Immigrant Muslim Women winning International accolades in STEM based disciplines

February 1st, 2018 | by MuslimScience
Immigrant Muslim Women winning International accolades in STEM based disciplines

Research shows that Muslim immigrants play a significant role in STEM education and employment. A 2017 study attempted to analyze why women’s participation in engineering is higher in countries like Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia as compared to the United States despite economic and social restrictions in majority of the Muslim states. In fact it was revealed that the enrollment rates of women in these countries are as high as 50 percent – much higher than the US. It is interesting to note that in America’s tech hub – the Silicon Valley, 56 percent of STEM workers and 70 percent of software engineers in 2013 were foreign born.

A number of studies point towards an emerging trend in western countries where Muslim women are increasingly participating in male-dominated STEM fields. Most of these immigrant women are serving an important role in the highly creative and innovative STEM fields. In fact they make up the largest number of highly skilled immigrants in STEM, fast outnumbering men.

In recent years more and more female immigrants are journeying to western countries due to their progressive policies and protection of rights. We look at some extremely talented young Muslim immigrant women who have made considerable strides in STEM fields despite the odds.

Alaa Muratib – UN High-Level Commissioner on Health Employment & Economic Growth.

In 2017, Dr. Alaa Murabit popularly nicknamed “The Libyan Doogie Howser” was recognized in Forbes magazine 30 under 30 health care category list for her leadership skills in global policy, advancing the role of women in peace and conflict resolution, sustainable development and security cooperation.

Born in Saskatoon, Canada, Alaa Murabit is the sixth child in a family of eleven children who had immigrated to Canada from Libya in the early 1980s. At the age of 15 she moved to Zawia, Libya to pursue medicine at University of Zawia. She later earned her Master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

During her fifth year at medical school at 21 years of age, Alaa founded the Voice of Libyan Women, a non-profit dedicated to promoting women’s participation in peace processes and conflict mediation. In an interview she shared that this organization was founded as an agent for change.

Today Murabit a medical physician, is serving as a United Nations high level commissioner on Health, Employment and Economic growth, in addition to being one of the 17 global sustainable goals advocate. She is the only serving commissioner who is under 45 years of age.

Ala’s contributions to global policy and advocating the rights of minorities were recognized by Harvard Law as she was awarded the tile of the youngest 2017 Woman Inspiring Change. She was also honored by Aspen Ideas and Bay Street Bull and was named Aspen Institute Spotlight Scholar, and Canada’s 30×30 respectively. The New York Times called her the “International Trust Women Hero 2014”, BBC featured her in its “100 Top Woman” the same year.

In 2013 she won the Trust Women Hero Award, while she is also the youngest person to receive the Marisa Bellisario International Humanitarian Award by the Italian Government.

Murabit an Ashoka Fellow from Libya was also featured in the 2014 edition of SAFE Global Heroes. Newsweek magazine listed her as the “One of 25 women under 25 to watch”.  Her Ted Talk, “What my religion really says about women,” was dubbed as one of the four “moving TED Talks to watch right now” by the New York Times.

Alaa’s research focuses on health employment and economic growth – she studied the issue of stigmatization and securitization of disease. She found that people tend to be securitized rather than the disease drawing the conclusion that this kind of response weakens national governance. She offered insights into how to better address diseases in a more holistic way.

In 2016, she founded the Omnis Institute that conducts a global Mentorship Program for empowering and training emerging local leaders. She currently serves as a trustee for The Malala Fund, International Alert, Malaria No More and Keeping Children Safe. She is also an advisor to many international security boards, think tanks and organizations, including the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group and Harvard’s Everywoman Everywhere Coalition.

In a magazine interview, expressing extreme pride in her culture and Islamic roots she attributed her diplomacy and leadership skills to her upbringing and her parents influence. She credits her family especially her parents for her phenomenal success and her tightly knit family for instilling the qualities of an effective speaker and a diplomat.

 Anousheh Ansari – First Female Muslim Private Space Explorer & First Space Ambassador

Anousheh Ansari the Iranian born Astronaut is the first female space explorer and the Muslim world’s first female spaceflight participant. On September 18, 2006, she inspired millions around the world, as she made her first self-funded trip into space.

