The STEMinist

Girls need to see coding as a tool to express their thoughts and ideas.

Lama Ahmad

Class of 2019 

Social Research and Public Policy, 
NYU Abu Dhabi

“It’s going to be a shock—but in the best ways possible,” says Lama Ahmad, a junior from Dearborn, Michigan, who was sold on coming to NYU Abu Dhabi from the very first day of Candidate Weekend, when prospective freshmen are invited to the Abu Dhabi campus. The fact that most of her friends from high school stayed in Michigan didn’t deter her in the least. “I don’t compare myself to others,” says Lama, who identifies as Lebanese American and currently has three Emirati roommates. “I believe you have to do what makes you happy.” And happy is what Lama says she is, despite what anyone else might think.

Lama Ahmad

When asked what she tells friends back home about living in Abu Dhabi, she says, “People ask me all the time, ‘Is it safe?’ ‘How do you have to dress?’ ‘What do you have to do?’, and I tell them I feel very safe, and that they don’t have to do anything other than be themselves. In fact, Lama says she feels so much more comfortable at NYU Abu Dhabi than at home because the student body and faculty there are so open to different perspectives. “The diversity we have here at NYU Abu Dhabi is not like the diversity we have at home in the US,” Lama says. “Here, there is more of an understanding that we can learn so much from people who are different from ourselves, and besides that, we have some amazing talent here; we have a really good academic reputation.”

Making Technology Fun

Lama Ahmad

True to that reputation, Lama, who is fascinated by how society and technology intersect, is taking courses such as The Politics of Code, an interactive media class that looks at how software and technology are affecting our lives, and Tolerance and Relativism, which is a philosophy class that focuses on what it means to be tolerant of others. A true STEMinist, she’d like to get more girls interested in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

In fact, her Women in STEM (WeSTEM) student group recently hosted a code-writing workshop for local high school girls. “We tasked them with designing an emoji, and it got them thinking creatively and in a design perspective,” Lama says. “It was a silly prompt, but they had a lot of fun. Some of them had been exposed to coding before and they hadn’t really enjoyed it because they saw it as kind of boring. But this way, they were able to see it as a tool to express their own thoughts and ideas.”

Lama feels it’s important to get the girls to see the various applications of coding and not just the surface level and to show them that computer scientist stereotype is a misleading one. “When you say ‘computer scientist,’ it conjures up an image of some male sitting in his basement playing video games,” Lama says. “But once the girls see what coding is and what they can do with it, they realize how many opportunities there are for them in the field.” Her WeSTEM group even put together a video called “What Does a Scientist Look Like,” which breaks down the stereotypes about the once predominantly male field and highlights some NYU Abu Dhabi female STEM students.

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Spreading the Word

Self-expression, especially as it pertains to the social policies and laws surrounding interactive media, is another area Lama is intent on exploring. She recently traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to attend a WeCode conference hosted by Harvard’s Women in Computer Science group. “The conference brings together women from all over the US and Canada mostly for skill building, networking, and creating a community of women in technology,” she says. “Companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and many successful female CEO start-up founders were present to give inspiring keynotes and workshops on how best to navigate the challenges of the field and how to build support groups like WeSTEM.”

Lama traveled to Florence for January Term 2016 to take a course called Race and Ethnicity, which was taught by the former diplomat and now professor of sociology Ann Morning. “In three weeks, we explored the history of racism and contemporary migration in the context of Italy. I could really identify with the material as a daughter of Lebanese immigrants to the US and it allowed me to think critically about the way I have shaped my identity and the way that others might perceive it. It was also really satisfying to study something so relevant given the current political climate in the US.”

Despite admitting to having suffered some anxiety about traveling in Europe as a Muslim women, Lama still says she would recommend NYU Abu Dhabi to anyone who asks. “Anybody who has an open mind and wants to experience something completely new should come,” Lama says. “It’s going to make you question how you view the world, and I think that’s an important opportunity for every young adult.”