NAYA | Rana Chmaitelly: The engineer who brought robotics to classrooms, women and refugees

With the aim to protect her kids and the future generation from being addicted to the TV, internet, and electronic games, she started a club for little engineers.
by Maria Matar

19 February 2019 | 15:04

Source: by Annahar

  • by Maria Matar
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 19 February 2019 | 15:04

This photo shows Rana Chmaitelly with some of her international students. (HO)

BEIRUT: For Rana Chmaitelly, it all began with something as simple as selling chewing-gum and chocolate to schoolmates and making small motor-boats with siblings. Now, she is not only a successful engineer but also an academic with a revolutionary plan that turned into the future generation’s reality.

Even as a child—from organizing cleaning campaigns for her neighborhood to selling candy to her classmates—she naturally sported a leader-like charisma and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Nothing, however, moved her like the machines’ clicking sounds as she was making little motorboats with her brothers. 

“The smell of oily machine parts allures me; let’s just say I’m attracted to machines,” Chmaitelly told Annahar.

She studied Mechanical Engineering at the American University of Beirut (AUB), laying the foundation for her dreams. Making use of every second that goes by, Chmaitelly began pursuing her dream right at the moment of her graduation. While taking pictures in her cap and gown, her eyes were fixated on the photographer’s equipment, and she thought to herself: “Where can I meet the importer of these machines?” She asked, he answered, and that opened the first door.

She reached the importer’s shop and got herself an internship in Japan where the machines are manufactured.

Letting no opportunity slip away, Chmaitelly visited several countries to expand her knowledge and gain more experience in the field. This eventually led her to become an importer herself, and one of the most popular maintenance engineers in Lebanon.

“I learned from technicians, institutes, factories, and books. I wanted to discover every corner of this industry. It is the world I want to memorize,” she said.

However, her journey was halted by another priority.

After getting married and having three kids, she took a break from her career and decided to focus on her family. This, however, did not go well for her. Four months later, she began to feel depressed and wondered if she made the right choice.

“I just couldn’t be the typical housewife. I hated feeling unproductive,” she told Annahar.

So, she went back to academia and became an instructor in the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture at AUB, where she once was an A student. On one of those days, Chmaitelly purchased a robot online to study it at home before teaching her students robotics.

However, she wasn’t the only one interested in it.

“To my surprise, my little kid—who was addicted to digital games and social media—dropped everything and came to explore the robot with me. It was then that it hit me; why don’t we distract our kids from electronic games and entertain them with educational activities like robotics?” she said.

With the aim to protect her kids and the future generation from being addicted to the TV, internet, and electronic games, she started a club for little engineers, which then turned into a center where little kids learned science and technology in a fun and engaging way: “The Little Engineer.”

Yet, that was just a drop i Chmaitelly's ocean of achievements.

Turning theory into practice, she organized a new curriculum of engineering courses for schools and universities, along with activities and space and aviation workshops, which she was able to sell to 12 private schools in Lebanon and ten public ones. Today, these schools give their students one hour of robotics per week.

She also partnered with Airbus Middle East forming the TLE (Technology and Livelihood Education) and Airbus foundation, which is operating in more than 25 countries such as Morocco, KSA, India, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain, Kenya and Nigeria. This program has been running since 2012 and aims to inspire youth across the Middle East and Africa region to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) studies and pursue the dream to become the engineers and innovators of the future.

All of this led to the recognition of Shmaitelly’s innovative business through several international awards that she received like MIT and Cartier Women Initiative.

The ambitious woman also founded TLE and STEM programs for refugees and for women in rural areas, which offer The Little Engineer’s courses to refugees and women.

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Welcome to “Naya,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment.

We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations.

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