When Shadden Abdalla, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, walks into a class in her field, she is often one of only a handful of women in the room. Coupled with being a minority who wears a hijab, Abdalla knows she stands out in a crowd. But that uniqueness has often been a source of strength in a male-dominated field, and Abdalla is intent on making a lasting impact on the lives of current and future Rebels.
“I had to ask myself what was most practical for me. I wanted something concrete and logical — something put together like a puzzle,” Abdalla said. “Engineering is perfect because it’s a blend of creativity and practicality.”
Abdalla sampled a few engineering courses, but hadn’t found her focus. That changed when she enrolled in one of R. Jacob Baker’s circuits courses and was introduced to linear circuit analysis.
“One of my favorite things Dr. Baker always says is, ‘It’s not magic,’” Abdalla said. “But when you think about it, it is magic. Engineering is limitless because you’re always making new things.”
In the fall of her sophomore year, Abdalla joined Baker’s research lab where she gained hands-on experience in electrical engineering. The lab is dedicated to designing and creating chips which are sent to fabrication. Someone then creates a printed circuit board to test the chip’s functionality.
“I never doubted my major, but I thought I was bad at it. The material is very challenging and most people struggle with it. The more you learn, the more inadequate you tend to feel because you understand the scope of the field. I was determined to get better. I was by no means the smartest person in class but I really cared about the subject. It’s important to get good grades, but also to get hands-on experience. I think Dr. Baker hired me because he could see I care about learning and working with the material,” Abdalla said.
She was concerned by the lack of a UNLV Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers chapter — the world’s largest technical professional organization. Dean Rama Venkat asked Abdalla to consider reviving the chapter. Thanks to Abdalla’s efforts, the club now boasts 107 members with multiple workshops available throughout the semester.
“What engineers want is something that will make their lives easier. People need incentives to come to organization meetings, and food isn’t enough to attract members, so we have workshops where we teach students different skills,” said Abdalla. “It’s a community of friends but the workshops are also something you need. Each of us has a unique set of skills that we can learn from.”
The Driving Force
As a freshman, she joined UNLV’s CSUN Student Government and in the following semester became a senator for the College of Engineering. When re-elections took place in 2016, Abdalla won with the most votes for any senator at UNLV.
She was asked to give opening comments at former Gov. Brian Sandoval’s legislative bill signing that took place at UNLV, joined the STEM Leadership Committee, and completed two memorial tables honoring the life of Clifton Taylor, a deceased former student and friend.
Her role in Baker’s lab has also increased and she has now started designing chips for research. Abdalla is poised to graduate with three years of work experience under her belt.
“I’m a minority Muslim woman who wears a hijab and has a lot against her by simply existing. Many people don’t understand that our faith promotes the education, freedom, and empowerment of women,” said Abdalla.
With a small percentage of women entering STEM fields, Abdalla hopes to encourage women to enter the field. “I definitely feel that there needs to be a few people who go above and beyond to break those stereotypes and show that there is a lot more to us (both women in engineering and Muslim women) than people think,” said Abdalla. “This field is super difficult, but everything is difficult. No man is more capable than a woman in this field.