Reaching for the Stars – Reharna AbdelKareem

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Reharna AbdelKareem

How many of us can say we are part of the space industry? Reharna AbdelKareem can proudly assert this having studied in a field not many Asian women dabble in; Space Engineering. Reharna is the proud alumni of Kingston University and a recent Master’s graduate who has her sights set on the stars. Reharna sheds light on the fascinating world of Space Engineering and her academic and professional journey so far.

What does a career as a space engineer involve?

The field of space engineering is vast, it comprises of propulsion engineers, trajectory engineers and so forth. So generally, passion and discipline are key. Following that, a tolerance for Mathematics is advisable because there’s a great deal of it to come!

Is this something you have always wanted to do? Tell us about your journey towards this profession.

I worked very hard for my GCSE exams, it’s probably one of the most academically daunting times of my life. My nan wanted me to become a doctor so I committed myself to a total of 4 A-Levels; Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Biology. Unfortunately, I contracted pneumonia and this both physically and emotionally affected my studies. At the back of my mind I always wanted to be an astronaut, unfortunately there were no University courses offering “A Guide to Becoming an Astronaut”. However, I came across a course at Kingston University in Aerospace Engineering with Astronautics and Space Technology and instantly knew this was the course for me. It felt right.

During my first year at University I was introduced to a summer camp course where I met the German astronaut Gerhard Theille. After a lengthy conversation, it was clear that my chances of becoming an astronaut looked very slim due to my medical record.

Being the stubborn person that I am, I promised myself that despite not being able to fulfil my dream as an astronaut, I would one day send something into space!

In 2015 I graduated with a BEng (with honours) in space engineering and soon after was offered a scholarship at the International Space University (ISU) in Strasbourg, France. This included a job at the end of the scholarship with a satellites company. Due to personal circumstances, I was not able to accept the scholarship.

Reharna at her Master's graduation
Reharna at her Master’s graduation

However Kingston University found out I had declined the Scholarship abroad and as part of their new government scheme in Mechanical Engineering, I was awarded a second scholarship. This year I graduated with a Masters of Mechanical Engineering – or rather my 8 month old child graduated considering I was pregnant with him during my studies! In fact, he accepted an award on stage from the Vice Chancellor. It was a wonderful moment!

During my Bachelor’s Degree, I volunteered for the British Interplanetary Society as a data handler. It was the very first lecture I attended at the BIS that made me want to become a Space Insurance Underwriter – the thought of an astronaut went right out. I was offered a job, but due to my Masters I was unable to accept it.

As much as I enjoyed my studies I didn’t feel emotionally satisfied and decided to volunteer as a ward helper at the local hospital – it was a wonderful experience. Emotional roller coaster, but very rewarding as it helped me get through my Undergraduate final exams. Giving your time to your community is a must, and I learnt that very early on.

In between, I worked as the Academics Officer for the Students Union and was the President of the University’s Space Society. To keep the mind occupied but away from studies, I attended fencing classes once a week. I had the opportunity to compete at the Championships against other local Universities, but exam time was looming. It was great fun, nevertheless.

What is it about this profession that you love?

It captures my imagination and allows me to see the world differently. We take for granted the sky above us, we see the stars but very few know why they shine so bright, very few appreciate their true beauty. We know of other planets and finding a solution to explore them through the process of space travel and exploration is simply indescribable.

Space engineering, to me, is a way of exploring the contents of a treasure box that very few people know of. It’s very special.

It is rare to see Asians pursuing a career in the space industry, you have broken the mould! Do you want to see more Asian women in this field?

Thank you.

Yes, it’d be wonderful to see young ladies of all ethnicities pursue this field! It’s not a field that many women engage with so it’d be great to see that change in the near future.

How can we persuade them to consider it?

The world is moving very fast and it seems humans are done with exploring a great deal of earth, we’re moving onto other planets. It’s important to be part of that. I recommend the love of space, mathematics and engineering beginning at a young age for every child.

I’ve begun my YouTube channel, in which I will initially be providing:

  1. Mathematics and Engineering seminars and tutorials from A-Level to University Masters level. The tutorials will include mechanical, aerospace, space and defence and civil engineering topics.
  2. Hands-on tutorials teaching the basics of vehicle maintenance such as changing tyres, checking the water and oil etc.
  3. As we all enjoy a banter, I’ll be sharing the latest technology and engineering news whilst giving my opinion (and sharing others).
  4. I want to not only break the perception that engineers are nerds who simple aren’t normal people, but to show women that you can be a fashionista, wear make-up, be a mother, an engineer and change a car tyre. It’s all set to be great fun and a way to open the door to engineering, inspiring I hope.

How did your family and friends reacted to your chosen career?

Shocked, but very pleased! When you attend University as a child you assume you’re the only one going through the motions of University life. It’s not, your family feel your ups and downs and it was quite a journey for my own. No one in my family has been involved in the space industry so it’s great to do something different!

My friends loved the course title (Aerospace Engineering with Astronautics and Space Technology) and I was teased a lot, ‘what’s the name of your course again, Reharna?’ *laughs*

Obvious question…will you be flying into space some day? What are your plans for the future?

Never say never!

I hope to do a number of things in the near future and plans are in the pipeline. Watch this space!

Follow Reharna’s journey at:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6CKxtJndQUGhXAx4nXCueQ

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/spaceengineer_reharna/

Facebook: SpaceEngineer-Reharna

Twitter: @ReharnaSpaceEng

 

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