Engineering her own way

Zeinab EL-Sayegh working hard in her office. Photo credit: Victoria Marcelle

Zeinab El-Sayegh remembers her father buying her a toy airplane with a repair kit at 7 years old. Her father also encouraged her to do things that were typically labelled for boys, such as learning martial arts.

Now a PhD candidate at UOIT in Mechanical Engineering, El-Sayegh says she is the only female in her department. She has noticed not many females study to become engineers.

El-Sayegh came to Canada from Beruit, Lebanon, where she studied at Lebanese International University, earning herself a degree in Engineering.

Before coming to UOIT, she studied at Concordia University in Montreal, earning two master’s degrees: one in Mechanical Engineering and the other in Aerospace Engineering.

During her bachelors degree, she was the only female. When she was completing her master’s, there were only three females out of 2000 students. At UOIT, El-Sayegh was the only female in her first-year lab, which made her the only female doing research.

According to engineercanada.ca, 20 per cent of those enrolled in accredited undergraduate engineering programs in Canada are female.

El-Sayegh thinks women don’t enter the engineering field because society doesn’t encourage young girls to follow these interests and to apply to engineering programs. She says females are encouraged to study language or culture, while men are are told to pursue studies like math or to do something with their hands.

“In society, they tell you that women should be slim and that men should have muscles. They never tell you that women can have muscles because it is a male feature. It is a similar thing in engineering. Females are usually told engineering is a male field and it’s not the place for you to be,” says El-Sayegh.

El-Sayegh would like to see more women in engineering. She says women are very creative and more detail-orientated than men who, in her opinion, focus on the bigger picture.

“We should be encouraging young girls to say what they like. Maybe they like doing stuff with their hands, building stuff or asking questions on how things work. We shouldn’t tell them this isn’t something you should ask or this isn’t related to you,” says El-Sayegh.

El-Sayegh’s favourite field placement when she was completing her masters was working at Rolls Royce.

“I was working on a new engine development. It’s an aero derivative engine from the RB211. I had to go into the testing facilities. I had to analyze the emissions of the combustion chamber because certain nox and gas emissions [had to be met] to regulate the engine. I [did] calculations for the emissions as well,” says El-Sayegh.

El-Sayegh’s professor, Moustafa El-Gindy, says she is the best graduate student he has ever worked with.

“She has quite a few [research] publications and has a strong reputation within the university. She has a friendly personality and the students like her very much. She is a very good TA,” says El-Gindy.

Depending on the class, TAs teach students, do marking or supervise exams. El-Sayegh says she enjoys marking assignments and tests most.

El-Sayegh cares about her students’ success and tries to ensure her students understand her teaching methods.

Mirwais Sharifi, an engineering student, says El-Sayegh takes the time to explain new concepts step-by-step and never fails to answer the questions he may have.

“I always try to make sure my students know how to solve the question without me. I ask them how would you solve this question, not from a mathematical point-of-view but from a strategy point-of-view,” says El-Sayegh.

“What’s your strategy? What is your technique you are going to use? Because this is more important than knowing the numbers. Knowing how to approach the problem is what I like to teach my students.”

From building toy airplanes in her family room, El-Sayegh has become an inspiration to engineering students at UOIT and a role model for females.

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