Her Royal Highness Princess Dr. Nisreen El-Hashemite doesn’t wear a flowing gown or a tiara atop her head.
Instead, she has a doctorate, four degrees, lives on a salary and advocates for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
El-Hashemite visited Lehigh on March 6 to discuss STEM and women in the sciences, as well as meet with faculty and students.
The princess is known for establishing the International Day for Women and Girls in Science at the United Nations and serving as the executive director of the Royal Academy of Science International Trust. She also has done extensive research on genetics, gene disorders and cancer.
“The visit was incredible,” El-Hashemite said. “I was very impressed with the passion, the motivation, the love that you can feel from the academia and the students.”
El-Hashemite was first introduced to Lehigh in 2016 when a group organized by Bill Hunter, Lehigh’s director of international outreach, attended the first International Day for Women and Girls in Science at the UN. Since then, groups of about 20-30 students attend the celebration each year.
Veronica McKinny, ’18, a UN youth representative for the American Association of University Women, said this year Hunter talked to El-Hashemite about forming stronger bonds with Lehigh and possibly having Lehigh students serve as interns for the Royal Academy of Science International Trust. The princess was interested in Lehigh’s programs and Hunter suggested she visit.
“I think it’s really good that Lehigh invited someone to promote women in STEM, especially since it’s women’s history month,” said Rebecca Hong, ‘20, a chemical engineering student.
McKinny, Hunter, Dr. Jenny Hyest and UN intern Victoria McCulley were part of the group that welcomed El-Hashemite to campus at the Alumni Memorial Building and they treated her to a luncheon.
McKinny said the princess met with Professor Linda Lowe-Krentz at the molecular genetics lab. Lowe-Krentz does similar research to the princess, and she was able to take some samples with her.
“She was very kind, down-to-earth, telling you jokes, asking questions, wanting to really learn about the university and that curiosity was really exciting,” McKinny said.
Part of the princess’s time at Lehigh was spent speaking with Bill Best about the Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts and Sciences, or IDEAS, and CHOICES programs.
Best, an engineering professor, is the co-director of IDEAS and helps run CHOICES, a day camp for middle school girls who engage in engineering and science experiments mentored by Lehigh students.
Best spoke at the International Day for Women and Girls in Science in 2016, and he said the princess was intrigued by the IDEAS program because more than 50 percent of the students in the program are women. Best has done research to find programs similar to IDEAS at other schools but hasn’t been able to find anything, which made the princess even more interested.
El-Hashemite suggested the CHOICES program could be exported and used to introduce girls to science around the world.
Best said El-Hashemite is a special woman because of her dedication to get girls into science and engineering.
“I have met very few people who are as passionate as she is,” Best said.
El-Hashemite held a Q&A toward the end of her visit and students were able to ask her questions about being a female in a male-dominated field.