Mishaal Ashemimry, the first Saudi woman to join NASA, is one of the many inspiring women to speak at the Women Power Summit. As the ‘first female aerospace engineer in the GCC’, Mishaal founded Mishaal Aerospace, an aerospace company specializing in launch vehicle/rocket development for space applications.
As a young Arab woman pioneering in the field of aerospace, Mishaal has created her own path and we were very excited to chat with her about her career journey, and passions.
A career in aerospace may not be the most conventional choice for an Arab woman, how did your fascination with the stars come about?
It all started when I was six years old. My mother took me to the desert in Onayza, Saudi Arabia at night and when I looked up at the sky and saw the high density of stars, I fell in love. I then began to constantly look up and gaze at the sky and wonder what the stars were made of and why the moon kept following our car when we used to drive from my uncle’s farm to our house. I asked my mom why the moon was following us and she replied with a short, but not sufficient answer to feed my curiosity. Therefore, I was determined to find out and deduced that the best way was to go to space and see things for myself. I decided from then on to learn how to build rockets that will enable me to go there.
You have been deemed the “first female aerospace engineer in the GCC” and now young Arab women are looking up to you for guidance and inspiration, what do you have to say to those who wish to pursue a similar career path?
To succeed one must be very passionate and truly love the field they are pursuing. There will be difficult times, in which you may question your choice for that particular field and if your passion can keep you on that path still, then you know you have chosen wisely. One must also develop very thick skin and strive no matter how hard it gets and let me tell you, it will get very tough and I mean really tough! Follow through and keep fighting. In addition, do not be afraid to fail, to me failure is the seed from which success grows.
There is a huge gap between Arab women graduating from STEM majors and the number of them joining the STEM workforce, what do you think are the challenges for women in the STEM fields and how can they be overcome?
This is very true and there are multiple reasons for this outcome. One possibility is that there aren’t many jobs in the Arab world that enable them to practice or gain more experience in their field. However, in the past few years, there have been many R&D facilities and even companies that have several STEM-related jobs that women in the region must participate in. I also, always say, if it does not exist create it or seek it somewhere else. If the field is not present in one’s country, then it is a good idea to gain some experience working abroad and then come back and start your own company to enable others in the region.
What aspect of the Women Power Summit are you most excited about and what advice do you have for young women attending the Summit?
Meeting other trailblazers and strong women, learning from their experiences, inspiring others and networking.