January 4, 2024

Sixteen women are standing in a semicircle around a large wooden table. They are smiling and standing before a blue sign that says “STEM Center.”
Seminar participants visited a STEM Center in Cairo.

The Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar (TIES) held a recent seminar in Cairo, Egypt, that focused on the challenges women face in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The seminar helped advance the White House’s National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality — which seeks to close the gender gap around the world — by coming up with potential solutions to the challenges and creating a collaborative regional network of women leaders and mentors.

We are sharing an edited version of an article about the seminar that was originally published on December 20. To read the full article, visit the Alumni TIES blog.

In a world where women are slowly increasing their presence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers, there is a need for more equity and advancement in the workplace and more leadership opportunities.

These are the reasons 42 exchange program alumni from the United States and 23 countries across the Middle East and Africa gathered in October 2023 for “Alumni TIES Cairo: Women’s Leadership in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).” These exchange alumni represented 19 U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs, working in the fields of medicine, public health, technology, engineering, information technology, architecture, aviation, planetary sciences, environmental science, biology, biostatistics, and education.

A woman wearing a white hijab is sitting at a table and speaking into a microphone. Another woman in a white hijab is sitting behind and listening to her.
Participants shared personal experiences and discussed ideas about applying for jobs, advocating for leadership roles, and mentoring younger colleagues.

The three-day seminar served as a problem-solving platform addressing the viability, inclusivity, and prosperity of women in STEM. During the first two sessions, Minister Counselor for Public Affairs Ruben Harutunian, from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Rafik Mansour, from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, lauded the contributions of women to the sciences and the talent and grit they possess to better their fields.

After the welcome remarks, the participants discussed how to create space at the top for women in STEM fields. Participants asked about how more women can get into top leadership positions and how men can be allies. These questions were answered with advice and difficult truths that pushed participants to discuss how they use their own experiences and resources to address these issues. The group discussed women having higher standards for other women in the workplace and undervaluing their skills in job applications. Advice given included applying for a leadership job even if it is not a perfect fit to the description of the ideal candidate. Another highlighted solution was for female hiring managers to serve as mentors and create more accessibility to leadership positions.

The seminar continued with guest and participant panels. Participants connected with guest speakers Aziza El Kolei, field director at World Learning Algeria, and Mohamed Abdelaziz, STEAM center director at World Learning Saudi Arabia. El Kolei and Abdelaziz’s presentations intertwined the stories of intergenerational robotics learners and a ‘student success story’ — Houa Seghouani, who started as a student at the STEAM center, became an online tutor, and completed multiple projects, including a robotics workshop for young students in her region through the U.S. Department of State’s TechGirls and TechWomen exchange programs. Houa’s story highlighted a woman’s power to utilize global programs and support networks to create needed opportunities for aspiring women and girls in the STEM field.

Three women and one man are sitting behind a table in a row. A tall white banner showing the Alumni TIES logo is to their left. The man is speaking into a microphone.
Aziza El Kolei (center left), field director at World Learning Algeria, and Mohamed Abdelaziz (center right), STEAM center director at World Learning Saudi Arabia, spoke on a panel.

Another guest speaker was Aisha Bowe, CEO of the STEM Board. Bowe spoke about multiple pathways to success, along with the importance of valuing oneself and one’s mission. Bowe, who is a serial entrepreneur, an exchange alumna of the U.S. Department of State’s Speakers Program, and an astronaut-in-training, revealed that she graduated from high school with less than a 3.0 grade point average. Despite this, she was able to work her way through a community college to a four-year university, where she earned a degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan and later a job at NASA. As an entrepreneur, Bowe advised the participants to be judicious and only accept funding from donors who believe in the same personal vision, even if tempted to accept money from any source. Above all, Bowe advocated for believing in and caring for oneself.

During the participant-led panel discussion on “Creating Generational Impact through Mentorship and Support Networks,” participants reflected on the roles and boundaries of educators in students’ lives. In their work, the speakers said they aim to remove obstacles for potential students to access educational opportunities. They also noted the limitations of interfering with students’ home lives and the need to care for themselves in the process.

Seven women pose in two groups holding square signs with the center cut out to look like picture frames. The frames show the Alumni TIES logo. They are all smiling at the camera.
The seminar provided the opportunity to strengthen participants’ professional networks.

The seminar also included the “Global Communities Showcase” and meetings with STEM organizations in local communities across the Middle East, Africa, and in the United States. The work of more than 20 participants and three local Egyptian alumni was featured. Attendees visited three exhibition rooms centered on the themes of STEM education, community engagement, and entrepreneurship. In each room, displays detailed the impact of the organizations and had interactive elements, such as “Architecture in a Box” sets. The sets allowed attendees to learn about a career in architecture.

The group also met with three local organizations: Dayma, Amideast’s STEM Center, and San3a Tech’s Fab Lab Egypt. Through these meetings, the group connected their own work with these institutions and learned about the organizations’ inclusive and accessible hiring practices. Participants said that the business models of these organizations were a strong standard in which to model their future business endeavors.

In their work, the speakers said they aim to remove obstacles for potential students to access educational opportunities. They also noted the limitations of interfering with students’ home lives and the need to care for themselves in the process.

The seminar culminated with a project pitch competition — STEM Ideas on Stage! The competition was the result of a brainstorming session in which the group was challenged to select a target community and ideate a STEM-based project that would address a problem in this community. Potential projects included a STEM career counseling podcast for students and a mentorship matching service. Participants will use the brainstorming and competition experience as the impetus for Alumni TIES small grant project ideas they implement in their respective communities.

A list of solutions is written on a whiteboard in marker above a list of challenges. Orange and yellow post-it notes with additional notes are stuck to the side.
Sessions included brainstorming solutions to challenges women face in the STEM field.

Throughout the seminar, many participants highlighted the importance of “women supporting women,” with the spirit of this theme closing out the event. As the seminar concluded, the participants overwhelmingly expressed the positive impact the seminar’s events had on their careers and professional networks.

Alumni TIES is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by World Learning, in partnership with the Office of Alumni Affairs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.