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Whereas the Western world hardly sees the enrollment of women in Computer Science rise above 20 percent, Arab countries seem to defy this unfortunate trend. Indeed, that same percentage seems to be close to 50 percent in the Middle East; even crossing it in countries such as Palestine, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. According to Clinical Professor of Computer Science Sana Odeh, this is because “Arab women don’t believe it is a man’s world when it comes to these fields”. Rather, she claims, they see the creative solutions that a subject such as Computer Science can offer; with which they can go on to apply it in a way that society benefits from it.
The great number of female technologists in the Arab world is what inspired Sana to make it part of her personal research agenda. While setting up the curriculum of the Computer Science Department at the New York University of Abu Dhabi, she founded and became chair of ‘Arab Women in Computing’. Officially initiated in 2012, this organization has already expanded to seventeen countries, stretching from Morocco to Lebanon. Its mission is the same throughout: to support and help elevate the status of women in the Arab world. During the many international conferences organized by it, the 2.000 female members discuss how to manage male counterparts, how to deal with stringent family commitments and what is the importance of female role models.
Evidently, the latter is a bridge to Sana herself. During her ongoing residence in Abu Dhabi, she has devoted herself to research into web- and mobile technologies, game programming and both the evaluation as the implementation of e-learning systems. Moreover, Sana’s curriculum attributes a prominent place to the development of information technologies for the developing world. Related to this is the ‘International Hackathon for Social Good’ that she has been organizing almost annually as of 2011. Here, she endeavours to develop innovative applications relevant to fields such as health, education, business and science; all for the benefit of social good in the Arab world. The latest version of it, having taken place in 2018, saw ‘hackers’ from 60 different universities make their way to the Abu Dhabi campus.
Notably, Sana’s prominence in the field has not remained unnoticed. Already in 2010, she received a Special Award from Google itself. As it bombastically commented: “[We] believe strongly in your mission and the impact you are having”. Furthermore, in 2016, Sana became a finalist to receive a World Technology Award, dedicated to celebrate the world’s most innovative individuals and organisations in science, technology and its adjoining fields. What Sana might cherish the most herself, though, is the five recognition awards that she has been receiving at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conferences.
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