Video report by ITV Wales reporter Kate Lewis
A Swansea engineer is helping to inspire other women and black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) science students after forming a pioneering support network.
Dr Youmna Mouhamad first moved to the UK from France to study a masters in physics, but out of 20 people on her course, she was one of only two women and the only person of colour.
Within that environment – and like many from minority groups – she says she struggled to reach her full potential. It’s known as the attainment gap – a problem that is all too common.
“It’s not that the students are not able to perform – the environment doesn’t create the right environment for them to succeed,” Dr Mouhamad said.
“My grade was significantly lower than what I had been doing previously and I didn’t know who to speak to.”
Dr Mouhamad went on to secure a place on a PhD course at Swansea University, where she carried out groundbreaking research into printed electronics.
But the challenges she had faced along the way were never far from her mind, and she was determined to use her experiences to help pave the way for other women and BAME students in science.
She established Swansea’s College of Engineering BAME network, which aims to educate people about equality, create change and empower youngsters.
“We need to get more comfortable speaking about race,” Dr Mouhamad said.
“Our institutions are very comfortable speaking about gender equality, but the simple word of ‘race’ can really create lots of tension in a room.
“By having this platform – and people hearing what we did in Swansea University, and what we did with the network and how it’s been welcomed by everybody – it might inspire other people to find their voices.”
Dr Mouhamad hopes the network will mean no student at Swansea will feel the way she did.
“We can’t solve things we don’t speak about,” she added.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing what the network is going to become.”
Dr Mouhamad left Swansea University three months ago after being awarded an engineering enterprise fellowship.
Her innovation is a simple concept – an applicator to facilitate the maintenance of afro hair. A lack of diversity in terms of both race and gender means this type of product does not exist.
“There is nothing out there that addresses that problem – why is that?” she said.
“That’s where diversity becomes really important. You know, we speak of diversity, but also it affects our innovation; creativity. I believe more and more that engineers, scientists, physicists – we are actually here to impact our community and society.”
Dr Mouhamad is a finalist in the Woman in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) category of this year’s Womenspire awards
The awards celebrate inspirational Welsh women, with the winners due to be revealed next week.