The Iranian-American Ansari moved to the states from Tehran when she was only 16 years old. Having not studied English before, she dedicated herself to her studies putting in extra effort and work to get her degree. She successfully completed her bachelor’s in electronics and computer engineering from George Mason University, followed by a master’s degree in electrical engineering from George Washington University.

In 1993, together with her husband and brother in law Ansari cofounded Telecom Technologies Inc., which emerged as one of Inc. magazine’s 500 fastest-growing companies and one of Deloitte & Touche’s Fast 500 technology companies. The company was later sold to Sonus Networks for 750 million dollars. She is also the cofounder and chairman of Prodea Systems Inc.

On May 5, 2004 Ansari along with her brother in law donated one million dollars to the X PRIZE foundation. The X PRIZE was officially renamed the Ansari X PRIZE in honor of their donation. She is also among the Broad members of the foundations Vision circle.

She has received numerous honors and accolades for her work in promoting STEM based education and for her humanitarian efforts. In 2015, she received the Space Pioneer Award by National Space Society for her “Service to the Space Community.” In 2012, her alma mater the George Mason University awarded her with an Honorary Doctorate of Science. She was also presented with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for her humanitarian work in 2010. In 2009, in recognition of her entrepreneurial accomplishments she was honored with the first NCWIT Symons Innovator Award by the National Center for Women & Information Technology that recognizes success women tech entrepreneurs. Fortune Magazine featured her in their 40 under 40 list in 2001 and Working Woman declared her the winner of the 2000 National Entrepreneurial Excellence Award.

Currently Anousheh is closely involved with organizations such as X Prize, ASHOKA and the PARSA Community Foundation to empower young entrepreneurs to ignite a global revolution for change.

 Sameena Shah – Director, Research at Thomson Reuters

Sameena Shah is the Director of Research for Thomson Reuters and one of the few Muslim women artificial intelligent experts. She leads NY teams’ R&D work in finding alpha from underexploited data sources. She has been leveraging big data analytics for finding predictive signals from textual information in corporate filings, news, social media, company hierarchy analysis etc. 

Sameena completed her Bachelors in Electronics Engineering from Jamia Millia Islamia in 2002 and in 2004 she studied Computer Applications for her Masters from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. Her doctorate degree on “Distributed Machine Learning” was judged as the top one for the year across India. She was awarded the Ministry of Human Development & Research fellowship for pursuing her PhD. She worked extensively on artificial intelligence and published several papers in International journals. She was the recipient of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (USA) student scholarship in 2008. Her passion and zeal for the engineering sciences and her ability to apply logic to solve complex problems won her the 2009 “Google India Women in Engineering Award”. She displays an extreme passion for discovering patterns, creating algorithms and proposing a theory. She devised an algorithm in computerized cognitive learning with her team in India.

At Thomas Reuters Sameena and her team build Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Artificial Intelligence based capabilities for Thomson Reuters businesses. She is the architect of the Reuters News Tracer –  the world’s first fully autonomous machine that tracks breaking news stories from around the world, using topic-focused algorithms to find emerging events in social media.

Sameena is a board member of Cocoa Compassion, a social enterprise seeking to alleviate the social injustices in the cocoa supply chain.

She has the honor of being an award winning scientist who has authored more than 40 papers, has multiple patents, and is on the review panel of major CS/EE journals and conferences.

 Tahani Amer – Senior Technologist at NASA in Washington, D.C.

Tahani Amer a senior space technologist at NASA since 1992, has been playing an active role in the agency’s space research domain. Tahani who majored in aerospace engineering was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt and moved to the US at the age of 17. Despite being new to the American culture and being unfamiliar with the English language she aced her first ever Calculus exam in America. She completed her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and master’s degree in aerospace engineering. She earned her doctorate in engineering from Old Dominion University in Virginia.

Tahani started working at NASA during her senior year of college where one of her first projects was on Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). This was a valuable learning experience which enabled her to work with renowned scientists and researchers using advanced technology.  Recalling her initial experiences at NASA Tahani says she felt like a little girl in a “candy store” who was enthralled by and amazed at working with large CFD computer codes and climbing up the ceiling of a wind tunnel to install a velocity probe. She later worked on wind tunnel experiments to test how materials would respond in high pressure environments.

