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Celebrating Women in STEM: Nabilah Al-Tunisi

Nabilah Al-Tunisi walked into the male-dominated oil world, and became a chief engineer at the largest oil and gas company in the world.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think Aramco would ask me to be chief engineer,” Al-Tunisi said, in a 2016 interview with Forbes. “To become chief engineer of the world’s largest oil and gas company, with engineering being traditional and conservative all over the world, especially in oil and gas, it’s a huge responsibility and a privilege.”

Al-Tunisi was raised primarily in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Though the western world generally regards Saudi Arabia as a country where women are not allowed to pursue an education, Al-Tunisi’s family was different. When she finished high school, her parents encouraged her to enroll in college in Oregon, where her brother was a student.

Al-Tunisi finished her bachelor of science degree in electrical and computer engineering in 1980, from the University of Portland, and her master of science in computer engineering at Oregon State University in 1982.

“I had two homes: Saudi Arabia, my country, but also the U.S., because that’s where I became me,” Al-Tunisi told Forbes.

After graduation, Al-Tunisi originally sought a career in the tech industry, and even turned down a job at Apple –a relatively new company at the time.

But just as her family had supported her education, they also helped her find her true career. Al-Tunisi’s uncle suggested she apply at Saudi Aramco —an oil company looking for IT help.

Al-Tunisi started at Aramco, developing software to help with oil supplies and oil reservoir simulations. She’s been with the company for over 30 years now working as a consultant and project manager, director of technology, and general manager.

As GM of Northern Area Project Management, Al-Tunisi was responsible for programs worth $41 billion. Finally, in 2015, Al-Tunisi was promoted to Chief Engineer at Aramco.

Al-Tunisi has received plenty of recognition for her contributions to a male-dominated field. She was named one of 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in 2006, and inducted into Oregon State University’s Academy of Distinguished Engineers in 2010.

Last year, Al-Tunisi was the keynote speaker at the Arab Conference at Harvard, where she described Aramco’s hydrocarbon research. This meeting is the largest Arab conference in the U.S., and is held every year to showcase the talent and ingenuity of the Arab people.

Today, Al-Tunisi continues to work with Saudi Aramco, providing a beacon of hope for all women in STEM, and a glimpse of what is possible for women in engineering if they persevere.

In a 2007 interview with Arab News, Al-Tunisi said, “Women entering a man’s world is very challenging and daunting anywhere. I am very encouraged that finally we see light down the tunnel.”

Are you interested in empowering women in the STEM fields? The Women in Science (Wi-Sci) group wants you! Meetings every Monday in the Women’s Center, 2 – 3 p.m.

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