Story | Education
22 July 2018

Why is Qatar’s percentage of female engineering students double that of the US?

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Students in Education City are challenging societal expectations of what had been considered male-dominated fields. Nowhere is this clearer than in the astonishing statistics of female enrollment in the field of engineering across the country.

Over 20 years ago, the idea of Education City was conceived to create a place of opportunities for all. Today, the thriving campus is home to 9 universities, 11 schools, and a student body where women represent the majority. In fact, female students in Qatar are far likelier to enroll in traditionally male dominated STEM fields than their counterparts in the West.

This is no accident.

Education City is the flagship project of Qatar Foundation, an organization founded and led by women. It has pushed for a movement of gender equality by providing educational opportunities for promising young women and men from preschool all the way to postgraduate studies.

The introduction of Education City has not just spurred new creative industries in Qatar, it has challenged societal expectations of the kinds of careers in which women can thrive. The extraordinary statistics of female enrollment in the field of engineering in Qatar are just one example worth exploring.

At Texas A&M University at Qatar, 70 percent of female undergraduate students are Qatari, while women account for 45.7 percent of the total student body. The latter figure is more than twice the US national average of women in engineering (20.9 percent) and that of female enrollment in engineering at Texas A&M’s main campus (21.9 percent).

I think there is a stereotype that engineering is a very tough field and is male-dominated, but I think that should be considered an outdated assumption.

Muna Al Mohannadi, an engineering specialist who was named the first-ever Alumnus of the Year by Texas A&M at Qatar in 2003, personifies what these figures stand for. When Muna decided to pursue engineering as her field-of-study, she hoped her career choice would impact not just herself but, in time, future generations as well.

“As a Qatari woman working under the umbrella of petroleum engineering and its various fields, I always want to set a good example for others to follow,” she said. “I think there is a stereotype that engineering is a very tough field and is male-dominated, but I think that should be considered an outdated assumption. The work is not easy in my field, but regardless of gender, if you are a hard worker, you will achieve your objectives as long as you are willing to push yourself.”

“If I succeed and can influence young girls in Qatar, perhaps that will make them realize what is possible for their future.”

Emboldening women to pursue STEM fields

Texas A&M at Qatar educators Dr Bilal Mansoor, Dr Annie Ruimi, and Dr Ghada Salama have been teaching both in the US and the Arabian Gulf for quite some time now. They feel that Qatar presents a unique model of female empowerment.

“This a young country and it is clear that there is a push to encourage indigenous engineers, both male and female,” stated Dr Mansoor. “Those of us who have been here for a long time, have seen the investment in Education City and the changes it has brought to the country.”

“These levels of opportunity have meant that female students don’t have to leave their family behind and study overseas if they want to pursue their chosen field.”

Dr Ruimi echoed this statement, adding: “Qatar celebrates female role models. Students look up to Her Highness (Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of QF) and her vision, of which they are now a part. The investment Qatar has made in Education City has meant that a lot of barriers that one might expect in the US when young people pursue higher education—such as finances or geography—are not as impactful here, within a multi-university campus. That emboldens people. We often hear from female students who are nervous before attending Texas A&M at Qatar, but also excited and inspired.”

Building a supportive community

Dr Ruimi and Dr Salama are the founders of an initiative created to support community-building among female students and allow them to “foster the personal and professional growth of the female student body.”

The initiative is the result of research conducted by Dr Salama and her colleague Dr Sara Hillman across the university, where they received recommendations from the student body. “What Dr Salama and Dr Hillman discovered was that many students had been informally creating such mentor/mentee relationships across the university. By formalizing this kind of opportunity, it will ensure that no students feel lost in their first months,” said Dr Ruimi.

“Next semester, in the 2018-19 academic year, the program will be fully introduced to incoming female freshmen, who will be mentored by existing students,” explained Dr Salama. “For our planned second stage, we want to have senior students mentored by alumni who have entered the workplace.”

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While Qatari women make their mark on the engineering world, QF is exploring ways to inspire students to pursue STEM subjects at an earlier stage of their education. One of the several specialized schools at Education City is creating a multi-generational model of STEM education: Qatar Academy for Science and Technology, which opened its doors at the start of the 2018-19 academic year. The school offers a program focused on STEM learning, hands-on science skills, and innovative thinking.

As Qatar continues to fast track large-scale developments, engineering has an exciting future, and academics and engineers alike are looking forward to a future that is more female.

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