Pakistani Women in Space: Meet Zartaj Waseem, CEO & Co-Founder Pakistan Space Science Education Centre
Did you think that Pakistani women are not passionate about science? Well, you were wrong. Meet Zartaj Waseem, a STEAM Education specialist (a software engineer by profession) focused on transforming the methods of teaching and learning Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM). Zartaj is the CEO and Co-founder of Pakistan Space Science Education Centre. She is pioneering & spearheading Pakistan's first ever Space Science Education initiative focused on exploration of Mars. And that's not half of it! She is leading Destination Imagination (DI), a US-based STEAM Program at Haque Academy, focal person of National Organizer in Pakistan for World Robot Olympiad (WRO) on behalf of STEM360, and is the first Pakistani STEAM Education Professional to be designated as Global STEM Corps Advisor for FIRST Global and also as an International Award Judge. Zartaj, you are truly a Role Model for many women and girls in Pakistan!
Women Engineers Pakistan got in touch with Zartaj, and of course we couldn't wait to share her incredible achievements with all of you! Here is what Zartaj had to say about her path as an engineer and as an educator:
I was born in Karachi and belonged to a middle class family. My father is a Mechanical & Electrical Engineer (retired) and I studied Science/Computer Science because I liked it. My grandfather wanted me to be a doctor however my parents gave me the liberty to pursue the career of my choice but they wanted good grades. My cousin who is associated with the field of IT (currently in the US) guided me towards the field of Computer Science and I ended up doing Software Engineering.
My favorite subject was English and Science. I didn’t like Math until I did Math in college and it was my math teachers because of whom I actually started liking the subject. I firmly believe that teaching strategies and imparting subject knowledge in an engaging way is a vital element for inspiring students. Many people have content/subject knowledge but not all of them can teach.
I certainly feel that studying Science and Mathematics was a very good decision, as it helped me apply subject knowledge while I was doing my degree in Software Engineering. I truly realized the importance of studying these subjects when I entered my professional life.
I am a STEM Education Professional, currently the CEO & Co-Founder of Pakistan Space Science Education Centre (PSSEC). My Co-Founder, Nahyan Farooq, Chief Design Officer (CDO) of PSSEC came up with the idea of introducing Space Science Education in Pakistan. He confided in my capabilities to join hands with him in inspiring and educating our young generation and present them with the quality STEM Education opportunities available to the children in the developed countries.
In addition to my corporate experience in the field of IT, I have enjoyed being in the STEM Education field since 2010. STEM Education was quite a novel idea back then and I have always wanted to do something different, something unique, and not just follow the trends. I find myself as more of a leader and trendsetter, somebody who confidently spearheads initiatives.
I founded the Robotics & STEM Studio at Haque Academy, followed by a leading role in establishing Pakistan’s first STEM Education organization, Robotics Labs. Becoming a coach/trainer for school kids Robotics teams and representing Pakistan at International Robotics Competitions with my teams namely, FIRST Lego League and Destination Imagination and as International Judge at FIRST Global.
This experience has led me to enjoy facing challenges when I try to execute and implement a new idea. I realized that Computer Science is a very diverse field, be it in the education or the corporate sector, it gives one the autonomy and flexibility to make almost everything possible. Yet, Software Engineering is a male dominated field. Although the team members I have worked with have always been very supportive and respectful, I feel that people do not have enough faith in a woman’s capabilities that she will be able to handle matters independently in such fields. Good news is that this has certainly improved over the years now.
STEM Education has been quite a game changer for me. I have been on a roller coaster ride all these years struggling to strike a balance between home/family and work. At the same time, I have been blessed with opportunities that I had never thought would come my way. My family has been quite understanding and supportive particularly my kids.
As far as where I derive inspiration from; Bill Gates has been my role model. His character trait of being innovative in ideas and introducing newer and better technology to the world has always inspired me.
I consider barriers as challenges to overcome, just like in a game you progress by overcoming obstacles and you keep trying until you succeed. I don’t think that these challenges are meant to stop us. I feel that barriers are there to make us change our strategy about approaching something and becoming better at it.
