Asrar Damdam, founder/CEO of UVERA and PhD. student at KAUST studying electrical and computer engineering. (Supplied)
According to a 2020 study published on statista.com about the gender distribution of 2018 STEM graduates in Saudi Arabia, Communications and IT is the most popular major among female graduates
JEDDAH: In the past five years, Saudi women have taken great strides in scientific fields and, with the support of the government, the best seems yet to come.
Saudi women are now serving as leaders in their research fields, and many have gone on to serve as deans, directors of research centers and more.
In an interview with Al-Arabiya, Hind Al-Zahid, undersecretary for women’s empowerment at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, said that “the percentage of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is higher than men” in the Kingdom.
According to a 2020 study published on statista.com about the gender distribution of 2018 STEM graduates in Saudi Arabia, Communications and IT is the most popular major among female graduates.
Asrar Damdam, founder and CEO of UVERA, is one of the many Saudi women who are not only pursuing degrees in STEM but also working for the empowerment of women by providing them with job opportunities.
She told Arab News that she followed her passion and obtained a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering followed by a master’s degree. “Now I am a Ph.D. student at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. It wasn’t an easy start but as soon as I entered the job market five years ago, many companies were not only welcoming to women but many were searching for them to join. Times have changed and you now see more women exploring their options in various fields of science.”
Technology. It wasn’t an easy start but as soon as I entered the job market five years ago, many companies were not only welcoming to women but many were searching for them to join.
Asrar Damdam, Founder and CEO of UVERA
With her company based in Silicon Valley, she opened a syndicate in the Kingdom. Damdam has found that her recent female recruits are passionate about their work and are going through the learning curves required to excel in their respective fields.
“Their work ethics are exceptional and their passion is felt as they continue to provide insight and finding innovative ways to reach the company’s goals,” she said. “It’s because of their passion that they are able to contribute and it wouldn’t have been achievable without the programs that provided me and the many women in the fields of STEM with these opportunities.”
This was reiterated by Al-Zahid, who spoke of Saudi Arabia’s eagerness to pursue empowerment for women and to provide them with adequate positions fit for their fields of expertise.
“The numbers tell the story,” she said, adding that international markers have shown the Kingdom’s pursuit in empowering women in the labor market is exceeding expectations.
These file photos show Lama Al-Abdi, left, and Asrar Damdam. (Supplied)
Asrar Damdam and Lama Al-Abdi honored by L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program
In spite of recent progress, women remain a minority in the STEM professions worldwide, and especially in the MENA region
DUBAI: Saudi women are earning global recognition for their achievements in medical science and research. Two of them recently won awards from the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program for their work.
One of the women, Asrar Damdam, 27, was honored in the Ph.D. students’ category for her role in the development of a pump meant to revolutionize the way a healthy heartbeat is regulated — combining medicine, electrical engineering and electro-physics.
“There are some diseases and heart-related behavioral activities, like heart failure, that can happen suddenly, and researchers are developing new solutions to this problem,” Damdam told Arab News.
“We were investigating the possibility of building a soft-sleeve device with a built-in actuator to support the heart muscle and aid the pumping functionality.”
The project was not without its challenges. The only platform available on the market was rectangular, which did not conform to the heart’s natural shape. When Damdam began her research, she turned to nature’s geometries for inspiration, from spirals to spiderwebs, before settling on the honeycomb.
“The beehive structure, which is an array of honeycombs, is the nearest to the heart shape,” she said. “Building a flexible and stretchable array of honeycombs was a very interesting idea to me, although it included lots of challenges. I liked it and presented it to my professor, who liked it too and approved it.”
Damdam then had to consider materials. Silicon was her first choice, owing to its favorable electrical properties, its abundance and cheapness. However, with her initial design, it was found to be too delicate.
After graduating from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in August 2018, it took Damdam a year to make her breakthrough, following countless experiments at a highly sophisticated nano-facility.
“The structure must withstand the heart’s expansion and contraction behavior without breakage,” she said.
“To overcome the silicon fragility issue, I used the regular honeycomb shape with serpentine sides. I designed the platform with a serpentine-shaped interconnect to form the sides of every honeycomb cell and also to connect the cells with circular islands, which are located in the middle of each cell, to be used as a host for electronic components,” she said.
“The serpentine interconnects introduced the stretchability feature, so when the heart expands, the platform doesn’t break.”
Damdam says all bio-compatible devices must be flexible so that they can adapt to the natural movement of the body and skin. “To achieve this, I made it very thin — around 15 micrometres,” or 0.015 millimeters.
Although her project marks only the first step, aimed at proving the viability of the concept, its reconfigurability means the wider scientific community can build on the idea and explore the tremendous technological possibilities it opens up.
