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When Haya Daghlas moved from the United Arab Emirates to Melbourne with her two small children and husband to pursue her Masters, little did she know that two years later she would have graduated with a prestigious engineering award and with first class honours.

She comes from a civil engineering background, having completed her undergraduate degree at The University of Jordan. During her undergraduate years, she completed an internship in Germany undertaking work in fluid mechanics, and after graduation published a paper on reusing water treatment sludge as a construction material. She also worked at Emaar Group, a leading global property developer and later moved to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to work mainly with an environmental consultancy in project management.

Seven years after finishing her Bachelor degree and working in the industry for a while, she unearthed one very important piece of information about herself: she was a civil engineer veering towards project management. Subsequently she enrolled in a Master’s degree in engineering project management at The University of Melbourne, where she is now a PhD candidate in the School of Engineering.

Haya then came to an impasse after working in the environment and project management field for five years in The UAE. As an engineer, she says that you reach a point where you feel that the technical capabilities that you have are not enough. “While I was doing my master’s degree, I did an engineering leadership course that teaches engineers soft skills that we mainly don’t have or we don’t know how to develop them,” she said.

“I was awarded a prize, it’s the W Julian King Prize 2016, for my assignment, and I feel now I’ve come to this point where I’ve combined my technical skills with my soft skills. And this is really important if you’re working specifically in the project management context,” she said.

Haya Dahglas was awarded the W Julian King Prize 2016 for her research in engineering leadership.

In engineering, teams are important, says Haya because in engineering, especially civil engineering, you don’t work alone. “You’re always with a team, so you do need these soft skills on how to deal with people, how to deal with conflict management,” she said.

The development of soft skills is imperative for engineering students, particularly for the university to work transition. The truth universally acknowledged is that postgraduate students have a lot of contact hours and spend a lot of time studying. “Suddenly out of nowhere you have to join a company and be a team member,” said Haya. “This is where soft skills come in again. You have to combine your technical expertise with soft skills. This transition is really important in terms of how I can convert all the technical aspects that I’ve learned at university, in the workplace.”

“This is where the challenge is. During university, we complete three months of training before we graduate to ensure a smoother transition. Engineering or civil engineering is a wide spectrum. You can work anywhere from construction to transportation to water and some people struggle to find where they fit,” said Haya.

This is why Haya says being both a transactional and a transformational leader is important, as when you delve deeper into the industry you will find that you need to understand the different types of employees and how they best work and foster their strengths for situations that are the most relevant to them.

Perhaps it is her impeccable leadership skills and command for project management that has assisted with her success in managing her life outside of study and work. Haya is also a mother of two young daughters, Zeina and Lena, six years and three years respectively – although they were 4 and 15 months respectively when they moved from the UAE to Melbourne. Doing a full-time Master’s degree meant that she had to be at university almost every day and sometimes during the weekend so that she could complete her assignments.

“Doing that with kids is huge,” she said. “I came to a point where I asked myself – what was I thinking? This is too much. [My kids] were doing full-time at day care and my husband would drop them off and pick them up and I saw them at home. Whenever I was home there was no studying, I was just committed to the children.” I could never have achieved what I achieved without the unconditional and continuous support from my husband.

“I was really under pressure during the first semester. I was tired and did not know where I stood. There was a lot going on. I was in a new country and I had two kids. I went through my first semester and I received first class honours and I had this push and I realised that I can do this,” she said.

When I started my second semester, I felt more confident and could manage my time better than the first semester. I think it’s all about managing time and having the support around.”

Her resilience is also inspiring her daughters, such as her older daughter who beamed at Haya’s graduation ceremony, expressing to her mother that “if mother can do it, I can definitely do it!”

“There is no such thing like there is a hard subject to pass, or it’s a hard exam. I don’t believe there is such a thing. It is all about time management. If you’re lagging, you won’t be able to make it, you will find time if you manage it correctly.”

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While in Jordan, where more than 35 percent of the engineers are females and this number increases every year, in Australia it does seem to be a little more male dominated. Statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016 for instance, indicated that of those enrolled in tertiary programs, 1.4 percent of women were enrolled in engineering compared to 14 percent of men. “In this field, when I came here, I had a few people surprised to see that I was in an engineering field,” said Haya. “I was not personally offended but I was offended for women in general. There are really intelligent ladies in the engineering field but I do find that over here it is more male dominated.”

Haya Daghlas with her husband and two daughters in the grounds of The University of Melbourne.

“Engineering, in general is misunderstood in terms of you having to always be working with typical engineering corporates or those in the field. Engineering is about innovation, solving problems, contributing to the community, so I really advise people that before they go to talk to people at the university and in the industry, they should know exactly what they will be encountering and it is not purely a male thing at all.”

Fast forward to her graduation and Haya completed her program with first class honours, an acknowledgement for her inclusion on the Dean’s Honours List and a place in a PhD program. “I want to come to a point where I can make a change, whether it is within a project management or personal context,” said Haya.

“I’m interested in homelessness issues, encouraging more females to join engineering industries, and I just want to use some of the skills that I have to contribute more to the community. I am also looking to learn more, and therefore I am looking to join an exciting project so that I can learn in return.”

Haya’s international experience is invaluable when considering Melbourne’s status as one of the world’s most liveable cities, but she suggests that work needs to be done on high rise buildings, which are very prominent not only in the inner city, but also apartment buildings that are cropping up on the outskirts of the city. High rise buildings, says Haya, could put pressure on our infrastructure and could affect the quality of living in apartments due to the small size of the rooms – some of which have no windows and include an open plan kitchen which could affect the air quality of the space.

“I think we need to regulate this more and I’m sure they’re working on this now to get more quality living within high rise buildings,” said Haya.

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As Haya prepares for the coming months, she remains imbued with a sense of positivity not only for her future, but also for the future of female representation in engineering, and for those in engineering. “First of all I want to tell people to do something that you love so that whenever you’re weak you’re still motivated to do it. And manage your time. There is no such thing like a hard subject to pass, or a hard exam – I don’t believe it’s such a thing.”