NEWS / Blog / Making STEM attractive to all


17 OCT 2022


Aya Abdulghaffar of AECOM shares her experiences as a STEM Ambassador


hen I started writing this blog about how we can make Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), and our industry, more attractive I could not distance myself from my own personal journey to get to where I am today. As a female from the Middle East, I kept coming back to the vital encouragement I received as a teenager which helped me understand what I wanted to be.

Most young people do not associate STEM subjects with something both practical and fun, often considering it too difficult or boring, and sometimes even ‘nerdy’. However, the lack of these crucial skills within the workforce, as well as a lack of students on courses in STEM at all levels, mean we need to do better at encouraging people to consider these subjects.

I am now a STEM Ambassador, and I understand that young people require role models, mentorship and guidance through the most critical period in their lives – something which was also reflected in my own personal experiences.

Clearing common misconceptions around STEM subjects, and making them even more appealing by demonstrating the positive impact of a related career, can have a huge impact on young people. Aya Abdulghaffar, ACE Emerging Professional

My father was my own role model who spent his whole life researching the life-span of airplane engines and its impact on the aviation industry. This sparked an active interest in engineering from a young age. I was fortunate to have guidance and support from my parents – this isn’t the case for everyone – and it more than made up for the lack of interest from my schools and the education system more generally around my ambitions of pursuing a STEM career.

I firmly believe that by clearing common misconceptions around STEM subjects, and making them even more appealing by demonstrating the positive impact of a related career, it can have a huge impact on young people.

Project based learning from educators is a great way of achieving this. By sharing the context of what is taught in school, and demonstrating how it will solve problems for people and society in the future, it can create a palpable sense of purpose and achievement.

However, we need to also ensure that we are offering the full range of STEM topics and that the education system does not work against us by creating the conditions for future success. For example, at my all-girls school A Level physics was not offered as there weren’t enough students interested in the subject – this would most likely had been different in a mixed environment. While I found a way around by taking physics at another educational institution, I can’t help but feel that this situation will have impacted on others, who are perhaps less driven, in their choices.

We need to nurture an interest in STEM from a young age through better representation within the industry and supporting educators to encourage pupils from all backgrounds. In both my previous role as a senior technology consultant, and now as a project manager, I make sure that I provide opportunities through shadowing. As a female from an Ethnic Minority, I want to change the perception of STEM subjects. I even take this into my personal life, encouraging conversations around the role of science and its importance to our day-to-day.

Find out more about ACE’s Building Inclusivity campaign.

Aya Abdulghaffar is project manager at AECOM and a member of ACE’s Emerging Professionals group.

Aya Abdulghaffar

Aya Abdulghaffar

Aya is a member of ACE's Emerging Professionals and a STEM Ambassador.