“The successful demonstration of the reconfigurability concept using silicon also enables a lot of applications in bio-medical electronics,” she said. “This was my main motivation. If this research is improved, then it can really help in the early detection of cardiovascular diseases, in multi-sensory platforms and in the development of artificial hearts for transplantation.”
28.8% – Proportion of the world’s researchers who are women (UNESCO).
With the platform now fabricated and her research published in Applied Physics Letters Journal, Damdam’s attention shifted to the world of start-ups, helped along by an entrepreneurial training program in California sponsored by the MiSK Foundation.
While there, she won a competition and received funding for her start-up idea of using ultraviolet light to extend the shelf life of food. She says young Saudis have enormous potential in the world of business.
“We are very capable, educated and supported,” Damdam said. “We should give back to our community and country, and actively participate and support the development process.”
Another Saudi woman honored, this time in the L’Oréal-UNESCO program’s postdoctoral researchers’ category, is Lama Al-Abdi in recognition of her research on chromatin — a substance within chromosomes consisting of DNA and protein — and the regulation of genes in relation to vision loss.
Al-Abdi, who is in her early 30s, began her project a few years earlier as an extension of her Ph.D. research at Purdue University, Indiana, examining how certain chemical modifications impact DNA.
“It does not change the DNA per se, but it changes the shape of the DNA itself and how it interacts with its surroundings,” Al-Abdi told Arab News. “These changes can be inherited from one generation to another and they play a very important role in development, embryogenesis, cancer, obesity, diabetes, complex diseases as well as very simple diseases, such as any eye abnormalities that we may see.”
Al-Abdi, who began examining the theme of vision loss as an undergraduate at King Saud University, now works at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh. She has made significant contributions to medical understanding of mutations affecting the eye.
Al-Abdi and her team have recruited test subjects with eye abnormalities to determine whether their vision loss is the result of a mutation or a change in the DNA — or on top of the DNA — that may have contributed to the onset of disease.
“When I first started pursuing chromatin, I was just starting my Ph.D. and my professor invited a speaker,” she said. “The speaker started talking about modifications on the DNA, which, to me, was shocking because I had never heard of it before.
“I was just in awe because I thought I was quite well immersed in the field of genetics, but that was a whole new discovery, and I found that I knew nothing. That was the start and I was hooked.”
Al-Abdi is involved with several ongoing projects related to eye-development diseases and why more than one genetic abnormality can appear within the same family and what can be done to prevent suffering.
In spite of recent progress, women remain a minority in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions, especially in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
According to 2018 figures from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, just 28.8 percent of the world’s researchers are women. Female enrolment in engineering, manufacturing and construction courses stands at just 8 percent worldwide, while in natural sciences, mathematics and statistics it is 5 percent. For information and communications technology (ICT), the figure drops to a paltry 3 percent.
With female doctors, nurses and researchers playing a crucial role in the battle against COVID-19, experts have repeated their calls on schools, governments and employers in the region to do more to fix the imbalance.
Since announcing its goals for the Vision 2030 reform agenda, Saudi Arabia has been laying the groundwork for women’s empowerment.
Al-Abdi says she is thrilled to see young Saudi women benefiting from more encouragement and support to develop their interests and skills.
“I do see quite a lot of young talented women expanding their knowledge in all areas,” Al-Abdi said.
“I wish I had the tools and opportunities when I was younger, but now our government is putting a lot of effort into motivating, teaching and opening up opportunities that were not always available for us back then.
“It’s my dream to motivate and inspire people to do more.”
Dr. Manal Al-Malki was recently appointed dean of the Faculty of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Jazan University. She has been its vice dean since December 2017.
She worked at the university as a lecturer between August 2014 and January 2017, and has been working as an assistant professor since February 2017.
Al-Malki holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Taif University, a master’s degree in information technology from Melbourne University, and a Ph.D. in health informatics from the same university in 2016.
She was a researcher at Melbourne University between April 2012 and July 2016.
At the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties, she was the leader of the health informatics competencies framework working group between March 2018 and December 2018.
The goal of the project is to expand the field of health informatics in the Kingdom through the creation of a competency framework that defines the core knowledge and skills underpinning this specialty.
Al-Malki is recognized by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society as an innovation leader and selected to be one of the anticipated 50 future leaders in healthcare IT.
She is interested in the use of wearables and applications for health self-management within clinical settings, lifestyle medicine informatics, health self-quantification, health population, consumer health informatics and related behavioral change concepts and principals, healthcare information technology and mobile health.
Mai AlSokair, the recently appointed assistant director of corporate development at Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Humanitarian City (SBAHC), has held prominent positions in several leading organizations. She began her career as a quality consultant at a hospital in Washington.
