My Journey as a CEE Fellow: Empowering Women in STEM in Iraq

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As a Kurdish woman living in Iraq, my life has been marked by the constant struggle for stability and equal opportunities. Despite the challenges, I've been fortunate enough to have positive experiences that have shaped my life and perspective.

One of the most transformative experiences of my life was being selected as a Community Engagement Exchange (CEE) Fellow under the theme of “Open and Participatory Government” after the pandemic. This prestigious fellowship equips emerging civil society leaders with the expertise, resources, and skills to support resilient communities around the world.

I was honored to be the only participant from Iraq to be selected from a global pool of more than 4,400 applicants from over 89 countries around the world and part of the first cohort of CEE. Over the course of three months, I completed my US practicum in Washington, D.C., where I built lasting relationships with organizations advancing access to quality education.

During my time in the US, I was hosted by the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) in Washington DC, where I learned about their programs for creating STEM experiences that are as diverse as the world we live in. I had the chance to participate in training sessions on gender equitable and culturally responsive practices for engaging girls and youth in STEM learning, including topics such as stereotypes, STEM identity, role models, and collaboration.

I also engaged in learning about NGCP’s work with the National Citizen and Community Science Library Network. Being part of the NGCP community made me realize that it is a place where gender, skin color, and race make no difference!

During my practicum, I had the opportunity to meet with NGCP partners and learn from their programs. I was able to visit The Franklin Institute and the Center of Science Education and Research in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I also led a learning circle focused on the barriers to STEM in my country and my personal experiences.

One of the highlights of my experience was being part of the Lights On Afterschool event at NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C., where the A Alliance organized a very engaging, productive, and entertaining event. It was a great step forward in keeping youth safe and engaged in high-quality opportunities.

My practicum concluded with a talk on Gender Equity for Kurdish Women in STEM Education at George Washington University. The seminar shed light on the challenges that women face in STEM and highlighted opportunities to improve in the context of Kurdistan and Iraq. Our discussions explored the skills necessary to develop greater access to opportunities in the country’s dynamic STEM sector.

My experience with CEE and NGCP has given me the tools to work towards a more equitable future for women in STEM in my country. Despite the challenges we face, I am optimistic that young women in STEM will be at the forefront of bringing transformative and dynamic change to Iraq.

Gulan Gawdan headshot - woman with long dark hair wearing tan blazer

Gulan Gawdan

Gulan Gawdan serves as Library Director at the American University of Kurdistan, and has a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from University of Duhok. She is committed to supporting empowerment opportunities for young Kurds and Iraqis in STEM. Gulan’s research interests include quality education in ICT fields and STEM jobs. She is an advocate for the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) quality education.

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