Editor's Note — This Q&A is part of a weekly student conversation series that is celebrating Women's History Month on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln's Medium page. The series will feature students who are making impacts on campus and look to maintain that momentum in future careers. Learn more about Women's History Month coverage in Nebraska Today.
his week, meet Noha Algahimi, a chemical engineering major with minors in biological sciences and mathematics from Lincoln, Nebraska. At Nebraska, she’s completing research, sharing her passion for engineering with others and preparing to make an impact by entering med school and engineering better medicines.
When did you become interested in engineering?
When I was about 10 years old, I was exposed to engineering for the first time through a family friend who had just begun her own bachelor’s degree in the field. Up until that point, I hadn’t considered career options very seriously, but hearing about all the cool things she was excited about getting to do made me excited about engineering in turn.
As I grew older and became surer of my love for both math and science and I began to explore STEM as a whole, this is when I realized that I was particularly intrigued by medicine. However, engineering was still something my heart felt drawn to, so integrating both my interests in the mathematical and design aspects of engineering and the broader desire to pursue medicine led me to pick chemical engineering as a major while simultaneously engaging in pre-medicine coursework to eventually allow me to attend medical school and become a physician. I hope that as a physician and clinical researcher, I can use my engineering background to facilitate the unique problem-solving required of medical professionals.
What is it like to be a woman in STEM?
The university has an incredibly welcoming and diverse STEM community, especially within the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, so during my time here I’ve been fortunate enough to feel like I belong. On a broader scheme, women in STEM, while not as much as in past decades, are still forced to overcome the obstacle of being a woman first and, unfortunately, a scientist second. It can get difficult to see how men are more likely to get certain positions or get paid a certain amount while women of similar, if not better, qualifications are slighted. However, I think Nebraska does a great job of making STEM a safe haven for women who were once just kids inspired by the world of science.
As a student in the College of Engineering, I’ve met the most incredible scientists, mathematicians, and of course, engineers — many of whom are women. While I’m aware of the adversity that can come from being a woman in a predominantly male field, there has been power in the relationships I’ve been able to form with those who are aware of and experience the same struggle. Together, we are unapologetically women as well as engineers, and every day I get to see the remarkable women in my life prove to the world how those two things are not mutually exclusive.
How have your involvements on and off campus helped you grow?
As a member of two Honors Program RSOs, Honors Program Student Advisory Board and Honors Peer Mentoring, I’ve been able to connect with motivated students from a wide range of backgrounds. This has broadened my understanding of the average college student while simultaneously exposing me to academia as it exists outside of STEM. Additionally, I’ve had the pleasure of serving as an Engineering Ambassador for the UNL Engineering Ambassador’s Network for the past year and a half; this K-12 outreach program has allowed me to share my love for engineering with a new generation of students. My involvement as an ambassador has given me the opportunity to enhance my presentation skills while also providing the representation as both a Muslim and a woman in engineering that I believe I would have loved to see as I was growing up and exploring engineering for the first time.
Talk a little about your goal of engineering better medicines.
As a student in the Grand Challenge Scholars Program, I have completed a variety of coursework and activities that have been catered to better prepare me to tackle one of society’s greatest engineering challenges: engineering better medicines. Through research I’ve conducted in UNL’s FOCμS Lab, as a member of the 2019 International Genetically Engineered Machine team, and as a participant in the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program, I’ve been exposed to the development of varying medical technologies. The ability we have as engineers and medical students to better the quality of life for so many across the world is remarkable and humbling. I hope to mirror the dedication to furthering the field of medicine I’ve witnessed in so many of the people I worked within each of the previously mentioned labs.
As a GCSP student, I’ve additionally catered my coursework to learn more about the knowledge gaps that still remain in our understanding of modern medicine and what can be done to fill those gaps. As I graduate and go on to medical school and beyond, I want to join the ranks of the individuals pursuing the knowledge society both needs and continuously seeks.
Who inspires you?
I’m most inspired by my fellow women in engineering, both students and professors alike, who have worked so hard to be where they are and have taught me so much about who I am and what I want to do with my life. Additionally, I am motivated by my parents, who have worked just as hard to give me all the tools I need to succeed in both engineering and eventually life, despite their limited opportunities as North African immigrants.
What is your advice to other students looking to make an impact or get involved in STEM?
It’s going to be hard, no matter how smart you think you are or what tools you think you have, but it’s not ever going to be so hard that you won’t be able to succeed — you’ve got this! I would say find camaraderie and solace in your classmates, especially the women, because as my intro to chemical engineering professor put it, misery loves company (kidding!). No matter what, keep going, you hold the future in your hands and only you have the authority to tell yourself what you can and can’t do.