UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Maram Ejaimi’s passion for engineering ignited in a way those dedicated to improving diversity in STEM fields love to hear.
Through an older cousin, the senior studying petroleum and natural gas engineering at Penn State found out about a program sponsored by Saudi Aramco that’s designed to bring young bright minds into the field while improving the gender gap.
Ejaimi’s cousin was participating in the program to propel her geophysics career and urged Ejaimi to do the same for petroleum engineering.
Now Ejaimi, who is graduating this spring, is set to begin her career as reservoir engineer with Saudi Aramco, the world’s most profitable company according to Bloomberg News.
That’s a welcome end to an exclusive and competitive process for Ejaimi, who is one of Saudi Aramco’s 146 students at Penn State, about two-thirds of which are housed in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering.
Saudi Aramco’s sponsored student program represents about 20% of Penn State’s roughly 700 sponsored students at University Park. For students from Saudi Arabia, the program is a great chance to secure a free college education at an elite university — and a high-paying job after graduating — but the perks foster some stiff competition.
Take the petroleum field for example. Students from across the country vie for about 400 spots each year. That number ebbs and flows with the company’s workforce demands but one thing is constant: the rigorous process that follows entry into the program.
Students are tested in math, science and English. Top performers move on to a year of college prep before heading off to a school of their choosing. This year’s graduating class from Penn State includes about a dozen members, three of whom are women, helping to increase diversity in a field that’s predominantly men.
Path to her dream
From an early age, Ejaimi was interested in petroleum engineering. But she knew of few women in the field. She’s also from the western coast of Saudi Arabia — Jeddah — far from the nation’s oil industry hot spots of the east.
When she found out about the opportunity at Aramco, she then saw a path to her dream.
Even though people rely on oil for everyday lives, she said people know little about the industry or the engineering processes involved. Even her family has questions about her career choice.
“Everyone has this image about petroleum being for guys,” Ejaimi said. “Even my family thought the same. They said, ‘don’t go to petroleum, you’re going to be stuck in the desert.’ This is not what happens. I’m going to check the (oil) field and come back home safe and sound. I had to convince everyone that it’s going to be fine. In the end my family was very supportive. And I’m proud of my decision.”
Her story is inspiring her younger cousin, who she recently told of her experiences, to explore Saudi Aramco’s sponsored student program.
Sara Alabualsaud, another senior in the program, knew one of Saudi Arabia’s first female petroleum engineers because she was a family friend. So the dream of becoming an engineer was something she explored at an early age.
Excelling at science and engineering, she explored options before deciding on petroleum engineering because it allowed her to fulfill several areas of interest.
“I see petroleum engineering like a recipe,” Alabualsaud said. “It’s like mechanical engineering, chemical engineering and geology put into one major. I like that it’s a little bit of everything.”
Alabualsaud knows that women have the talent and the tools required for the job and wants to dispel the myth that the job is just for men. She hopes her career inspires others.
Path to opportunity
Nora Hamidaddin, a senior in the program, sees it as an opportunity for change in her home country. In the four years since she’s been at Penn State, Saudi women can now drive, local artists can perform, and movie theaters and concert halls are dotting the streets.
“I feel now that Aramco is taking that initiative and increasing opportunities for people like me,” Hamidaddin said. “The company is a role model for the rest of Saudi Arabia and you know, Saudis are changing.”
When she graduated high school, petroleum engineering wasn’t top of her mind, but she wanted a career that improves people’s lives.
That attitude could prove useful in a field that’s changing, too. Addressing environmental concerns is one area she’s learned a lot about from Penn State faculty, she said. She wants to lead a generation that provides energy to all with as little environmental impact as possible.
Best of the best
William Shuey, assistant director of sponsored relations at Penn State, said sponsored students speak to the quality of a Penn State education. Only the best of the best find their way to Penn State.
“It’s really prestigious because you literally have governments and international businesses choosing the top universities in the U.S. and urging their best students to try to get into these universities,” Shuey said.
Sponsored students also add to the diversity of our international student population with more than 40 underrepresented countries sending their top students.
These gifted students lead to global ties.
“We already have alumni all over the world,” Shuey said. “We have such a presence overseas as it is, but that’s strengthened when we bring more international students into Penn State to engage with domestic students and build those partnerships. The impact of these connections are incalculable. We don’t know the full effect of what making Penn State a global University really means. But we know it’s great for Penn State.”