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Arab Women in Engineering Spotlight: Global STEM Leaders

Hear the stories of three Arab women engineers who are making an impact in STEM around the world.
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Throughout April, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) is honoring and recognizing the contributions of Arab women in engineering around the world. This effort aligns with Arab American Heritage Month, which is celebrated in April in the U.S.

Read on to meet three incredible Arab women who are living without limits, advancing SWE across the globe, inspiring others, and making a positive impact in their respective STEM fields.

Meet Dr. Ghada Salama

Welcome, Dr. Salama! Can You Share a Bit About Your Professional Background?

Dr. Ghada Salama headshot
Dr. Ghada Salama

My professional journey for the past 20 years has been deeply rooted in academia, where I have dedicated my career to teaching and the pursuit of knowledge. Upon receiving my Ph.D., I embraced the academic path and am now an instructional professor.

What Inspired You to Choose Chemical Engineering as Your Career Path?

I wish I had an inspiring story to share with you, but my choice was a mix of personal passion and cultural influence. Growing up in a society where engineering and medicine were revered as prestigious fields to pursue, which required excelling in high school (which I did), I was under pressure to conform. So that is the story for the engineering part.

My love for chemistry made me choose chemical engineering. So, you can say I merged my passion for chemistry with the practicality of engineering.

You Have Won Numerous Awards in Your Academic Career, Including “Best Chemical Engineering Professor of the Year!” What Do You Enjoy the Most About Working in Academia?

The students, of course! There is something magical about that “aha” moment when you see that sparkle in their eyes. The dynamic environment of having new students every semester and the constant flow of fresh ideas and perspectives keeps me on my toes and fuels me.

As the Leader of the Texas A&M Qatar University SWE Affiliate, You Have Been Influential in Supporting Other Women in STEM! Can You Tell Us More About the Initiatives, Successes, or Accomplishments of This Affiliate?

As the advisor for our student SWE organization, our key initiative has been promoting engineering and fostering a strong sense of community and mentorship among the female engineering students here.

Throughout the years, the students have organized networking events and panel discussions featuring successful women in STEM fields, as well as men who are our strong allies from government and industry.

Another highlight is their involvement in outreach efforts to inspire the next generation of women in STEM. Six years ago, we established a student mentorship program at our university. With women forming almost 50% of our student engineering student body, we felt there was a need to start this initiative.

This peer mentoring program matches incoming female freshmen with upperclass female students to support their transition to university life. This is an accomplishment that SWE is proud of.

What Has Your Experience Been in Your Journey as a Woman in Engineering?

It has been quite the ride! Being a woman in a male-dominated field, especially in my region and culture, sometimes feels like being a unicorn in a field of horses — rare but magical.

Sure, there have been challenges along the way, but I have learned to embrace them as opportunities to defy stereotypes and prove that I can do these things and excel in them, too. With the support of my parents and colleagues, both male and female, it has been a good journey so far.

What Advice Do You Give to Women Who Are Thinking About Pursuing Engineering as a Career Path?

Believe in yourself! If engineering is what you want to do, then do it. Along the way, make sure you surround yourself with a support system — whether that is family, colleagues, or mentors.

Is There Anything Else You Would Like to Share With the SWE Community?

Let’s keep pushing boundaries, breaking stereotypes, and lifting each other up along the way. Together, we can build a future where every woman feels empowered to pursue her dreams.

Meet Dr. Marwa El Hefnawy

Welcome, Dr. El Hefnawy! Can You Share a Bit About Your Professional Background?

Marwa El Hefnawy headshot
Dr. Marwa El Hefnawy

I am an electrical and communications engineering leader with expertise in 5G and AI. I received my bachelor’s degree in electrical and communications engineering, with highest honor, from the German University in Cairo. I completed my bachelor project at Stuttgart University in Germany, and then I pursued my master’s studies at Ulm University and received my Ph.D. degree from the Technical University of Munich.

I have 10+ years of work experience in the telecom industry, in areas such as systems engineering and architecture, research and development, strategy planning, project management, and wireless ecosystems.

I had worked at several giant tech companies, including Apple, Intel, NTT Docomo Euro Labs, and others, where my focus was on 5G topics and beyond.

I also joined academia for a short time as an assistant professor teaching engineering students how to transform ideas into innovation. Recently, I have been interested in consultancy where I am exposed to a variety of AI topics.

I am a global ambassador for SWE, a member of the WE Local Europe Advisory Board, and also a mentor at the Technical University of Munich for master’s and Ph.D. students.

What Inspired You to Choose Electrical and Communications Engineering as Your Career Path?

It started when I was in school. I loved mathematics and its various applications. Later on, I always had interesting questions in my mind — How do electrical signals flow in the air or in the wires? How are they being sent and received? What is behind the telephone?

Then, after mobile phones and wireless technology were highly evolved, I became even more interested in digging deeper into this technology. I didn’t want only to study this field, but to become an expert and have great achievements that upcoming generations will benefit from.

