MONROVIA, Montserrado – Last month, when 21-year-old Shari Raji graduated from the National University of Malaysia and returned home, she was not only the youngest graduate of her university, but she also became the youngest female engineer in Liberia.
At just 14 years of age, Raji had graduated from St. Teresa’s Convent High School in 2011 and enrolled at the University of Liberia to study mining engineering. During her first year, she came across the Sime Darby-funded scholarship to study in Malaysia.
In an interview with The Bush Chicken, Raji said she completed her studies in January at the age of 20 and traveled back for her official commencement ceremony in October. She now works at the oil palm plantation company as a process engineer, and as part of the scholarship requirements, she will work there for at least two years.
Raji’s accomplishment is a rarity in Liberia, where science and technology fields receive little interest from students, let alone women.
At the University of Liberia, in 2015, the College of Business and Public Administration graduated ten times the number of students as did the College of Science and Technology. And even in the College of Science and Technology, female students currently make up about a quarter of all students.
When it comes specifically to mechanical engineering, the figures are even more dismal for female students. Tubman University in Harper, Maryland just graduated its first mechanical engineering female student in 2016 and the University of Liberia does not yet have a mechanical engineering program, although it plans to start such a program soon.
Edith Tarplah, the president of the Liberia Society of Women Engineers, said a contributing factor to the scarcity of females in the engineering field is a lack of interest – not enough young women are deciding to enter these programs.
To break the trend, she said her organization has initiated annual career fairs for female students, motivating them to pursue their dreams in engineering by having them meet other professionals in the field.
“We also lobby for jobs for female graduates and internship opportunities for those in school,” she said.
She said with career development programs being initiated by her organization and others in the country, she expects the country to soon have more female engineering graduates in the coming years.
As for Raji, she plans to go further, with a goal of pursuing a graduate degree in renewable engineering.
“You know petroleum is bad for the environment, so the world is moving to renewable energy; and to keep Liberia in the loop of that, we need to have people trained in that field, I want to be one of those people,” she said.
She said although pursuing a career in engineering is challenging, it can be done with commitment and perseverance.
Featured photo courtesy of Shari Raji