As a small child in Jordan during the height of Middle East conflict, Ruba Amarin had a deep love for the earth.
“From a very early age I believed we all owe the planet better treatment,” Amarin said.
“In Jordan, I saw people throw things away in the street, saw people not taking care of parks or natural resources. But I also saw that this was not a job one person could do alone. We would need a whole movement to change the behaviors people developed. And that’s something I really value about RTI, it’s not just improving the human condition, but the condition of the environment.”
Amarin’s family in her close-knit home in Jordan emphasized curiosity, education and upward mobility.
“We were always surrounded by countries at war, and I remember seeing troops on the news 24/7. So from an early age, I was taught that my education is what will serve me best given the hard conditions that we face.”
She and her five siblings had the benefit of a father who found learning opportunities in the simplest of repairs. Should something in their home break, her father would ask the children to theorize a solution to fix it.
“My dad used to always ask us to solve complex problems, usually related to electrical engineering issues. ‘How do we fix this lamp? How do we turn a series connection into a parallel one? My dad would bring all of us whenever he was going to fix something and then showed us how all the wires connected.”
Her mind ignited by her father’s hands-on teaching, Amarin’s first experience in higher education was studying electrical engineering at the Princess Sumaya University for Technology in Amman, where she was one of just four women in her department.
“People would ask, ‘What are you going to do with that degree?’” Amarin recalls, but she maintained focus on another benefit of her degree program—the chance to study at a university in Florida as an exchange student during her senior year. Only one student would be chosen for the opportunity, so Amarin focused on her grades and let the doubts of others roll off her back:
“In Jordan, it is who you know that can determine how far you get in a particular field, especially as a woman. I always knew I would come to the United States.”
At the University of Central Florida, Amarin found a professor who sparked her interest in satellite communications. At the end of her time studying there, her professor asked her to return to Florida after graduation to be a part of his program. During the time, the university was doing many environmental projects, including work with NOAA and NASA. One project that captivated the young scientist’s interest involved an instrument that would be sent into an active hurricane to predict the hurricane’s trajectory more accurately.
“There were always models and simulations that compared with the actual data,” she said. “So there were always chances to do more analysis, always data, always more reasons for interest,” she explained.
Much of the technology Amarin had the opportunity to work with was related to solar energy integration, focusing on the complete system, raising questions such as how a certain amount of solar energy affects the electrical grid. She learned technologies around battery storage, solar plug-and-play systems and microgrids.
Despite the bevy of opportunities, Amarin was struck by U.S. attitudes toward women in science, engineering, math and technology. She again found herself surrounded by mostly male colleagues. She responded by creating another opportunity for herself and others, a group for Women in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science that today still functions and supports women at her former university. In helping found the group, she had two goals. She wanted camaraderie for women in her field, but she also wanted to set an example for any woman doubting that she could succeed in a male-dominated field.
It is so important to support women in STEM. Even today, women are still often labeled as physically or emotionally weak, labeled as the one who should take care of family members, take care of children. I hope that I can be part of showing women that there are other opportunities out there.
Asked what she would tell young women considering careers in STEM, she pulled from a motto she often applies to herself: “There’s no harm in trying! That’s what I always say.”
“STEM is not something made just for men. It’s open to everyone, and it’s so interesting. It’s crucial that we tell the success stories of women in this field because it’s still not common even though it’s the 21st century and we are in the United States, the greatest country."
I know I’m a small drop in a large pan, but I try to do my part. I try to mentor younger professionals and share stories of success.
Since her company IRG was purchased by RTI in 2017, Amarin took on a new challenge in managing a critical program in the energy domain – Enhancing Capacity for Low Emission Development Strategies (EC-LEDS). That project supports efforts in nine European countries to reduce emissions from energy generation and use, develop regional energy markets to increase energy security, and build the capacity of host government institutions to prepare and implement low emission development strategies.
“We improve regional electricity and gas markets, drafting legislation in compliance with EU regulations. Each of the tasks is very different. In Albania we developed a National Energy Strategy (that spans 2017–2030) to meet national development goals in a cost-effective and environmentally responsible manner, and we are now supporting Albania in implementing the strategy. Each country has its own set of challenging circumstances to overcome, which makes this program very interesting.”
Amarin’s wide array of STEM education, her field experience and her abilities as a communicator give her a unique position at RTI.
“Moving on in my career, I see myself more as a connector. I can communicate technology knowledge and translate technical verbiage to upper management so they can make informed decisions about energy. I try to give examples and bring the conversation to where they can connect technology to the issue at hand.”