What Do You Enjoy the Most About Working in the Telecom Industry?

I really enjoy seeing a new product in the wireless domain come to life and seeing people start using it. Nowadays, it is not only about connecting people with a higher quality of connectivity, but also making people’s lives better and easier.

You cannot imagine how many components have been developed in these products from start to end and the tremendous amount of effort from the many engineers it takes to make this happen.

It is a challenging field, and whenever there is a new generation coming such as 5G or 6G, the challenges even get bigger. An engineer working in this industry is never bored, as you are solving something new all the time.

You Are a Longtime Global Ambassador for SWE, and You’re Also on the We Local Europe Advisory Board! Can You Share Why SWE’s Mission and Initiatives Are So Important to You?

Women in the engineering field face many challenges — whether they are juniors, seniors, in higher leadership roles, technical, non-technical, and so on. SWE’s mission is to empower women in this field and support them with the tools to help face these challenges.

In every SWE initiative, I learn something new which is added to my skill set. I believe that we live and we learn; at the same time, I can see that someone else in SWE’s community is learning something new from me. It is like a circle of help and support which never ends. Everyone in SWE’s big community finds inspiration and motivation whenever it is needed.

What Has Your Experience Been in Your Journey as a Woman in Engineering?

My journey has been full of ups and downs. It has never been a steady state. Whenever there is a down time, I don’t take it negatively. I take it as either a learning phase or a phase of strengthening myself for what is coming next.

Challenges happen all the time for women leaders in the engineering field — it is really a matter of how to face them. If I had one piece of advice to give, I would say it is great to have a good mentor supporting you in your career path.

What Advice Do You Give to Women Who Are Thinking About Pursuing Engineering as a Career Path?

Don’t be afraid of engineering! It can be a hard field, but if you like logical and innovative thinking and have good problem-solving skills, then you will enjoy your path. It is not life-ruining, and it will never be — it is just a matter of how to create a work-life balance that suits you.

It is always good to ask yourself, “What do you want to achieve, and what is your goal?” Your answer will guide you and boost your energy to proceed.

Is There Anything Else You Would Like to Share With the SWE Community?

As a woman, I don’t feel that I am alone in the engineering field as long as I am part of SWE. Also, I would like to thank the many SWE leaders who I have collaborated with on several events, initiatives, and SWE activities over the past years. Networking at SWE is a great opportunity to get to know talented and inspiring women leaders in engineering.

Meet Sara Ibrahim

Sara Ibrahim headshot
Sara Ibrahim

Welcome, Sara! Can You Share a Bit About Your Professional Background?

I am a Middle Eastern IT professional with a passion for technology. I was born and raised in Egypt and am a mother of two amazing kids.

I achieved a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a main specialization in mathematics and computer algorithms in 2006. Shortly after, I accomplished my master’s degree in computer algorithms. Besides my college studies, I was enrolled in a one-year scholarship for system administration and integration.

I started my IT professional career in 2008 as a software developer, and shortly after that, I started working on system administration and application support. In 2014, I moved to Czechia to enlighten my career with international experience. Currently, I help clients design, architect, and migrate their IT systems.

What Has Your Experience Been in Your Journey as a Woman in Engineering?

My journey as a woman in IT has been both challenging and rewarding. The challenging side was the fact that I exerted double the efforts to achieve my current state — from early childhood onwards — as learning materials were not affordable in my society. Then, during college, engineering open seats were limited for girls.

On the other hand, the rewarding part happened when I accomplished a mid-senior career milestone in IT and passed the interview to the architect team. I became the first woman IT infrastructure architect in IBM Client Innovation Centre Czech Republic in 2018.

What Do You Enjoy the Most About Working in the Cloud and Infrastructure Space?

One of the most enjoyable aspects of being an IT architect, particularly as a woman, is breaking stereotypes and paving the way for more diversity in this industry. It’s empowering to showcase my skills, background, and expertise in a field that has traditionally been male-dominated.

As a woman in IT architecture, I bring a unique perspective and creativity for our clients, which can lead to innovative problem-solving and solutions. I receive plenty of positive feedback from my stakeholders and counterparts for the work I am delivering, as well as my communication skills.

What Advice Do You Give to Women Who Are Thinking About Pursuing Engineering as a Career Path?

Know your strength and believe in your abilities. For me, I was passionate about learning mathematics, and it opened plenty of doors towards my dream career.

Second, being a fast learner with passion always helped me, and I see that as very essential to succeed in a STEM career. For example, I taught myself Python during college in Egypt (in 2003 when the internet was very basic), simply out of a passion to learn how to code.

Finally, find mentors and supportive communities who will make you feel like you are not alone and who will give you tips and tricks to tackle your obstacles.

Is There Anything Else You Would Like to Share With the SWE community?

I appreciate SWE as a community that helps women in STEM pursue their careers by providing all means of online education. Thank you to SWE for bringing together a community of women role models for early career, mid-career, and late-career professionals!

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