In 2015, AlSokair joined the quality department at Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare and, within a few months, was tasked with managing the operations of the primary healthcare clinics as clinical administrator. Her performance qualified her to join the strategy department in 2018 where she set up the Enterprise Risk Management Unit.
During that time, she was asked to be the public relations and communications manager at the Saudi Society for Family and Community Medicine.
AlSokair has also hosted multiple conferences, lectured in different courses, and written articles for journals such as Okaz, Anaween and Quality Magazine.
She said: “Healthcare has always been a complex field to work in, and with the increasing demands and challenges, managing healthcare services is just as complex. The limitation in resources, the increased level of public awareness on their right for safe and quality services, in addition to the improvements in the healthcare structure and legislation, all create the everlasting sense of urgency for healthcare leaders to continuously be knowledgeable, alert, flexible and able to take critical decisions in a timely fashion.”
AlSokair gained a master’s degree with honors in healthcare systems administration at Georgetown University in the US. She was among the first graduates in Imam Abdulrahman University’s Health Information Management and Technology program.
Lama holds a master’s degree in marketing communications from Middlesex University in Dubai and a bachelor’s degree in translation from King Saud University. (Supplied)
Lama holds a master’s degree in marketing communications from Middlesex University in Dubai and a bachelor’s degree in translation from King Saud University
Prior to joining Sayidaty, Alshethri was the digital content manager at Hia magazine
RIYADH: The Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG) has announced the appointment of Lama Ibrahim Alshethri as editor-in-chief of Sayidaty Magazine, effective Monday, Dec. 21.
“The decision complements SRMG’s future vision of taking our titles to new levels by empowering young Saudi media leaders capable of meeting the aspiration of the new generation who are today’s biggest media consumers,” SRMG Chief Executive Officer Joumana Al-Rashed said.
Lama holds a master’s degree in marketing communications from Middlesex University in Dubai and a bachelor’s degree in translation from King Saud University.
Prior to joining Sayidaty, Alshethri was the digital content manager at Hia magazine.
A picture taken on July 29, 2020 shows pilgrims circumambulating around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the centre of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Makkah. (AFP)
Saudi leadership’s plans to empower women and ensure best possible services to female pilgrims and visitors to the Grand Mosque in line with Saudi Vision 2030
MAKKAH: The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques has appointed around 1,500 females in its different departments to serve female visitors to the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
A total of 600 women have been recruited in the Technical and Service Affairs Agency. The rest of the female staff will be deployed in other departments of the presidency such as electric vehicles, Zamzam watering unit, guidance and intellectual affairs, administrative affairs, public relations, media and communication and the General Department of Internal Auditing.
Dr. Al-Anoud bint Khaled Al-Aboud, deputy president for women’s development affairs, said the step is part of the presidency’s transformational initiatives 2024. It aims to raise the level of services provided in the Two Holy Mosques, she said.
Al-Aboud also said it also part of the Saudi leadership’s plans to empower women and ensure best possible services to female pilgrims and visitors to the Grand Mosque in line with Saudi Vision 2030.
The presidency is continuously taking measures to serve pilgrims and visitors in the best possible manner.
Mona Khazindar has been a member of the Saudi Shoura Council since October.
She was director general of the Arab World Institute (IMA) in Paris from March 2011 until March 2014, and between 1987 and 2011 headed the department of contemporary art and photography at the institute’s museum where she focused on modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art.
From 2014 to 2015, she served as cultural adviser to the then Saudi Commission for Tourism and Heritage (SCTH).
Two years later, she founded Palette, an art and culture collective that organizes cultural projects and publishes art content. Palette was chosen by the International Contemporary Art Biennial of South America BienalSur to select and collaborate with five Saudi artists for her participation in BienalSur 2019.
In 2018, Khazindar was appointed by royal decree as a member of the Saudi General Authority for Culture and was nominated as member of the advisory board of the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra).
During a career spanning 30 years, she has organized numerous successful exhibitions.
While working as a curator of exhibitions and departmental secretary at the IMA museum, Khazindar witnessed the emerging Arab art scene and encouraged and promoted the work of young Arab artists, helping to enrich their visual heritage by providing them with networking opportunities with artists in the West.
She has published several publications on Arab history, art, and culture, including her book “Visions from Abroad: Historical and Contemporary Representations of Saudi Arabia,” which was published in Arabic, English, and French.
Khazindar became the first Saudi to be awarded at the New Arab Woman Forum, during its fifth edition held in Beirut.
She was elected Woman of the Year in 2012 and 2013, and her name was featured among the 100 most powerful Arab women.
