Dr. AlShahrani develops Energy Innovation Program

Former IBK Fellow, Dr. Thamraa AlShahrani, is managing a new Master’s Program in Energy Innovation at Princess Nourah University (PNU) beginning in September 2022. We interviewed her to learn more about the program and the story behind it.

IBK: Congratulations on developing this new master’s program in Energy Innovation. What was your inspiration for developing it?

Dr. Thamraa: After my experiences as an IBK fellow at MIT, I gave the Physics Department here at PNU the idea that we should open a master’s program in renewable energy. Suddenly, I heard from the Deanship of Graduate Studies that there was an international university that wanted to collaborate with us in a unique program in energy innovation. From that point we began to collaborate with Swansea University to develop a model for the program.

IBK: What topics are you planning to cover in the program?

Dr. Thamraa: We’re going to have four tracks: solar energy, carbon, kinetic energy generation, and hydrogen. In addition to that, we’ll also have a core model for all tracks which includes the social and economic implications for green energy resources, environmental impacts, the implications of energy production, biofuels, and the circular economy. We selected the hot topics in energy innovation!

IBK: Why should prospective students choose this program? What makes it special?

Dr. Thamraa: This is a unique program from the name, Energy Innovation, to the educational model, to the topics will be covered and the population it will resource.

Renewable energy is very important to the future of Saudi Arabia because the high rate of population growth and economic growth is followed by a rise in the rate of energy consumption. Whether that’s fuel or electricity, we’re looking for a way for our existing resources to achieve balance and meet the requirements of life for future generations. This is also important for economic development. Saudi Arabia has taken serious steps in optimizing renewable energy sources as well as oil and gas within the national energy mix. The development of renewable energy will make progress toward the Kingdom’s goals.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 has an ambitious program for social and economic reforms. Woman already have a strong head start in being a driving force in the energy sector. However, the energy sector in Saudi Arabia has the possibility to benefit more women. Our program will actively encourage women to pursue renewable energy as a career by providing technical education with a leadership focus. To promote the participation of women in the Saudi economy PNU is keen to provide a unique graduate program that meets the specific local market requirements, as well as the global requirements of higher education for women in all positions.

"When I came back [from the IBK program]…a master's program in energy was my dream. Ahumdulillah, this dream has now become a reality," says Dr. Thamraa.

This program aims meet the needs of industry by providing qualified graduates for professional work in the energy sector. Being PNU, the largest female university in the world, we seek to provide this unique post graduate program in energy innovation that aligns with Vision 2030 and its strategic goals. This program will contribute to increasing women’s participation in the energy market. The main goal of the energy innovation program is to empower women to be leaders in this discipline who can elevate the participation of women in the energy sector.

Another thing that makes the program unique is that it is the first master’s program in energy in Saudi Arabia to be established and delivered in cooperation with an international university. This program, as you know, is offered in cooperation with the Swansea University’s Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI). The ESRI is a leading center for excellence for the development of advanced technologies and energy resources. It includes a group of distinguished scientists in the field of energy.

IBK: What advice would you give to those students who are thinking of applying to the program about how to submit a strong application?

Dr. Thamraa: Applicants should have a bachelor's degree in physics, chemistry, or engineering whether it’s chemical, electrical, mechanical, or industrial or material science from any university recognized by the Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia. We are also planning to recruit students whose working experience might be more relevant to our program.

Applicants should be sure to meet the requirements for registration in the program. While applying they should keep their goal in mind, stay focused, and make sure to complete their goals. They should be prepared to communicate about how they see their background fitting into the energy innovation program. The program helps the graduates to apply this knowledge to innovate, research, and develop solutions to real life problems in the field and to liaise with the local industries and businesses to apply what they have learned.

IBK: How did your time as an IBK fellow at MIT prepare or inspire you to work with master’s students in energy innovation?

Dr. Thamraa: You’ve come to the best question for me. It was my privilege when I was invited by the Ibn Khaldun Fellowship for Saudi Women to spend the one year as a postdoctoral research fellow at an MIT lab with the top scientists in the field. My research was in a topic related to my country. I worked with to develop solar cells that can function in hot or arid climates like that in Saudi Arabia. Working in something that has direct application to my country was amazing.

Helping lead a team of scientists from MIT and Saudi Aramco did more than give me critical research experience. I learned about the teamwork necessary for an international research collaboration. The experience really gave me a sense of what it looked like to work on a team. The fellowship also helped me to build my leadership skills. This was really helpful to me a Saudi Arabian working towards Vision 2030 which hopes to increase women’s participation in the work force. Now as part of my work at PNU, the largest female university in the world, we're providing a unique post graduate program aligned with the Vision 2030 strategy and goals.

When I came back to Riyadh, the idea of establishing and managing a master’s program in energy was my dream. Alhumdulillah, this dream has now become reality.