[Illinois] weSTEM 2013: Changing Challenges to Opportunities

By Omnia El-Hakim

National Science Foundation

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Facing challenges can be unnerving, especially when the outcome is unknown. Commonly, we imagine overcoming the challenge by thinking, "if only I can accomplish this task," or "when I pass my exam," everything will get easier. This "I just have to get through this and then things will be easier" attitude can provide a false sense of comfort during the process of overcoming adversity. In reality, challenges don't ever disappear, they only change over time. Omnia will speak about how to face these challenges in the moment, and use them as an advantage. She will discuss how to view each challenge as a new opportunity to not only succeed, but excel in both your personal and professional life. Omnia will share her unique experiences facing diversity in the form of cultural, language, and gender barriers throughout her career in STEM. With leadership experience in academia and government roles promoting diversity in STEM fields as well as in business running a family hotel business, Omnia has powerful and inspiring insights on how to take risks, follow your gut, and make the unthinkable possible. Her story is certain to ignite a feeling of deep motivation to stay focused and enthusiastic during the most challenging times in your career.


Dr. Omnia El-Hakim has an established record of leadership in community service and academia. Since January 2009, Dr. El-Hakim accepted an IPA (Intergovernmental Personnel Act) assignment at the National Science Foundation, becoming Director for Diversity and Outreach in the Directorate of Engineering. Before NSF, she joined Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, in 1984 while holding a joint appointment as Professor of Civil Engineering at Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO, where she also served as Department Chair of Physics and Engineering from 1996-1999. During this time, she learned about small business ownership firsthand by owning two motels. In addition, Dr. El- Hakim served as Assistant Dean for Diversity of the College of Engineering at Colorado State University from 2003-2006. Diversity is El-Hakim's passion; she created and led a Colorado Consortium of 14 universities, community and four-year colleges, and tribal Nations as Principal Investigator and Director of the Colorado Alliance for Minority Participation (CO-AMP), as well as several other diversity programs for 20 years. She developed diversity programs to assist underrepresented minority students from K-12 to graduate schools. Dr. El-Hakim obtained her doctoral degree in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University (1984) after completing her undergraduate studies and receiving a Masters Degree in Civil Engineering from Cairo University in Egypt. El-hakim is the program director of the NSF BRIGE program (Broadening Participation Research Initiation Grants in Engineering) and GRDS (Graduate Research Diversity Supplements). Indicative of her passion of assisting women navigating STEM careers in academia, Dr. El-Hakim was selected by the NSF Director as one of the core members to create the Career Life Balance initiative. She received the NSF Director's Equal Opportunity Achievement Award in 2010, as well as the NSF Director's Award for Collaborative Integration in 2012. In her spare time, Omnia enjoys travelling, dancing, music, ballet, and opera.


Source for information on this page: weSTEM Illinois

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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Omnia El-Hakim (2013), "[Illinois] weSTEM 2013: Changing Challenges to Opportunities," http://nanohub.org/resources/18931.

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Siebel Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL


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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign