Interview with Moroccan Aerospace Engineering Student Soukaina Tachfouti

Maryam and Nivaal Rehman | Toronto, Canada Recently, we had the pleasure of interviewing our friend Soukaina from Morocco, about her journey in STEM and her participation in the Tabip Summer Science Academy in Turkey this summer. She is absolutely incredible, and her passion for STEM is truly inspiring both to us, and we hope to girls around the world. We first met Soukaina during the Dream Big Princess Project in 2018, and she was one of our fellow filmmakers. Can you begin by telling us a bit about yourself and the program you participated in? My name is Soukaina Tachfouti, and I am from Morocco. I will be starting my third year in university in September. I am majoring in Aerospace engineering, and I’m based in Rabat, Morocco. This July I got a chance to participate in the Tabip Summer Science Academy which is a program for undergraduate and graduate students from all over the world. It’s for people who study engineering and are interested in natural and applied sciences, and it’s a chance for people who have a particular interest in working in the aerospace and aviation areas. We had a chance to have classes there, and attempt working with aviation and control systems theory, then visited some of the most prestigious companies in Turkey that deal with the aerospace industry. How long was the program and where in Turkey did you visit? Istanbul Technical Giving a Speech at the In Turkish Aerospace University . Closing Ceremony Industries, Ankara It was an eighteen-day program and it was split between tourism and programming. We got a chance to explore many different parts of Turkey, their traditions and the culture of Turkey. We went to four cities with our main city being Istanbul. We had most of the lectures at Istanbul Technical University, and then, we went to Kayseri where we had workshops. We went to Cappadocia for a cultural visit, in Ankara we had some companies visit us and then we visited important buildings like the Presidential palace and the Parliamentary buildings they have there. What was your favourite part about the entire program? I think it’s always the same thing with these kinds of international programs. I love meeting people who come from different backgrounds. There were 9 countries represented in this program. There were people from the U.S., the U.K., Poland, Ethiopia and Morocco - it was a mix of all the continents. I got to know about the cultures of all these countries and then at the same time I got to know how much the aerospace industry is developing in these places, while making connections with people from all over the world. So I would say this was the most interesting part for me because I got to learn so much about all these countries, how much they are working in the aerospace industry and this was really the thing I liked the most. Were there majority boys or girls in the program? I was very disappointed because we were only two girls out of the sixteen participants. It was definitely very intimidating at first because there were times when I felt very out of place. All of the professors, and professionals from the companies that we met were men. There were times when I felt that this is not where I’m supposed to be. I was also the youngest participant, which also made it challenging for me at first. I remember calling a friend of mine on the first day and starting to cry. I told her, “I don’t know what I’m doing here,” because I felt that everyone knew more than me and was more experienced. I think that we definitely need more girls to be in STEM so that we have more examples and role models for us. This will make us more encouraged to lead and participate. Who was someone new that you met, and what really fascinated you about their culture and experiences? I had a friend who was the first person that I talked to. We kind of got along during the whole academy. His name is Mauricio, he is from Bolivia but he is now studying in Germany. He is pursuing a Bachelor in Communications and Nuclear Science. It was very interesting for me because I met someone for the first time who was from Bolivia. I got to know more about the country, and it was cool to learn about his decision to move to Germany. And also, I met a girl from Syria who lives in Turkey and she also joined the academy. It was a very interesting experience because you meet people from so many different backgrounds, and I was kind of overwhelmed. There are so many things that you don’t know and you learn so much when you meet new people. Was this your first time in Turkey? Yes, this was my first time in Turkey and I really loved it. Turkey is an amazing country and you must know, because you’ve been there! The thing that I really liked about Turkey was that it is very safe at night for girls. It’s easy to go out, explore and come back at very late hours of the night and nobody would bother me or harass me. It was totally safe, and so I was able to discover so many places. My go-to tourist spots are restaurants, and it was cool to meet with the locals rather than the tourists. I’m a potato lover, and so I really enjoyed a dish called Kumpir. It’s a baked potato which they put cheese on, along with other toppings like vegetables and seafood. It’s very tasty. And also, I liked the sweets very much because they are so tasty and addictive. While you were in Turkey, which building or location’s architecture that fascinated you the most? I would say in Istanbul I really liked the Blue Mosque. The architecture there is really fascinating with all of the tiles, and I really liked it because of all that. Also, the architecture in Cappadocia is very interesting and unique. It was the first time that I saw actual houses that were from the Bronze Age. It was my first time coming in contact with something from that very ancient time. How are you going to use the knowledge that you learned during this program in your own studies? Yes, that’s a very good question because most of the courses that we took in Istanbul Technical University were about systems control theory, and I will actually be taking a course next semester on this, so I will be more than ready to take that on. Throughout this program, I gained so much knowledge, and practical experience. I got to work with actual drones, experiment with them and make sure they worked. So, this is definitely the major thing that will help me in my studies right now. Also, because I got to experiment in real time, I got to research and work on mechanism pendulums and helicopters. These are things that I have not yet had the chance to do at my university, so this will definitely be a great addition in my studies and it will help me get prepared in the right way. Why do you think it’s important for girls to go into STEM fields and why are you passionate about Aerospace engineering? I think STEM is surrounding us - I always say that. We use STEM in our daily lives. Mathematics, Technology, Computer Science are all used in every industry nowadays and it’s very important for girls to get more involved in STEM because today, less than 30% of graduates around the world in STEM fields are women. So this is very imbalanced, and we need to get more girls involved in the field because being a STEM major does not necessarily mean that you have to stick to STEM only. You can be anything else, and combine that with technology. You can be an artist, or a fashion designer - whatever, and STEM exists in every industry. Girls definitely need to be more courageous, they need to let go of the fears, and even if everyone says that they can’t go into STEM because it’s very hard, they need to know that no, it’s not that hard. If you put hard work into it, like you do in every other area, you will be able to succeed and do it. We have to let go of the fears. We have to teach girls that bravery is important, and nobody is perfect. You will make mistakes along the way, and you will fail because that is how life works, but you will also be able to surpass all that and you will succeed.

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© 2020 by Maryam and Nivaal Rehman