Maryam Alahmar: "Mines is a place where women can be part of finding solutions for grand challenges facing society now, and they can receive all the knowledge, resources and mentoring they need."
Why did you choose to come to Mines? What have you enjoyed most about being here?
I chose to come to Mines because it is the home of the only graduate degree program in Underground Construction and Tunnel Engineering in North America. The program develops new ideas and technologies for advancing civil infrastructure, including spaces and structures for working, living and playing, and tunnels for transit, roads, water, utilities and energy. Succeeding in a male-dominated program like underground construction and tunneling is a way to serve as a role model to encourage young girls and women to enter STEM and change the world. Moreover, Mines is one of a few universities in the U.S. that offers approved grand challenges in the engineering program, which is sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering, which is part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and is the most prestigious body to which an engineer can be elected. The program prepares students to become global problem solvers and tackles problems facing society in this century. I have the honor to be the first and only graduate student in the U.S. so far admitted to this program. Through this prestigious program, I gained the knowledge to solve sociotechnical problems by employing technical expertise in engineering. I truly feel I have found my passion and what I have always wanted to do which is improve the everyday lives of people. Furthermore, the Society of Women Engineers CSM section is the largest nationally, promoting the university's goals to enhance diversity in STEM and opportunities for women and girls.
Tell us about something you're working on right now that you find exciting, fulfilling or challenging?
I’m planning to attend Global Innovation Lab for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this coming fall. The camp is a six-day innovation lab that is going to be during UN General Assembly, to spark entrepreneurial solutions to the SDGs. I’m hoping this camp will help me polish my sustainability skills and help me develop innovative solutions to contribute to solving global challenges. There is a lot of research going on at Mines to provide sustainable solutions for grand challenges facing society now. Mines could be a global leader in driving truly sustainable futures and I sincerely would like to be part of it.
Have you done an internship or co-op or been in a professional job while at Mines? Tell us who you worked for and what you were doing. What stands out?
I worked as a part-time tunnel engineer for Aldea engineering services LLC. Aldea specializes in the design and construction of underground structures and has worked on some of the most challenging and important underground infrastructure projects in North America. Some of my duties included preparing engineering deliverables, such as drawings, reports, specifications and scope studies. Collect, assimilate and manage data for engineering work. Prepare engineering calculations following standard methods and principles used in similar engineering analyses. The entire experience has been awesome as I got the chance to work with very talented engineers who support me and push me to grow. Fun fact, Aldea has over eight offices across U.S. and Canada. Denver office team members are all Orediggers including our regional manager. We have Mines alumni in other offices of Aldea as well.
What communities, groups or organizations—on- and off-campus—are important to you and why?
With a passion for supporting fellow female students and inspiring girls to enter STEM, I joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Since then, I have been so impressed by the big support that Mines SWE collegiate section offers to the section’s members and to the public community including offering networking opportunities and professional and leadership skill development to the members; and inviting high school girls to explore different engineering disciplines and help them to navigate the best major that fits their passion and their skills. Mines SWE collegiate section gives me the time and the chance to meet women from all the different engineering disciplines and broadens my horizon. In return, I wanted to help Mines SWE section with its mission. As an active member, I volunteered at outreach events such as Mines’ Girls Lead the Way Conference (GLW) and SWE graduate school panel. I also served as a judge at an elementary school science fair.
The volunteer work with SWE lead to a job offer from the office of Women in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (WISEM) at Mines. The opportunity includes working with faculty and administrators to provide impactful programming supporting women graduate students. Mines is committed to increasing the number of women who aspire to be future engineers, scientists and business leaders, including those who come to school with the goal of making the world a better place. Women Graduate Student (WGS) group is a program created to meet this commitment. The program address issues specific to women graduate students. I serve as the women's graduate student assistant and a member of the (WGS) executive board/planning team. We provide activities that bring together women graduate students, faculty and administrators as well as external representatives from industry. Events hosted over the academic year foster community amongst graduate women across all disciplines of engineering and applied sciences. The program supports the growth, development and well-being of women graduate students and works to overcome obstacles commonly experienced by graduate women.
Besides my work with WISEM, I have served in multiple positions to advocate for women and girls, enhance diversity and inclusion in STEM and seek to end bias and discrimination. For the past three years, I served as a certified peer educator. Peer Education is a program at Mines that started in 2019. I'm trained and certified through a national program as a peer educator who can act as a positive role model to the Mines community. As nationally certified peer educators, we create and lead useful, and accessible activities to benefit the wellness of our peers on campus. For example, I organized and facilitated workshops and activities related to healthy relationships, sexual violence and dating abuse prevention. Violence against women particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence is a major public health problem and a violation of women's human rights. Preventing and responding to violence against women requires a multi-sectoral approach. The education sector has an important role to play, and peer education program is effective at increasing knowledge and attitudes toward dating violence, as well as bystander skills.
What would you tell someone interested in joining your academic program or Mines in general?
Seeking a degree is like hiking a fourteener. It could be a challenging experience, and this is the beauty of it. Everyone starts at the trailhead with the ultimate goal of reaching the summit. But how you live the experience of reaching the summit, is totally up to you. Some people adopt a constant pace up to the top. Some like to admire what the journey offers them, so they take a few stops looking for cool rocks or drink from a creek while they keep their eyes on the summit. Some people hesitate and think of giving it up several meters from the summit until other hikers pull them up and encourage them to continue. In the end, everyone will enjoy the view from the summit. But you, only you decide whether the summit is what really matters during the journey.
My experience at Mines is more than just a degree (The Summit). At Mines, while I am working on my Ph.D., I pursue my passion for supporting fellow female students and inspiring girls to enter STEM. Moreover, I‘m a scholar in three different programs that enrich my academic knowledge. While I am seeking an academic degree and enroll in different academic programs, I stepped into the industry and took the chance to apply whatever I have been learning at Mines to real projects. At Mines, I learned the journey is what really matters not only the summit.
One more thing, despite the fact that the number of women entering STEM fields is growing, women still doubt their ability to be a game-changer in their chosen field. Therefore, I would like to tell future Orediggers, especially, women students that Mines is a place where women can be part of finding solutions for grand challenges facing society now, and they can receive all the knowledge, resources and mentoring they need. At Mines, you will be successful no matter what you do.
What's your favorite thing to do outside of class and coursework? How do you unwind, manage stress, find fulfillment, etc.?
I‘m outdoorsy. I like to hike, camp, run and do stand-up paddle boarding. I’m also a yoga person. By the way, Mines offers awesome SUP yoga sessions and Elisabeth is an awesome instructor. I also like to travel and explore new places and meet new people and journal my adventures.
Tell us something about you that most people would be surprised to learn?
I have been to the Arctic Circle. I hit the line with my friend at 2:30 am. It was during February, very cold and very early in the morning. I was so excited… only for a few minutes. Then suddenly, I got an awkward feeling that I’m going to die there, and nobody can save us. I couldn’t ignore that feeling until we reached the nearest village. I didn’t tell anybody about it even my friend who was with me :D