ABU DHABI // If it weren’t for the early intervention of Mubadala, Mariam Al Ali may have never become the electrical engineer she is today, working for a pioneering satellite company.
As a teenager, Ms Al Ali imagined herself as being self-employed in the arts in the future, maybe as a graphic designer. The thought of becoming an engineer never crossed her mind, until one day Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi investment and development company, offered her and other promising Emirati high school pupils a chance to travel to Singapore to tour its Global Foundaries.
“Before that, I had no idea what engineers were,” said Ms Al Ali. “Once I went to Singapore and saw what they did, I was really interested in it.”
The trip nudged her towards considering a career in a science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) field and, as she approached graduation, Mubadala granted another opportunity that would change her life’s trajectory. She was offered the chance to be sent to university in the United States, as long as she agreed to enter a bachelor’s programme focused on a Stem subject.
Four years later, Ms Al Ali returned to the UAE armed with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, ready to give back to the company that invested so much in her potential. She now works for Mubadala’s satellite operator, Yahsat, and volunteers as a mentor to Emirati students.
Ms Al Ali’s full circle was strictly by design, said Fatima Al Marzouqi, head of Mubadala’s education and training division.
“We target the new generation and we develop them to focus on stem and prepare them for sectors other than oil and gas,” said Ms Al Marzouqi. “We need to educate them, engage them, make them aware about these existing sectors and their need in order to get them inspired and interested to join this workforce.”
Mubadala, in partnership with Abu Dhabi Education Council, has awarded 80 scholarships to support Emirati students’ pursuit of an undergraduate degree in a Stem subject. But that is just one of a number of ways it is taking an active role in cultivating a culture of science, technology, engineering and maths among young Emiratis.
Working with Adec, the company has helped steer the public school curriculum towards more Stem subjects and deliver after-school programmes.
Each year, about 30,000 pupils from public and private schools take part in Mubadala-sponsored science programmes like lema in which children participate in workshops and stage shows to learn concepts in a “very fun way,” said Ms Al Marzouqi.
Mubadala also enlisted other aerospace, engineering and manufacturing partners such as Boeing, Airbus, BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin to offer programming to middle, high school pupils, university students and recent graduates.
For example, in The Little Engineer programme, Mubadala, Airbus and Adec stage aeronautics workshops for 250 pupils between the ages of 13 to 16, with a select few also chosen to get a first-hand look at the assembly of an Airbus A380.
“It’s just so different, it’s such a break from outside the classroom, and it’s really making them see how science works in our everyday lives,” public school teacher Jacinta Bradley said during a recent workshop. “The girls are talking about they will go down these career paths, be engineers, which is a lovely to see the turnaround.”
Once they enter university, students have the opportunity to spend a semester overseas interning with one of Mubadala’s business partners.
Recent Emirati graduates employed in the UAE’s aerospace industry can also take part in a professional bridge programme, such as the Space Fundamentals training offered by Mubadala, Lockheed Martin and the UAE Space Agency. The two-month programme took young Emirati professionals, including Ms Al Ali, to Florida, Colorado, and Washington DC where they saw how American satellites are built and launched, shadowing veteran engineers.
“There are numerous opportunities for our youth in the space industry and we are committed to providing them a platform to learn and grow,” said Mona Al Muhairi, chief human capital officer for Yahsat.
Ms Al Marzouqi said she believes Abu Dhabi is now “on track” in terms of promoting stem among youngsters.
“I can see a lot of people starting to be interested in this ... and I believe the family and the teacher have a big role,” she said. “They have to take them to museums, boot camps, encourage their kids. We help, we facilitate but the families have to play a big role.”