Spotlight on Chemical Engineering with Zeina Tebbo

Industrial Strength Women caught up with Zeina Tebbo, a current chemical engineering student at UNSW. At 22 years old, Zeina is in her fifth year of a five year degree,going on to a Master’s in biomedical engineering. She shared her experience with us so far and it’s important to note how her identity as a Muslim woman intersects with her experience as a woman.

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What do you think the ratio of men to women in your degree is?
Engineering as a whole there definitely is more males than females however the ratio has definitely increased over the years. I would estimate chemical engineering to be 60:40.

I don’t think having many males in the class has been an educational disadvantage. However it definitely has been a great way of refining my social skills. My competitive edge to prove myself as a leader and equally competent at any task has definitely emerged.

What about teaching staff? Has the representation there been unfair or challenged you at all?
The ratio of teaching stuff has definitely changed. Chemical Engineering has a female head of school which I think is a great way of encouraging further education and leadership amongst females. Also Biomedical Engineering does have several academics who are proving to be pioneers in their field. I think the fact that females are taking a more prominent role in engineering will probably overcome the uneven ratio.
My biggest mentor in the field of engineering definitely has to be Dr Lauren Kark and Dr Mehreen Faruqi. Dr Kark is actually a lecturer at UNSW however she is very innovative, social and great to work with, Dr Faruqi on the other hand although an engineer by trade is also a state MP for the greens. Her role as Multicultural spokesperson and her fight for social justice makes her a very strong character.

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What first made you want to pursue a career in chemical engineering?
During my HSC I had a dream of pursuing medicine. However when I didn’t have enough marks to enter I needed to pursue other possibilities. My maths teacher was an engineer by trade and would I think he would be synonymous with the word inspiration. I remember speaking to him before submitting my application and he reassured me that I would be good engineer.
At the time I thought I would be a shoe in for radiography at USYD however engineering was my fate. At the time my dad though engineering was in the same calibre as a mechanic. I guess the idea came about because every car has an engine and hey engineering would mean I would be repairing car engines. It took a few months to reassure him I will not be repairing cars however he did have a turn around and eventually embraced the idea. People in my community are impressed at my chosen field of study. I am always met with the question, “but is it hard?”, which I often reassure them that it is not as bad as one may think.

Do you have any advice for other female identifying individuals interested in the field?
My biggest suggestion to any female wishing to pursue engineering is Do not be afraid. It isn’t as daunting as one might think and the guys are manageable. Go to class with a strong personality and mindset and it will definitely get you through.

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