Girls are a miraculous creation of Allah. We have a very powerful role be it at home or outside home as a professional. First of all, it is very important to get education and then something that I have assimilated and found very useful is the skill of self-learning. If you are good at self-learning and you are self-motivated you are unstoppable. Our girls should be adaptable, assertive and committed to what they dream to achieve.
Inspired? Tell us about your Role Models in STEM!
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Pakistani Women in Tech: Meet Engr. Dr. Shehla Saleem, Role Model, Wifi Engineer at Apple, California
Women Engineers Pakistan had the chance to speak to the amazing Engr. Dr. Shehla Saleem, a truly inspiring role model for Pakistani women in STEM fields, and in general as well. Shehla completed her engineering degree from Military College of Signals, NUST and followed her dream to complete a PhD from the prestigious University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. And she didn't stop, reaching all the way to work at Apple, California where she works in Wifi Engineering!! A true role mode, Shehla rose against all challenges to become the face of talented Pakistani women everywhere in the world. One question many women face during the progress of their career and education is how would they ensure a "work-life balance"? Dr. Shehla is a shining example of having done a phenomenal job at just that, and we think you should read on and be just as inspired as we are!
"Being the youngest of four sisters and a brother, I grew up in a big, busy family. A lot of my motivation to do well came from seeing how hard my parents worked every single day to provide for us. Each time any of us did well at school or elsewhere, I could see a unique sense of joy and pride in my parents’ eyes and I would resolve to always make them feel that way.
I was always taught that we must try to be good at whatever comes our way. Our approach to problems in life can be influenced significantly by how we learn to handle stress, success as well as boredom and failure from a young age. I enjoyed most subjects at school but when I found something disinteresting, rather than complain, I’d try to identify exactly what I didn’t enjoy about it. Thinking this way helps you learn what excites you and what your strengths are, and gives you clarity and conviction when you’re in a position to actually choose your path.
I chose engineering because I found mathematical topics stimulating and challenging. However, at the time, engineering was still a very “male-dominated” path in Pakistan and people had doubts regarding the place of women in that field. Rather than be deterred by it, I took it as an opportunity to change a widely held perception and I feel humbled at having played my small part in doing just that. I graduated at the top of my undergraduate engineering class and was the first girl to do that. For some, it was hard to accept that a girl engineer was finishing ahead of all the males, but I am thankful for the many more supporting and encouraging voices. The struggle didn’t end with graduation though. I was once employed at a telecom company in Islamabad that did not have a women’s restroom in their whole office space. I am glad that I had the courage to bring it to their attention and have them create a safe
and healthy work environment where both men and women can thrive professionally.
I do not subscribe to the idea of having one or even a couple role models. I believe that everyone who crosses our path in life, offers a new lesson, a new perspective, and we are essentially a weighted combination of all of those lessons. I have many role models, some taught me kindness, some humility, others taught me resilience and bouncing back from failure. If I were to choose one character trait, that can make a superior contribution to success, I would call on “grit” and the idea of not giving up, but at the same time, knowing when to walk away.
I believe in the power of collaboration, sharing of ideas and building meaningful relationships. I try to take initiative and raise my voice wherever I find it can be useful. It helps being thorough, because it gives you the right amount of confidence that you can be assertive without being combative. I had two kids during my PhD and their father and I were equal partners in everything related to our children. I believe girls must be sure of their rights and abilities and be prepared to stand-up against the status-quo to make sure they are neither silenced nor denied their rights. I would end by saying that while I strongly believe that ambition to succeed professionally is a noble pursuit, we must also feed our ‘human’ side all along. Find a cause that matters to us and commit to it, stand-by for family and friends, and always be willing to lend a helping hand. In my work-life, I go through periods of high-stress but that human connection gives me the support I need to keep going and see things through. Life is all about finding joys in the middle of any amount of chaos."
Who inspired you to STEM forward?
Do you know any extraordinary Woman in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medicine? Help us Nominate Role Models for the coming generation!