Dressed in a gleaming black abaya, Azeizah Ahmed Alhassani hardly cuts the figure of a woman who would don a hard hat and conduct onshore research on drilling and fracking fluids.
But at 27, she is the first Emirati female engineer onsite at the unconventional fields of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) and Total in the UAE.
But what sets Azeizah apart from many others is that apart from making a mark in her chosen career – petroleum engineering – she is also dabbling in half a dozen other activities and achieving success in them. An accomplished artist who has many awards she is also a rowing champion at Abu Dhabi Sailing Club and a make-up artist as well.
How is she able to juggle so many diverse talents in spite of her busy work schedule?
"I am Emirati," she says, with a twinkle in her eye. "We aspire to do the very best in every realm of life."
The sixth of 10 siblings, Azeizah grew up in a small, quiet neighbourhood in the capital. Her father, Ahmed Al Hassani, a frequent traveller, was a trader of fruits and vegetables as well as a fisherman. Azeizah considers him her role model as he inculcated in his children values of hard work, while encouraging them to realise their dreams and aim for the stars.
Her mother Hameeda Salem ensured that all her children graduated with a strong educational degrees and was insistent that her seven daughters should earn their own sources of income just like her sons.
"I consider my parents real visionaries," say Azeizah. "Without their support, I would never have reached this far."
When she was 10 years old, her eldest sister Sheikha Alhassani, who was quite proficient in the arts, handed her some sheets of white paper and asked her to create shadow art.
Little Azeisah got working and an hour later handed over her art work.
"I remember my sister reviewing my work and telling me I had potential to become a good artist," says the engineer. Heeding her advice, Azeizah’s parents enrolled her in all art competitions in school. "A few years later, seeing my progress, she encouraged me to sell a few of my paintings. To my surprise, a few classmates actually bought them," recalls Azeizah.
She even went on to win the Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum Talent Award in 2008.
Her life was going well until fate dealt her a cruel blow eight years ago. A few months after she enrolled in Khalifa University Abu Dhabi as a student of Petroleum Engineering, she lost her father. "I felt as though the world was crumbling around me," says Azeizah. Luckily for her, her family and the faculty of the university helped her get over the loss.
Azeizah graduated in 2016 and the very next year, joined Adnoc as a chemical fluid drilling engineer at the Drilling and Logistics Business department. She later transferred to the Upstream Unconventional department in 2018 to become a simulation engineer at the company’s Unconventional Resources department. Last year, she added another feather to her cap when she was nominated by Adnoc Headquarters Unconventional to be the first female Emirati engineer to represent the department onsite with Total Unconventional Gas.
"Adnoc and Total offer great avenues and encouragement for females to work in the field," she says. "They are actually the source of inspiration for women like me to deliver our best. They have honed me into a professional who speaks the engineering language to my peers and gets the work done. Sometimes it is quite overwhelming. I have reached this far only by the grace of God and the support of Adnoc and Total teams and the female leaders in the Adnoc community.’
But even as Azeizah was rising through the ranks, she did not junk her passion – art. Over the years, she has experimented with abstract art, competed in several art competitions and sold many paintings.
In 2015, she won a major honour at the Abu Dhabi Art Festival for All. Recently, she participated in a competition with US-based sound artist Bill Fontana, where she created sounds inspired by the sound of oil and gas flowing through a pipe.
"The real competition is with myself, to improve my forms of expression and technique. Since art is my childhood friend, it understands me as well as I understand it. It is my inner energy where my creativity and space explode," she says. She credits her sister Sheikha as her mentor in art. "It’s thanks to her beauty salon that I also learned the art of make-up."
Azeizah is also all praise for Khalifa University management for "giving me many avenues to showcase my art".
Buoyed by the success in art, she is now keen to explore the facets of mixed media. "I am working on a few pieces," she says.
When not at work or dabbling in her studio, Azeizah is busy on the waters. In 2017, along with her sister, Reem Alhassani, she became among the first women to be part of the Abu Dhabi Sailing Club. "Rowing brings a sense of discipline, teamwork and balance," she says.
The sisters’ passion for the sport eventually led them to establish Abu Dhabi Female Rowing Team with around 15 members and went on to win the 2017-19 rowing championship at Abu Dhabi Sailing Club.
So, how does she manage to juggle so many activities? "I guess it’s because I am passionate about all of them. That plus effective time management," she says, with a smile.
"By day I am an engineer, by night an artist. During the breaks of my rotation at work, I pursue all my other passions. I believe you need variations in life to truly discover the joy (of it)."
While her professional dream is to make a name for herself in the petroleum engineering industry, Azeizah also sees herself in the future leading her own interior design firm, setting up a youth talent centre, exhibiting her works in modern art and having her own chain of beauty salons. However in the near future she will be volunteering at the Expo 2020 in Dubai and taking up kick-boxing.
"I believe in the golden rule: Beat challenges rather than allowing them to beat you. I want to be the difference in the lives of future Emirati women and create pathways for them to succeed in any field they want. They can achieve the impossible if they believe in themselves and invest their talent in the right places," she says.
Words fall short when she expresses her gratitude to the visionary leaders of the UAE who have turned the country into one of the most successful and influential places in the world. "It was Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s dream to build the country step by step, through hard work. Today it is one of the best places to live in terms of modern facilities, safety, quality of life and tolerance.
"Whenever I go on field work trips, I am amazed at all the people there from different walks of life, who are shedding their sweat for my country. For me being Emirati is to work hard and dream big. I feel anyone who works with the same passion for this country is essentially an Emirati."