Following a dream

Meet Safa Al Mahrooqi – a young Omani mechanical engineer – whose choices in life have made her a success she is today…

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Safa Al Mahrooqi – a 23-year-old Omani from Adam studied at the International College for Engineering and Management in Muscat and then went to the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) in the UK for a year, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. Safa joined BAE Systems as a graduate engineer on October 2015 and is currently working in her second role/placement at Warton, UK, working on Typhoon safety support. The young lady stuck to her choice – of being a Mechanical Engineer – a field not many women in the Sultanate opt for. The dream turned to reality because of her determination and hard work, proving that if you stick to your choices, success is not far away. Excerpts:

Tell us a little bit about your family….

“I come from Adam and I have a family of seven sisters and five brothers. My father is almost 80 years old now and he did not have the opportunity to attend school. My mother, however, did manage to attend school till the sixth grade. Despite this, they both had big dreams for all of us and really encouraged us to study and do well in school.”

Are any of your brothers and sisters graduates?

“Yes, two of my brothers are engineers – one a Safety Engineer and the other a Technical Engineer; one of my sisters is an English teacher, one a nurse and my other sister is in human resources. My younger sister is studying Geology at Sultan Qaboos University.”

What inspired you to become an engineer?

“My father actually wanted me to be a teacher and my mother hoped that I would be a doctor some day. But, since the age of 12, I always dreamt of being a well engineer. This was because every time my brother returned from his drilling site, I would see him in his coveralls and hard hat and it excited me. I was sure that this was what I wanted to do when I grew up. As he was a Safety Engineer, I thought I could be a Well Engineer and work with him on the same site. When I shared this dream with my parents, they were surprised, but continued to be supportive and encouraged me to look ahead and achieve my ambition.”

Besides the fact that your brother inspired you to opt for engineering, how did you know that you could do this successfully?

“I always loved Math and used to top my class through school in this subject. I was weak in Physics. So I figured that if I chose Math, Physics, Chemistry and Biology in high school, I could strengthen my knowledge in Physics and then apply to a university for an engineering degree.
“PDO was running a scholarship programme for high achievers in Adam and I won the best student award. I was offered a scholarship to apply to any college of my choice in the subject of my preference. I applied to the International College for Engineering and Management in Muscat, as they offered a degree in Well/Drilling Engineering.The move to Muscat was easy, as my brother lives in Muscat and I was able to stay at his home with his family.”

So how did you go to the UK?

“I worked hard for my degree in Mechanical Engineering (Well Engineering). When I topped my year, I applied to the Ministry of Higher Education for the opportunity to complete the last year of my degree at UCLAN. The International College of Engineering and Management has an arrangement with UCLAN for student exchange if you score higher than a 3 point GPA. I was delighted when the MOHE granted me this scholarship and I was able to head off to the UK to complete my degree.”

How did your family react to your moving to the UK?

“My family was really supportive. They saw how excited I was about studying in another country where it was cold and there was lots of rain. However, once I got there, in a month or so, I missed my family and Oman terribly. I was lucky that my dearest friend was also with me in the UK and this helped me concentrate on my studies and enjoy my time away from my home. My family too encouraged me to continue to work hard and not give up.”

As a married woman, how did your husband react?

“I was recently married in August 2015. My husband is a businessman based in Adam. He truly believes in me and has been as encouraging as the rest of my family.”

What about the broader community of family and friends? What was their reaction?

“My father always said that I should follow my dreams. That’s why I was really not concerned about what others thought, because those nearest and dearest to me had only words of encouragement for me, including my husband.”

How does a mechanical engineer, specialising in Well Drilling get employed by BAE Systems?

“UCLAN is listed as one of the universities for BAE Systems’ campus recruitment programmes. I was selected to attend a presentation by BAE Systems at Warton about the company and the exciting use of engineering and technology. On the second day, those of us who attended were given a project to tackle and a questionnaire asking us why we would like to work at BAE Systems. My reply was simple. I wrote that I wanted to work with BAE Systems, not in the UK, but in Adam, Oman, which was my home.”

“After two rounds of interviews, I was selected by BAE Systems for their graduate internship programme, which meant that I would have to be based in the UK for at least a year. When I started at BAE Systems, everything was different. Just seeing the way the Typhoon was designed, the technology – everything was new and so exciting!

“The internship programme covers three roles – Employee Service Engineering, Safety Engineering and Integration Engineering. I have completed the first and am currently working with the Typhoon Safety support team.”

How long will you have to stay in the UK and when will you finally return to Oman?

“I will be posted in Oman, inshallah, by June 2017, at the new base at Adam.”

What are your views on a career, as a young Omani professional woman? “A lot of girls in Oman want to study and have a good job. They would like to drive a nice car, own nice things and be financially comfortable. In the old days, only certain professions were considered acceptable for women. So, you could be a teacher or do business. Science or subjects like engineering and medicine were only for men. Even today, some girls finish their degrees, but then they have to sit at home.
“I feel times are changing in Oman and women want more. Parents too are encouraging girls to study further and get jobs. As women, we need to explore our career ambitions, whatever they might be.”

What advice would you give to young Omanis aspiring to be engineers? “Engineering is not about getting dirty, working with tools and in factories. Engineering is about technology, design and creating new things. But as a course of study, engineering is not easy. You need to work hard and do your best. Don’t give up! Follow your ambition. Oman needs engineers and we need to build Oman with our own hands.”

You have achieved your ambition of being an engineer. What next?

“My father always said to me, ‘make me proud’. I want to be the Technical Manager at the Adam air base and who knows, maybe one day, fly a Typhoon!”