Episode 24: An Open Conversation
"I can say something 1,000 times, but I’m a minority woman. If a white guy says it - bam. It happens. And we’ve all been in situations like that. I’ve been saying that for an hour, but he says it and now you heard him?" -Tojan Rahhal
Being a Muslim woman in STEM who wears a hijab, Tojan is used to getting pointed glances and invasive questions. But Tojan molded those moments into opportunities to educate. Now she's combining her passions to shatter pre-conceived notions.
"My dad, from the day we were born, called us Doctor," Tojan says with a laugh. Although STEM fields are known for having very few women in them, Tojan never felt that a biomedical engineering degree was out of her reach. Now Tojan uses her business to empower and educate young people. She hopes to create classrooms that a younger Tojan would have felt comfortable in. Her secret? Open dialogue and a lot of hard work. Listen in to see how Tojan stayed motivated.
Tojan Rahhal received her biomedical engineering degree at NC State University and went on to get her PhD in pharmaceutical sciences at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Tojan's business, Alliance Professional Development provides training sessions for students and young professionals that can help expand their careers.
"If someone asked me what’s my major and I said engineering, I would always get the drop-jaw where it’s like ‘Really? How are you doing that? It must be hard.’... ok yeah, but if a guy said I’m doing biomedical engineering it’d just be like ‘oh cool." Tojan tells us.
This double standard seemed to follow Tojan throughout her career. People were shocked when she would do well, or they would flat-out ignore her attempts. Tojan suspected that it could have something to do with her being a Muslim woman in a male-dominated field. But rather than throwing in the towel, Tojan sought out a solution.
When Tojan decided she was going to start a business, her family was ecstatic. Tips and advice started pouring in from her relatives. Tojan's uncle even sent her a link to his book about the business lessons he learned the hard way. After being surrounded by support during her academic and entrepreneurial career, Tojan wanted to share the wisdom that was passed down to her.
In this episode, Tojan shares how the intersections of her identities have helped her relate to those around her, even when she felt different from everyone else in the room.
Give it a listen: