PRINT: Shattering the Glass Ceiling

The stories of three determined women in STEM.


From left to right: Nafisa Shikdar, Sameerah Hingoo, and Alany Jaury. Each photo courtesy of person pictured. Collage made by Michelle Rodriguez Gonzalez.

Gillian Manning, Copy Desk Chief

Editor’s note: This story is in the UP’s latest issue that can be found digitally through our Issuu page.

Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have historically been a minority in these male-dominated fields, and while diversity is on the rise, students today are not strangers to this imbalance.

According to the American Association of University Women, men outnumber women majoring in STEM fields and women only make up 28% of the STEM workforce, and engineering is the field with the smallest female presence.

Alany Jaury

Alany Jaury. Photo courtesy of Jaury.

Alany Jaury is studying for her Bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and is treasurer of the university’s chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. She began her journey in STEM at a young age, being very involved in her high school’s robotics club.

With her bedroom covered in space memorabilia, her passions are clear: she wants to work for NASA. Her goal is to one-day be involved with NASA’s Artemis project which aims to send the next man and the first woman to the moon by 2024, and she hopes to be involved with other multi-planetary missions.

“The majesty of a big machine taking something into space…it’s amazing,” said Jaury.

She has begun following that dream by getting involved with NASA’s virtual L’SPACE (Lucy Student Pipeline Accelerator and Competency Enabler) Academy this spring. The L’SPACE Academy is an educational program for students. It is made of two smaller programs, and of those two, Jaury is involved with the Mission Concept Academy. These programs collaborate with NASA’s Lucy Mission, which aims to explore the asteroids surrounding Jupiter.

With a team of students from across the country, Jaury engineers plans and technology that could potentially help NASA land on the asteroids and other planets such as Venus.

The women-to-men ratio is relatively equal in the NASA program, according to Jaury, with many of her group’s leaders being women, but her experience at school does not fully reflect that.

“You take notice that you’re a minority,” said Jaury who explained that her classes and clubs are still male-dominated.

Before starting at FAU in 2020, Jaury studied at the University of Central Florida and experienced her male peers making romantic or sexual advances to her. These advances, Jaury expressed, seemed to be based on the fact that she was one of the few girls in the program, not because her peers had a personal interest in who she was as a person.

“I’m just a girl and they’re interested in a girl, not because I’m Alany,” she said. Jaury has only experienced FAU virtually due to the pandemic and although she’s excited for in-person classes to begin, she is nervous about experiencing the same type of attention.

Jaury is conscious of how she expresses herself through clothes, keychains, and her hobby of longboarding because it may attract unwanted attention and wishes she could just focus on her classes.

In addition to her goals in space exploration, there are things she would like to achieve closer to home. Many young girls find themselves interested in science or being astronauts but “as you grow older, society pushes that it’s a guy’s career,” she said and expressed her hope that girls will see that engineering can be right for them too.

While the classes are hard, Jaury expressed that sometimes it feels like professors want students to fail, she is still motivated to graduate. “You’re going to feel uncomfortable in life,” she said, “if you’re passionate about something, that will drive you.”

Nafisa Shikdar

Nafisa Shikdar. Photo courtesy of Shikdar.

Nafisa Shikdar graduated from FAU with her Bachelor’s in electrical engineering in 2018, a degree that she fought hard for because of her struggles.

Shikdar lived in Bangladesh when she was younger, and after graduating high school, she knew she wanted to be an engineer but due to her family’s wishes, got married instead. Soon after, her husband began to emotionally abuse her; he wouldn’t let her out of the house and became enraged if she chose to study or do other activities. As a result of the abuse, Shikdar became depressed and with her mother’s support, she moved to the U.S. in 2013 and got a divorce at the age of 19.

Shikdar began her studies at FAU in 2014 and because she was the only member of her family and friend group in the U.S., struggled with depression and loneliness. These struggles were heightened by her heavy course load and the fact she was working at Dunkin Donuts, the FAU Learning Center, and an ice cream shop all at once, leading her to work seven days a week.

“I used to feel very lonely. I was working two to three jobs so that I could start my education,” she said, “I didn’t have time to think about myself.”

Shikdar was afraid of being judged by her peers and blamed herself for what she was experiencing. She was sometimes so overwhelmed that she couldn’t leave her car after arriving on campus, causing her to miss classes and exams.

“I didn’t feel like studying or doing anything,” Shikdar recalled, but after speaking with advisors on campus, she began to feel more motivated.

During her second year at FAU, Shikdar began getting involved with STEM clubs on campus and some of her cousins later joined her here in the states. Shikdar combatted her depression with her involvement in extracurriculars, getting active, and eating better. Over a couple of years, Shikdar began to feel much healthier and got her grades up.

“I would get a lot more support than I did, people would judge me less,” Shikdar said when reflecting on how her experience may have changed if she was a man. “I got judged by my society, my community a lot.”

“I was a point of attention,” said Shikdar. In 2015, she won the Academic Excellence award but that isn’t the only thing that made her stand out from her peers.

