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NASA’s Tahani Amer: Amazing Muslim American Woman


Tahani Amer


I have always strived to live by three simple principles: Please God and you will please all. Education is the key to opportunity. Serve others with compassion and kindness.

If one thinks about these principles, it is very simple. You have general guidance about values and ethics from God and his books, self-determination by education, and a sense of social responsibility.

I planned on going to medical school in Cairo, Egypt, but I changed my major to engineering before starting college because of my life choices. I married at age 17 and moved to the United States.

Math was, and is, my favorite subject. I recognized early on that math provided an opportunity to find new methods for solving problems by using math models. When I came to the U.S.A. in 1983 and took my first calculus class, I could not speak a word in English, but I still made an A in the course. It was then that I knew an engineering career would be an awarding one.

I obtained a two-year associate degree in science while taking care of two lovely children. Then, I went back to school to finish my bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and went on to earn my master’s in aerospace engineering. Recently, I earned my doctoral in engineering.

I believe that NASA is a soft ‘pillow’ that allows you to dream of the impossible and then work hard to make it a reality. In 1992, during my senior year of college, I started working at NASA on the Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) project. By working on this project, I gained valuable experience and fulfilled my dream to work with scientists and researchers solving real-life problems! It was a privilege to work with state-of-the-art technology and with researchers who love their work. Then, I earned the opportunity to work in one of NASA’s wind tunnels to conduct pressure and thermal sensitive paint experiments for NASA’s Aeronautic Research efforts. This proved to be a valuable experience from both a theoretical and practical point of view. I experienced the excitement of working with large CFD computer codes and climbing up the ceiling of a wind tunnel to install a velocity probe. It was great; I was like a little girl in the ‘candy store’ of NASA.  Everything seemed possible.

Working at NASA is never boring. I invented and patented a system to measure the thermal conductivity of a thin film. This measurement is used in the thermal modeling of several techniques for determining boundary layer transition location on models being tested in wind tunnels. Currently, I contribute to NASA’s independent assessment process of the Agency’s Programs and Projects by working as a member of the Independent Program Assessment Office (IPAO), part of the Agency’s Office of Evaluation. I work very hard to skillfully execute my assignments and demonstrate managerial skills.

I strive to help and educate others by volunteering my time in community service through NASA programs, such as the “Day of Caring”, Engineering Week, the Speakers Bureau, Diversity Day, and after school science clubs. I spoke on the topic of Women in Islam during the Peace week at Old Dominion University in 2011, and I was a guest speaker at the Annual Luncheon for the Virginia Space Grant Consortium (VSGC) to state representatives, university presidents, and new students. I also chaired the Applied Science Session for the VSGC and the IPAO NASA Program Management Challenge 2011. My profile is included on one of the NASA Posters for outreach activity for Woman in Aerospace and in a college calculus book.

I am also involved in mosque programs for teaching Islamic rules and Arabic to young children. After September 11, I contributed to my community in Hampton Roads, Va., by helping to educate and fill the gap that many Americans have in understanding the religion of Islam. I have given lectures in many churches, universities, and local school systems. I was even interviewed by the local newspaper on this topic.

By living according to the aforementioned three principles, I try to set a daily standard to challenge myself. In the same way, I challenge myself by my work with NASA, stretching my understanding and seeking to improve myself and others through helping a great organization that is NASA.

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  • George Carty

    IIRC the overwhelming majority of Iranian-Americans are Muslims in name only (if even that) who moved there to escape the 1979 revolution.

  • George Carty

    I’d still credit the Greeks with inventing the alphabet, as its Egyptian and Phoenician precursor systems (like modern Arabic and Hebrew) were in fact abjads (in which most vowels are omitted) rather than true alphabets (in which all phonemes – both vowels and consonants – are written).

  • Lynchpin

    Sourced by history or sourced by historians? If the latter, which ones?
    You’re right, it is my problem which is precisely why I asked you if you could direct me to places where I could learn more. After a look online to confirm what you wrote, I struggled to find information regarding these things in particular:
    – That European illiteracy was mostly imposed by ‘the church’
    – What an ‘intellectual population’ is
    – That genocide, banishment, torture and forced conversion of intellectuals were unique to Christianity
    – The progress being made by the other groups you mentioned
    I’d be grateful if you could help me, as I said I’m not disagreeing, most of what you have written looks to be correct.
    Other civilisations had their own written systems which sometimes are called ‘alphabets’, this is a bit harsh given you originally said the alphabet, which, as most Europeans would know it, originated from the Phoenicians, then to the Greeks, then into Latin. I maintain that not many people know this – I’m hardly ashamed to have been ignorant here!

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