's leaders share this viewpoint and recognize that the country must encourage all talented young people, male and female, to pursue technical careers. As Ibrahim Ibrahim, secretary general for the General Secretariat for Development Planning and economic adviser to His Highness the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, says, "Demand for engineers is high, and women are integral in filling that need."

To encourage young women to consider a future in engineering, Texas A&M at Qatar cultivates relationships through community outreach. The Office of Student and Community Relations hosts informational sessions at local high schools, educating students about engineering careers and the Texas A&M at Qatar application process.

Amna M. Murad

Amna M. Murad
Class of 2012
petroleum engineering major

A love of math and science and her admiration for successful professional men and women inspired electrical engineering graduate Amira Redissi. And Mariam Al Bishri, petroleum engineering major, named Her Highness, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, as her role model. Her Highness Sheikha Moza is chairperson of the Qatar Foundation and was instrumental in overhauling primary and secondary education in Qatar.

"She's done so much for women in Qatar," Al Bishri says. "Now I want to contribute to Qatar and give back to the community that helped me study engineering."

These young women say they chose Texas A&M at Qatar for a variety of reasons. 

"Texas A&M at Qatar is turning young talents into engineers," says Redissi, who opted to study at Texas A&M at Qatar because of the university's warm atmosphere, excellent faculty–student ratio, and faculty and staff support. State-of-the-art laboratory equipment, hands-on experience and carefully designed curriculum also made Texas A&M at Qatar an attractive choice for her. 

"Women are changing labels by pursuing engineering, and the best way we can serve the community is through science and technology."

The university also offers young women a stellar engineering education within the country. Secretary General Ibrahim says, "Some families don't want to send their daughters to schools outside Qatar. Education City provides them a good opportunity to learn here."

Once they join the Texas A&M at Qatar student body, young women continue to create and expand educational resources for future female engineers. Recently, students and faculty organized a campus chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Worldwide, SWE has more than 20,000 college- and professional-level members, and in 2009 the organization focused specific attention on the international arena.

Shaika J. Al-Suwaidi

Shaika J. Al-Suwaidi
Class of 2011
electrical engineering major

Nora Lin, an engineer with Northrop Grumman and 2010 SWE president, says, "SWE will continue to expand internationally and support the needs of our international members."

Al Bishri, president of the university's SWE student chapter, says the group has established ambitious goals, including educating female students about the workplace, facilitating interaction between students and professional engineers, encouraging informal mentoring among members, and contributing to the larger Qatari community. The group's main community service component will be outreach to local elementary and high schools, encouraging girls to consider a future in engineering. Many Qatari girls attend all-female high schools, so the SWE chapter wants to help them acclimate to and thrive in Texas A&M at Qatar's integrated classrooms.

"Qatari girls are often quiet and shy, but they have hidden potential," Al Bishri says. "We want to give those girls the green light." 

Of Texas A&M at Qatar's 294 current graduates, 40 percent are female, and of those, 49 percent are Qatari.

The women attending Texas A&M at Qatar set a high bar for themselves. Redissi says she believes that, as a woman, she has some powerful qualities—determination, focus, patience and the ability to work as part of a team—to offer her future employer.

"Teamwork," she says, "is the building block of engineering." 

Redissi and electrical engineering senior Marwa Qaraqe say they both plan to attend graduate school. Qaraqe says she sees herself working in the oil and gas field or returning to Texas A&M at Qatar as a faculty member, and she says her family respects her goals.

"My family is very optimistic and thinks I will accomplish so much," she says.

These young women are also interested in Qatar's environment and renewable energy. 

Al Bishri says, "I want to make sure we are doing everything we can for the environment." 

As for setting goals, Ibrahim says, "Working gives [women] self-respect and a sense of achievement and is good for the country."

These dedicated and motivated women will have an impact on Qatar's cultural and economic future for years to come. Redissi says she believes that the Qatari community will benefit from economic and social diversity in this century.

"Women are changing labels by pursuing engineering," she says, "and the best way we can serve the community is through science and technology." 

According to Ibrahim, Qatar aspires to be a role model for other countries in the region, and to do so, the country needs Qatari participation in the workforce. Currently, female workforce participation is climbing, but for that trend to continue, Ibrahim says the Qatari government must be proactive. 

"We don't just want girls to become educated, but to actually participate in the workplace," Ibrahim says. "The government will have to help with flextime, nurseries and more."

The female students of Texas A&M at Qatar see their legacy stretching far into the future, but their choices are affecting other women's decisions now. Al Bishri has already influenced two young girls in her family, both of whom are pursuing engineering.

Heba A. Alsaffar

Heba A. Alsaffar
Class of 2011
electrical engineering major

"If you enjoy solving problems and making friends, then Texas A&M at Qatar is the place for you," Redissi says.

Once they join the Texas A&M at Qatar student body, young women continue to create and expand educational resources for future female engineers. Recently, students and faculty organized a campus chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

Qaraqe says she wants young women to understand that they aren't required to follow history's status quo but to realize that they can adopt roles formerly open only to men. She asserts that engineering is a broad field and offers opportunities for all interested women. Her final advice? 

"Learn your potential and never give up."