During her electrical engineering classes, she was often the only girl present and when graduation came, she was the only woman to walk across the stage. “People just think that [men] are supposed to do engineering,” she said.

Because she was the only woman in her class, she was able to receive a lot of help and support from university staff along the way with professors and advisors cheering her on. “Whenever I did good people would say, ‘oh she did great!’… That makes me feel very appreciated,” said Shikdar.

Throughout her journey thus far, her mother was a great source of support as well. “She always told me that I’m going to be someone, that I’m going to be something, and to not give up,” Shikdar said.

Her mother graduated from college but chose to be a stay-at-home mom to take care of Shikdar and her siblings, a sacrifice that Shikdar is very thankful for.

“Even when there would be no one to support me, she was always there and she always trusted me,” said Shikdar. “She’s my role-model.”

Shikdar looks up to her mother for her dedication and her ability to be resilient and grounded despite her own struggles.

“Don’t cry in the parking lot instead of the lab. No, no, no, I’m kidding,” she laughed while offering advice. “It’s going to be okay, just step out of your car, or whatever cage you’re in at the moment, and just walk through the building and talk. It doesn’t matter who you’re talking to, just talk… Sometimes people can see things that we can’t. Just talk to someone and [know that] hard times don’t last forever, just like good times don’t last forever. Don’t give up and talk. It’s worth it.”

Shikdar also encourages women to speak out if they’re ever treated unfairly and to work where they are appreciated. “Speak out and let other people know, that creates awareness,” she said.

Sameerah Hingoo

Sameerah Hingoo. Photo courtesy of Hingoo.

Sameerah Hingoo is studying for her Bachelor’s in biology on the pre-med track and is a member of the university’s chapter of the American Medical Student Association. She strives to one day be a dermatologist.

After she graduates, she aims to help other students through education regarding mental and physical health and by creating more political awareness through community activism.

One way she has gotten involved is through the Coral Springs Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) where she has volunteered for safety-related events. Her favorite moment working with CERT was in 2016 when Hillary Clinton hosted a rally in the area. Hingoo was there with CERT to provide water and help those who passed out or otherwise required medical attention.

Hingoo’s passion for science and medicine began at a young age, it first began with her admiration for her pediatricians and it continued to blossom as she grew. “In fifth grade, I showed an interest in science and my teacher started calling me Dr. Hingoo and for some reason when she started doing that I got so motivated and inspired to become a doctor,” she said.

“The biggest thing for me is diversity in the medical field,” said Hingoo about her current goals. Hingoo is Muslim and was nervous about going to a dermatologist due to the general lack of training regarding skin-tones but was recently pleasantly surprised when a doctor knew how to provide her with effective treatment.

“It made me feel so much better and I want to do that for people too,” she said.

Hingoo’s doctors in the past have mostly been white men but she has experienced racism and colorism from white and non-white doctors that she has seen and is vocal about the medical field’s racial biases with her peers. “People don’t think about diversity when coming into the field,” said Hingoo.

One dentist with a similar ethnic background thought Hingoo was lying about her pain level and when Hingoo complained the doctor became agitated and provided too high of a dose of novocaine which resulted in Hingoo’s left eye turned in, leaving her temporarily cross-eyed.

Another instance was with a white male OB/GYN, a doctor who specializes in the female reproductive system. Without her knowledge, the doctor performed a small procedure that altered her body. “He didn’t have to do that but he did it anyway,” she said.

The prejudice she’s experienced has not been limited to the doctor’s office. One time in high school, Hingoo explained, another student said “I believe all Muslims should be in concentration camps,” and her teacher had done nothing about it.

Amongst her peers at FAU, she’s experienced misconceptions about her religion and people telling her what she can and cannot do because she is Muslim. She also becomes wary when peers are vocal about their support for politicians with a history of racism and is concerned about how they will treat patients wearing hijabs or how they might treat Black women, who are often victims of medical racism.

According to Medical News Today, Black women are three to four times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy-related causes than white women and a 2016 study showed that 73% of the white medical students who participated held the false belief that Black people are less susceptible to pain.

Though people have tried to tell her that her religion is a barrier to the medical field, Hingoo believes that there are many similarities. Like in medicine, Muslim religious practices emphasize cleanliness, according to Hingoo. One example is how Muslims are traditionally meant to pray five times a day and before doing so, must rigorously clean themselves in a process similar to surgeons before beginning an operation, even cleaning up to their noses and mouths.

“For me, it feels good, I feel closer to God and I feel more confident in what I’m studying,” said Hingoo.

Hingoo is excited to see how future generations transform the medical field and the positive changes that they might bring.

“Just go for it because there’s nothing stopping you. I’ve had a lot of setbacks financially, racially, ethnically, religiously, everything you could think of. But I overcame it,” said Hingoo.

Gillian Manning is the Copy Desk Chief for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, tweet her @gillianmanning_ or email [email protected].