The world is progressing at an exponential rate, and new ideas are now emerging more than ever. Technology is rapidly evolving as there is now a pool of more talented people available. Combining talent with resources has led to some exceptional inventions and discoveries from people of all ages. Some extraordinary women do wonders and prove their worth despite challenges in their life: we have Marie Curie, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics and Arfa Karim, who became the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). Science and gender equality are essential for the world to achieve sustainable development goals.
Engineering is is still a male-dominant professional world; female candidates are few. Despite all these barriers, there are some exceptional women studying engineering at the NUST PNEC in the heart of Karachi, Pakistan, who constantly do wonders.
“I always liked mathematics. Even as a child I used to break my toys and try to rebuild them”, said Tehreem Ashfaq, a recent electrical engineering graduate. Tehreem, now serving as the only female at AI Systems where she is a Business Development Manager. She wants to be a source of guidance for female students in their freshman and sophomore years.
Engineering, one small step for men, one giant leap for women
Engineering is globally dominated by men. This has been a constant statistic for very long time, no matter where they are geographically placed. Every year thousands of Pakistani students apply to be a part of NUST, and only one percent make it to the Institute. Amongst this one percent, there are only a few female candidates. Engineering education has always been this way throughout. There is a reason for this imbalance. It is not that the women are not talented enough, but most of them never apply.
Generally, engineering is considered to be a tough and demanding field. There is a myth that strength is only for males and that girls can’t handle the practical side of engineering. Science says that there is no difference in intellect between the sexes. These differences are learned as a result of what society deems males and females should be/do. These social constructs are deeply disturbing but we should concentrate on the passion and abilities of the person in question.
Normally at NUST PNEC, girls are in the minority in the engineering class. It is usual for them to feel out-of-place. A lot of them face tough times settling in.
“It is not easy to live in a man’s world. In my first semester it was harder to get along, but joining clubs and societies helped”, said Zoya, an electrical engineering student at NUST PNEC.
The hardships these girls face make them emerge as resilient characters ready to face all the challenges that await them.
“I explored and navigated the opportunities around me”, said Anum Siddiqui, a final-year student at PNEC. “I have been a part of various projects, working alongside people of diverse backgrounds with a shared passion. I extensively took part in international conferences which helped me gain a wider network of talented individuals and provided me with an opportunity to take part in important dialogues with some world leaders. These experiences facilitated me to become more cognizant of the world around me and as a decisive leader”.
The journey from ordinary to remarkable
At NUST-PNEC students meet the country's finest talent. There has been a wonderful community of female students that helps and encourages it’s juniors to excel in their fields. NUST PNEC is the only university in Pakistan to house five technical teams that compete internationally. In the success of all these teams, women play a major role.
NUST Formula Student Team is one of the biggest student teams operating at PNEC. They design and fabricate the student version of Formula One race car to represent Pakistan in the world’s biggest engineering design competition, IMechE Formula Student. NFST consists of seven female members, of which four are in leadership positions. They joined the team as junior members and rose to these positions due to their dedication and passion.
IMechE Formula Student has one more participant from PNEC, that is Formula Electric Racing-NUST (FERN). The team consists of seven female members with four in leadership roles. They have a campaign - Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) - running to encourage the participation of women in engineering as well.
NUST Airworks is a team that designs and fabricates unmanned aerial vehicles for participation in the live test design competition, UAS Challenge run by IMechE. Last year the team, who participated with five female students, were crowned as Grand Champions.
Members of the Airworks Team
Sarwat, a member of the winning team recalls the memory,
“I knew I had taken the best decision when our team won the marketing awards in the IMechE-UAS-Challenge and I raised Pakistan’s flag, which was a magnificent moment of my life. I now know how to meet the challenges efficiently. But I will say that in the end, it is the journey that matters, and what you have learned. It’s about finding your own voice and letting it be heard.”
Airworks wins UAS Challenge 2019
Students at PNEC learn to find their callings. They come into the university and try out things and eventually become good at it. A lot of female students have done this too. They have travelled, and they have demonstrated their potential on large platforms. Rida Arshad, now an alumnus, won a silver medal for demonstrating her Final Year Project at IEEE Malaysia Section FYP 2019 along with three other girls from her team. A team, consisting of two female students, Ms. Mahnoor Pasha (VI-ME), Ms. Minahil Sarmad (I-EE) from NUST-PNEC participated in HULT Prize National level 2016 and secured 1st Position among 133 teams of Pakistan.
FERN in action
During summer, third-year students have tough times getting internships. However, Aiman Malick, now in her last semester, successfully secured an internship at Siemens Pakistan. Aiman is just one of many girls at PNEC who secured internships at Multinational corporations. Aiman now wants to study abroad and then comes back to Pakistan to contribute to technological advancements.
Aiman Malick (left)
“As an engineer, specifically an industrial engineer, I wish to bring about the culture of product development in our country. I plan on developing a firm that will bring virtual ideas to life. God knows if I succeed but where there's a will, there's a way”, says Rameen Shahid, a final-year student at NUST-PNEC. Energy is awesome. Control is amazing. The struggle is real and so will the result.
Creating Future leaders at IMechE NPSC
IMechE NUST PNEC Student Chapter chaired and vice-chaired by Adeem Ahmed and Baseer Siraj respectively is playing a crucial role in the progress of female members. They have introduced a smart organizational system that now gives more opportunities for members to take more active roles as a lead for the chapter events. This enables them to be exposed to multiple practical challenges that they overcome while developing themselves as seasoned leaders of the future. IMechE NPSC not only gives opportunities to members, but it also conducts counselling and constant mentoring for its members to help them groom and excel both personally and professionally.
“I have always felt that all the members have got enormous potential and all they need is a bit of mentoring and direction and they will emerge as exceptional personalities’’, said Baseer Siraj, “There has been this reluctance within females to step up to lead, but with our new system in operation, they are taking up more responsible roles more often.”
The success of the chapter in giving leading roles to members is quite evident as the past three events had female leads.
“IMechE provided me numerous leadership opportunities which improved my ability to succeed under pressure, and enhanced my listening and communication skills”, recalls Mahnoor Syed, who has been with IMechE NPSC now for a year and has led the chapter’s recent MATLAB and ANSYS workshop.
The local chapter has been fortunate in having inspirational leadership. The ex-chair, and now an alumnus Duaa Akhter has been an exemplary women leader and has been a constant source of guidance for the chapter. She describes her love for IMechE in the following words, “IMechE gave me a chance to discover my talents and trained me to step into a practical field in a way I could never have learned otherwise.” Extrapolating a bit, the efforts of IMechE NPSC promises to yield more leaders in the future.
Workshop 101 led by Mahnoor
The pursuit of excellence
Women at NUST PNEC are challenging the status quo every day. They are contributing to engineering and the world in their capacities. However, they all have big dreams they yet want to fulfil. One thing that is common to all the students is that they fall and feel shattered, but they still do not settle. They keep chasing their dreams. They face enormous pressure, yet, they continue, having this burning desire to leave a legacy. This is what makes them truly remarkable and inspirational.
The final word
Achievements are regarded as an indicator of success for students, faculty, and university. Women of PNEC are considered successful by winning different competitions on their own wholly, as well as participating on international grounds, and gaining entry to programmes in world’s prestigious universities, within which they were formally and informally assessed and ranked as ‘outstanding’. If this cycle of remarkability continues, there will be a time when an outstanding number of girls will be seen sharing tables with men.