Her work towards NASA’s Aeronautic Research efforts helped her gain tremendous knowledge from both a practical and theoretical point of view.

In 2014, NASA awarded her its Public Services award for her efforts to encourage women and minorities to pursue careers in science including participating in “Day of Caring”, Engineering Week, the Speakers Bureau, Diversity Day, and after school science clubs.

In 2011, she was invited to deliver a speech at the Peace week at Old Dominion University on the issue of Women in Islam. She was also a guest speaker at the Annual Luncheon for the Virginia Space Grant Consortium (VSGC) and chaired the Applied Science Session for the VSGC and the IPAO NASA Program Management Challenge 2011.

Her faith and science play pivotal role on her life as she is rigorously involved in community mosque programs and Arabic teaching centers. She leads her life in accordance to three principles that have helped her make huge strides in her personal as well as professional life. “Please God and you will please all. Education is the key to opportunity. Serve others with compassion and kindness.”

Manahel Thabet – Ranked among the 30 smartest people alive

 Yemini born Manahel Thabet is ranked among the 30 smartest people alive. Dr. Thabet a scientist, mathematician, engineer, economist and women’s rights activist is renowned for her superior intellect and brilliance. With an IQ of more than 168 she has earned the title of the Genius of the Year 2013 by the World Genius Directory representing ASIA and Brain of the Year Award in 2016. She earned her doctorate at the age of 25 becoming the youngest and only Arab to receive a Ph.D in financial engineering. She completed her degree at the University of Illinois and is working towards earning her second Ph.D. in quantum mathematics. In 2012 she came up with a revolutionary 350-page formula to calculate distance in space without the use of light.

In 2014 she was selected the AVICENNA Award Laureate as a successor to Professor Tony Buzan given every year to those who present best practice in science, connecting East with West through science and knowledge. In 2015 Dr. Thabet broke a new Guinness World Record in 2015 in one of the most complicated teaching methods.

She is currently the founder and president of SmartTips Consultants, President (MENA) of The Brain Trust Foundation, President of the World IQ Foundation, Vice President of the World Intelligence Network (WIN), and Deputy Director of the Institute for Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition and Vice Chancellor of The Gifted Academy.

Dr. Thabet is also the winner of Middle East Achievement Awards in Science and was ranked among the 100 most powerful Women in the Middle East and most powerful 500 Arabs in the World by Arabian Business. Dr. Manahel is a Royal Grand Cross Officer of the Companionate of the White Swan and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine in London, UK. In 2016 she was bestowed with the prestigious honor of Freedom of the City of London. Lately she was featured among the BBC most inspirational 100 women around the world.

Ayah Bdier – one of the pioneers of the Maker Movement and Open Hardware Movement

Ayah Bdier the Labanese Canadain is the founder and CEO of LittleBits – LEGO like plastic units designed to spark the imagination of people in all age groups – encouraging them to create and invent.

She is deemed a pioneer in the Maker Movement and in the space of internet of things. An engineer by profession Bdier is famously known as an interactive artist for attempting to “break down complex technologies so that anyone can build, prototype, and invent.” She is an alumna of the MIT Media Lab where she received her master’s degree. She undertook her undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering and Sociology from the American University of Beirut.

Bdier founded the award winning electronic building blocks company in 2011 after participating in the World Maker Faire in New York City. She is also the recipient of the highly prestigious TED fellowship.
While delivering her hugely famous TED talk Bdier explained that she aspires to encourage a world of creators and inventors by allowing non engineers to program. She explained that LittleBits was conceived as a result of small construction blocks that form the basis of complex structures in many countries. Her company was named one of the 50 smartest companies in 2016 by MIT Technology Review.

She has been awarded numerous accolades including Business Insider’s 26 Most Powerful Women Engineers, a New York Hall of Science Creative Entrepreneur, Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Honoree, one of Inc. Magazine’s 35 Under 35, one of NY Business Journal’s Women of Influence, one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, one of Popular Mechanics’ 25 Makers Who Are Reinventing the American Dream, one of Entrepreneur’s 10 Leaders to Watch, one of the CNBC Next List, and one of MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35.






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