Bridging the Gap for Women in STEM and Business in Egypt

By Gwendolyn Schaefer
Participant Training Analyst 

Gwendolyn SchaeferWhen HEI scholar Dina Mohamed arrived in Columbia, Missouri to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering at the University of Missouri’s flagship campus in the fall of 2016, she hit the ground running, quickly becoming involved in organizations such as the Society of Women Engineers, the Muslim Student Organization, and the International Student Council. As a native of Cairo, Egypt, this was also her first trip to the United States.

Dina’s studies were made possible by the USAID-funded Higher Education Initiative (HEI) which has provided hundreds of scholarships to Egyptian students since it was launched in 2014. In Egypt, demand for higher education has ramped up dramatically since the early 1990s, as more students look for opportunities after high school. Student interest has outpaced capacity for decades, making universities overcrowded and reducing the quality of instruction.

Through the HEI STEM and MBA Scholarships for Women, the HEI program tackles gender disparities in these fields. By fostering women’s leadership, the scholarship attempts to rectify the lack of representation of women in leadership and management roles in the Egyptian workforce.

Egypt ranked 134th out of 144 countries on the 2017 Global Gender Gap Index, making HEI’s efforts to address disparities that women face in STEM and other fields all the more important. The scholarship funded full scholarships for 98 MBA students and 62 undergraduate STEM degrees over the duration of the grant cycle, which started in 2014 and will end at the close of 2018.

As a program officer supporting USAID’s education initiatives, I have the privilege of working one-on-one with incredibly talented and inspiring students from across the world – just like Dina. These conversations have shown me not only how the program provides participants with the technical skills that will help them succeed in the workplace, and more importantly, with regard to the USAID funded HEI STEM and MBA Scholarships for Women, how they help these students become capable, independent, and strong young women.

HEI STEM II Scholars in Cairo
HEI STEM scholarship recipients celebrate their achievements in Cairo.

Dina’s time in the United States is also representative of the sorts of opportunities that program participants get to experience. During her first year, she took part in a volunteer service trip through Mizzou Alternative Breaks (MAB). Dina had always been passionate about women’s rights, and when she saw that MAB would be leading a trip over the winter break to Atlanta, Georgia to work with a women’s shelter, Tapestri, she knew it would be the perfect opportunity for her.

Tapestri is an organization dedicated to addressing violence and human trafficking in immigrant and refugee communities. Dina was also the only international student on the trip, adding to the complexity of her experience. After arriving in Atlanta in early January, the MAB group spent more than eight hours each day sorting donations to the women’s shelter and distributing the items to shelter residents.

Since returning from Atlanta, Dina felt renewed inspiration in both her work and dedication to empowering women in all avenues of life. Going forward, she wants to focus on issues of inclusivity and diversity, and told me, “It is highly essential for me to become a grown-up who is able to accept and understand diversity while holding to my beliefs as well. I want to familiarize myself with people who are different than me.” Dina looks forward to volunteering with MAB in the future and continues to be a strong ambassador for the USAID funded HEI through both her academic work and her continuous involvement on campus.

Her experience is just one of the more than hundred who received scholarships, and speaks to the ripple effect of the USAID funded HEI STEM and MBA Scholarship Program. In the process of pursuing her own dreams and goals, Dina has enriched the lives of many others on the Mizzou campus and in communities in Atlanta. Changing just one life can have an impact on so many others.