Despite detours, alumna Ahmad found her place in engineering

Zaineb Ahmad, who earned a degree in biomedical engineering, has found success as a systems engineer with an aerospace and defense company

Danielle Lacey 

A human factors and systems engineer with the aerospace and defense company, Ahmad earned a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the engineering school in 2008.

"I was on the path of medicine for a long time, and while I was passionate about it at the time, going into engineering has been very fulfilling for me," Ahmad said.

So much so that after earning an undergraduate degree, Ahmad put medical school on hold to earn a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

"I did pursue a medical program for a short while after that, but I realized that wasn't the right fit for me," she said.

Ahmad returned to industry, working for a fellow WashU alumnus at a medical device startup and, later, as a product owner and a business analyst for a health care IT company. It wasn't until recently that she made her way into aerospace.

"I've learned that engineers can belong anywhere," Ahmad said. "Once you have those problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, you can find your way into any industry."

Ahmad has done more than just find her way; she's thrived. This year, she was awarded the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) WE Local New ELiTE (Emerging Leader in Technology and Engineering) Award.

"This award has been a culmination of all of the different fields I've tried and industries I've worked with," Ahmad said. "This recognizes that engineering was the right choice for me, and it's definitely somewhere I belong."

Ahmad was a member of SWE as an undergraduate at WashU and currently serves as president of the Dallas SWE professional section. She credits the organization with helping her to get involved with the engineering community and to build her professional network.

"There are still times when engineering feels very, very male-dominated and like you're being pushed out," she said. "It's encouraging to have these women remind you that you belong, and you're doing the right thing."

Ahmad is optimistic about the future of diversity and inclusion in the field — as long as industries remain committed to doing the work.

"I think things are getting better," she said. "Maybe only on a case-by-case basis, but it is getting better. There's definitely room for women, and we definitely see the advantages of having women serve in STEM roles, but I think we still have a way to go."


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