NES­REEN GHAD­DAR

Executive Magazine - - Special Report | Profiles -

All alone at the top

One en­gi­neer’s fight to bring women into the science lab

For most of her aca­demic life, from her years as a stu­dent to teach­ing as a pro­fes­sor, Nes­reen Ghad­dar, as­so­ciate provost and Qatar Chair of En­ergy Stud­ies at the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity of Beirut (AUB), has been the only woman around.

But Ghad­dar has al­ways viewed this as a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “Some­times peo­ple are afraid of your suc­cess, es­pe­cially when you are the only woman. Peo­ple don’t know how to re­spond at the be­gin­ning and what to ex­pect, but this changes with time when you prove your­self. You need to al­ways keep your fo­cus on the end goal.”

Ghad­dar re­ceived her bach­e­lor of science de­gree in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing from Kuwait Uni­ver­sity, in the coun­try of her birth. She says her par­ents were sup­port­ive of her choice of ma­jor but the chal­lenge was in con­vinc­ing them to al­low her to con­tinue her stud­ies at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (MIT). “I was the first woman in my fam­ily to leave home to study abroad so my fa­ther was re­sis­tant but I con­vinced him by work­ing out the fund­ing on my own and by show­ing him the ac­cep­tance let­ter and schol­ar­ship to­gether.’” Ghad­dar went on to com­plete both her mas­ter’s and doc­tor­ate de­grees in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing at MIT in the 1980s. In 1992, she ac­cepted the po­si­tion of pro­fes­sor of me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing at AUB. She re­mem­bers that there was never more than one woman in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing classes at the time, but when there was one, she was usu­ally the top of her class.

Things started chang­ing when Ghad­dar be­came depart­ment chair­per­son in 2002. “First, [with me as chair­per­son] women had a role model in that field. At the same time, our labs be­came softer with more pro­gram­ming cour­ses and con­nec­tions to sus­tain­abil­ity and en­vi­ron­ment is­sues, which are of in­ter­est to both gen­ders. We started hav­ing more women in the depart­ment and though it is still the low­est [gen­der ra­tio] in the fac­ulty, it is bet­ter than be­fore,” says Ghad­dar.

Ghad­dar finds her ex­pe­ri­ence as a chair­woman both dif­fi­cult and en­rich­ing, and ex­plained that she had tar­gets and goals to achieve re­gard­less of peo­ple’s re­ac­tions. “I had to make hard de­ci­sions and bear their con­se­quences … but the cul­ture changed and en­gi­neers changed.”

While Ghad­dar ad­mits that it is never easy to bal­ance one’s per­sonal life with work, she feels that living in Le­banon helps a lot. Here, she says, women can en­joy the in­valu­able sup­port of their ex­tended fam­ily when it comes to tak­ing care of chil­dren.

“SOME­TIMES PEO­PLE ARE AFRAID OF YOUR SUC­CESS”

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