She gained a bachelor’s degree in French literature and art from The American University of Paris in 1982, a master’s degree in foreign languages from Sorbonne University in Paris in 1986, and a DEA in modern and contemporary history from the same institution in 1988.
She has attended many forums and conferences covering subject matters such as surrealism, cultural diplomacy, and modern art in the Arab world.
Khazindar is also a member of the advisory board of the Misk Foundation, the board of directors of the Saudi Museums Commission, and the Lebanon-based Arab Fund for Arts and Culture.
Dr. Afnan Al-Shuaiby has recently been appointed as chair of the Arab International Women’s Forum (AIWF).
Al-Shuaiby, founder and CEO of FNN International, will assume her new role at AIWF on Jan. 1, 2021.
AIWF was set up as a development organization based in London to support women’s leadership and social and economic growth in the Middle East and North Africa.
Al-Shuaiby is a senior management executive with over 20 years of experience and a successful track record of providing fiscal, strategic, and operational leadership in uniquely challenging situations in Saudi Arabia, the wider Arab world, the UK, and the US.
She has held the position of director general of international relations at the Ministry of Culture.
Previously, Al-Shuaibi was the secretary-general and CEO of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce (ABCC) in London, where she was the first woman to assume this position. Al-Shuaibi served as CEO of the ABCC for 11 years, between 2007 and 2018.
Prior to this, she was an adviser to the president of the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council in Washington, DC, between 1998 and 2007.
She also served as an adviser for government affairs and business development at Qorvis Communications, and assistant adviser at Abu Dhabi Investment Agency.
Al-Shuaiby holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from King Saud University in Riyadh, a master’s degree in educational administration from the American University in Washington, DC, and a Ph.D. in leadership administration from George Washington University.
She has a certificate in executive education from the Harvard Kennedy School and a certificate in peace and conflict resolution from the American University, Washington, DC.
Al-Shuaiby is also a member of the advisory commission at King Khalid University, an executive committee member of B20 Saudi Arabia, and a board member of AIWF.
Dr. Mona Talib Obaid was recently appointed medical director for KSA at Eli Lilly and Co. She has become the first Saudi woman to hold a top leadership position in the Kingdom’s pharmaceutical sector.
Obaid received her MBBS from King Saud University in 2001. She is also board certified by the Saudi Internal Medicine Board.
Obaid completed a fellowship at the Royal College of Physicians in the UK in 2006.
She received certifications from the Canadian Board of Adult Neurology. Obaid then completed two fellowships. The first was in movement disorders from the University of Alberta, Canada, and the second in deep brain stimulation from the University of Joseph Fourier, France.
Obaid, who is a board member of the Saudi Alzheimer’s Disease Association and the Saudi Neurology Society, was a consultant neurologist at King Fahad Medical City (KFMC) in Riyadh. Moreover, she is also a scientific member on the neurology board at the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties. Obaid has also worked with the Dr. Sulaiman Al-Habib Medical Group.
In September 2020, she attended an executive women’s leadership program, called Pioneer, designed by the Healthcare Leadership Academy for senior women leaders.
Its purpose was to build and sustain the leadership and change management knowledge, skills, and behaviors necessary to support the transformation agenda facing the health sector. The program was the first of its kind in the Kingdom.
In 2014, she was honored as the most compassionate physician at KFMC’s National Neuroscience Institute. She also received a letter of recognition for her active participation in the Saudi Parkinson Society three years later.
Obaid recently participated as a speaker at the virtual Congress 2020 of the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society (MDS), a professional society of clinicians and healthcare professionals.
Dr. Emtinan Al-Qurashi is the assistant director of educational technology at Temple University’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching in Philadelphia, US.
Al-Qurashi obtained a bachelor’s degree in translation and interpreting at the University of Salford, UK. She received a master’s degree in digital technologies, communication and education from the University of Manchester.
Al-Qurashi joined the King Abdul Aziz University as an English language instructor in 2011, where she remained for two years.
In 2014, she enrolled in Duquesne University (DU), US to pursue a Ph.D. in instructional technology and leadership. At DU, she started as a graduate research assistant before moving on to become an instructional consultant until her graduation in 2017.
Al-Qurashi then joined Temple University as a senior instructional technology specialist. She was promoted to assistant director of educational technology where she oversees the university’s branches in the US, Italy and Japan.
She has been recognized for her work by the Professional and Organizational Development Network and chosen as their Innovation Award Finalist for 2019.
In the same year, she received the “Division of Distance Learning Award” from the Association for Educational Communications and Technology in recognition of her quantitative research.
Al-Qurashi has written several research papers and books on education, educational technology and distance learning.
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