Ayat Amer from Jordan becomes first Arab woman to win NASA competition

Hard work and determination led Jordanian Ayat Amer to become the first Arab woman to win a NASA competition, only at 22 years old.

“Being accepted to NASA’s training programme is indeed a huge step in my life… It is a dream that’s come true,” said Amer, at the Women’s Economic Participation Conference in Amman last week. 

Amer was accepted by NASA six months ago, but has only recently passed the intense security checks required. 

The fourth year computer engineering student at the Hashemite University applied to the competition for a six-month training programme while studying at Stanford University on a scholarship from Microsoft. 

During her year abroad, she also took courses at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She received the scholarship to study in the US and Germany after winning first place in the Arab world in a Microsoft programming competition when she was 19. 

Often the youngest participant in international competitions, Amer has at times been held back by assumptions that programming is “not for girls”, she said.

Recalling another setback, she said her father refused to let her travel alone to Germany to receive her award from Microsoft. 

Luckily, after she wrote to Microsoft to apologize for not attending, the tech company paid for her father to accompany her to Europe.  

In 2015, she was the youngest speaker at a conference on leadership and women in the Silicon Valley, and later this year, she will judge a competition organized by Microsoft in Jordan. 

Amer, who studied at public schools in Jordan, has been selected as the Kingdom’s youth delegate at the United Nations Human Rights Summit for 2016. 

While her accomplishments in science are rewarding, she said humanitarian causes were the closest to her heart. 

A descendent of Palestinian refugees, Amer advocates for children’s rights, education and gender quality.

“To parents: give a chance to your children, and to children: prove to your families that you are hard workers,” she advised.