This is the sixth part of a series titled ‘Up Close and Personal’ covering the career path of several steering committee members of LebNet communities, spread across the US and Canada.
Aspiring to study and build novel circuitry and hardware that can advance the state of human-centered applications and healthcare systems, and as a proponent of diversity in STEM, Aya Mouallem is truly an inspiring young woman who has big plans to contribute to educational and tech policy reforms in the Middle East. She graduated from the American University of Beirut with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer and Communications Engineering and is currently pursuing a PhD in Electrical Engineering at Stanford School of Engineering.
While acquiring electrical engineering research experiences with the Khuri-Yakub group at Stanford, the Kanj group at AUB, and the Kurdahi group at UC Irvine, Mouallem co-founded All Girls Code, an award-winning initiative that encourages young girls in Lebanon to pursue STEM. She has completed fellowships with Johnson & Johnson and Women Deliver and was awarded the Diana Award and the Baassiri Exceptional Volunteer of the Year Award.
On top of it all, Mouallem was named one of ten women changing the landscape of leadership worldwide by The New York Times. Her advocacy efforts have also been featured by Forbes, Cosmopolitan Middle East, and UN Women in the Arab States.
In this Q&A, we talked to this young bright woman about her plans for the Women in Tech community, her challenges, and future vision. Read it below.
1- How would you describe your career path and what do you enjoy most about your current job?
Given that I’m the youngest WiT committee member, I have not had a lot of career experience so far. However, I’ve been fortunate to work on several research projects during my undergraduate studies and those projects motivated me to go to graduate school to learn how to conduct meaningful and impactful research.
2- What is a unique experience or specific event that led to where you are today?
I am extremely grateful to be part of the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program at Stanford University, which is a selective, experiential learning leadership program. It helps shape the skills that I will need to serve my community in Lebanon more effectively. However, I almost did not apply because I was overwhelmed with grad school applications and senior year projects, but thanks to my incredible mentor's support and encouragement, Gerard Touma, I ended up applying. I'm now focused on expanding mentorship programs for young girls to ensure that they don't miss out on any opportunities either!
3- What are you looking to achieve or excited about as a Women in Tech steering committee member?
I am so excited about the WiT steering committee because I know how important LebNet’s role is in helping shape and improve access to tech opportunities for individuals of Lebanese descent. Ever since we launched All Girls Code around 4 years ago, we’ve been super lucky to have welcomed more than 500 girls to our programs. That is why I would love to focus, as a WiT steering committee member, on expanding access to STEM programs for young girls with LebNet’s support!
4- What were some of the challenges you encountered in your career and how were you able to overcome them?
One of the earliest challenges I encountered was the absence of mentorship when I was picking my college major. None of my family members or relatives had studied engineering, so I found the transition at the beginning from school to university to be harder than expected. I was fortunate, though, later, to reach out to and be mentored by incredible individuals, from faculty members to startup founders, and that’s why bridging this gap in mentorship for younger students is very important to me.
5- Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
I will hopefully be conducting research in parallel to volunteering with several Lebanon-based initiatives focusing on diversity and inclusion, among which is All Girls Code, an award-winning initiative that I co-founded around 4 years ago in Lebanon.
6- How do you maintain a good work/life balance?
I think it’s very important to dedicate some time during my day for non-work tasks, whether it’s going on walks with my friends, working out, or just catching up with my family back home. I always try to dedicate time to take care of my mental and physical well-being.