If you ask girls today to name the most influential people in STEM careers, they will probably list Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg and Steve Jobs. Though women don't dominate STEM careers in numbers, not yet anyway, they are making inroads. One woman who has truly proven herself an exceptional is Shereen Yusuff, 29, who graduated as an aerospace engineer and today works as a drilling engineer in the oil and gas industry. And yes, it hasn't taken her decades to achieve success!
Originally from India, born and raised in another country, Oman, and currently working in a third country, America, Shereen is hugely accomplished as an athlete, a student and in her career. She is a woman who has broken society's boundaries, choosing to work as an engineer on oil rigs in India, China, USA and Brazil, in a field occupied by mostly men; becoming an national athlete while growing up in a culture where sports were pushed to the side, and becoming a scholar in a community where girls were not expected to achieve.
WOMAN IN A MAN'S WORLD
Starting from her time in university at the very prestigious and highly selective engineering school, IIT Kharagpur, in India, Shereen was a woman competing in a man's world. The field she chose, aerospace engineering, was dominated by men. Though outnumbered, she stood out, graduating in the top five percent in her department. She was also the only one from over 500 applicants in her class of 2005, to get chosen by Schlumberger, the International Oil and Gas company, for an internship. After training in China, she was given a pre-placement offer to continue her employment with Schlumberger. Thus began her journey in the Oil and Gas industry. And here Shereen did more than stand out -- she climbed the corporate ladder with astonishing speed and became a senior drilling engineer without waiting till she was eligible for a senior citizen's card.
Everyone knows success while at university is important, but what is even more important is having that success benefit you in the real world, when you get a job. Shereen's achievements did not end when she finished university, but continued into her working life.
"I worked on offshore deep-water rigs as a field engineer for 3 years -- mostly in Mumbai, China, and the Gulf of Mexico. I got a double promotion and at the age of 24 became the youngest manager at the time and worked in Louisiana for 2 years from 2008 to 2010," she recalls. She went on to become a drilling manager managing multiple projects in Brazil and is now in Houston with Anadarko Petroleum Corporation as a senior drilling engineer.
IT STARTS WITH FAMILY
What is most amazing about Shereen is how young she is, yet how willing she is to take risks. Being the only women in her field could not have been easy, and not letting that distract her from success must have been even more challenging. Shereen says her parents are the ones who originally instilled this sense of dedication into her.
I was raised in a culture where girls did not get the needed support simply because it was not the norm for girls to achieve academically or professionally. Luckily, my parents decided to go against the norm and supported me through my endeavors. As the years went by, and I left home, and I didn't have the support of my family anymore, it seemed to get harder and harder, simply because of all the preset rules. Nonetheless, I have always chosen the path less traveled, faced hardships and come out stronger.
Shereen continues to embody this theme in her athletics. "It began in Muscat, Oman, in the Middle East," she says , "with my love of tennis." By the age of 10, she was number one in Oman as a U-14 and U-16 and a year later claimed the distinction of being number 1 in every category she was eligable for.
Shereen continues, "Before graduating University, I won the 'Bhandarkar Cup' which is given to the sportsman of the year. I am only the second female to have achieved the distinction since 1951, when IIT Kharagpur opened its doors."
Shereen is an exceptionally accomplished woman, but her goals don't stop with her own success. She strives to empower others with self-confidence and support, just the way her parents did with her, who told her she could do whatever she aspired to, no matter what anyone else said. This is a message that truly resonates with many of us, and one we should try to spread to others.
I believe I am who I am because of the different cultures I have been exposed to having lived in Oman, India, China, U.S.A and Brazil; books I have read and for leaving room to be influenced, by keeping an open mind yet maintaining my core values. Almost all my life, I have chosen fields where women were a minority. However, I have never let this deter me. Focus, hard work, and dedication is all that is needed, and the constant negative force that comes from external factors needs to be zoned out. Some of us are lucky to have supportive people around us, while not all of us are as fortunate, however with the right attitude; there is no limit to what you can achieve.
Shereen managed to stick with whatever her goal was, and she pursued her dreams until they became a reality. She never let the expectations, or lack of expectations from the world around her, cause her to lose focus. Her dream is one we should all have: a message of hope, aspirations, inspiration and just a tad bit of rebellion.