The door to Rameen Malik’s family home has always been open: a light left on, a warm meal provided and a comfortable bed to sleep on for anyone who needs it.
“I’ve always seen people coming in and out of my house,” she remembers fondly. “In my family, it’s about paying it forward by whatever means possible.”
Malik credits her confidence and inspiration to growing up in Lakemba, a suburb of Western Sydney. With family roots in Pakistan, her community has played a critical role in her upbringing. Like a stone being dropped into a puddle of water, causing a ripple effect, Malik was taught that your actions matter, and the opportunities afforded to you should always flow back to benefit your community.
She has carried that approach throughout her life and has devoted her work in renewable energy to uplifting her community. From a young age, Malik has associated a reliable source of energy with a sense of security and comfort. As she explains, “Stories from the women in my life influenced my relationship with the resource and energy sector.”
Malik recounts how her aunt – a healthcare worker – delivers oral polio vaccine drops to children across Pakistan, struggling to preserve them without proper refrigeration technology. Amidst rising temperatures in Pakistan, another aunt single-handedly spearheaded a solar power initiative on her farm. As our climate changes and temperatures rise, it is amplifying an existing divide between those who have resources and those who do not. For Malik, this is a fact that hits close to home. “Growing up, there were often struggles to pay the power bill, water bill or rent during increasingly hot summers.”
In her final years of high school, Malik’s family received the devastating news that a close family friend had passed away from heatstroke in one of Pakistan’s ever more common and brutal heatwaves. At this profound and pivotal moment, Malik grappled with the idea that her family’s loss may have been prevented by access to an electricity system that could withstand unprecedented summer temperatures.
When it came time to decide what and where to study, she looked to her family and the ways in which their lives had interacted with energy and climate. This ‘duality of electricity’ as she calls it, motivated her to better understand how technology could be used as a tool for social equity. To Malik, an engineering degree would allow her to innovate towards a more equitable resource sector, while a degree in law would reinforce her social justice lens.
By the following year, Malik had her heart set on a Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Laws. Acutely aware of the financial hurdles facing her at university, Malik applied for a philanthropically-funded scholarship in the Faculty of Engineering.
From the moment the phone rang to tell her she had been successful, Malik has made the most of every opportunity that has come her way. “When I found out, I felt this wave of relief,” says Malik. “This scholarship meant I could work less and focus on my studies – it gave me faith in my abilities to excel as much as my peers and the chance to participate in activities beyond the classroom.”
Malik’s studies took her to Samoa to investigate how engineering could help taro farmers increase their seasonal earnings, and to the Torres Strait Islands to better her understanding of climate change’s impact on community health and wellbeing – all before returning home to her local girls’ high school to share her story through hands-on engineering workshops.
Opportunities like this – for students like me – who come from hard-working, immigrant communities, mean more than the amount of money we receive.
Malik wants young women considering studies in engineering or applying to scholarships to realise their value. “I want her to see someone wearing a hijab who has studied engineering, and I want her to know that there is a place for her,” she says. “If you’re staying true and genuine to who you are and what you’re passionate about, then you will make it.”
Seven years on, Malik – an empowered and determined graduate – has been announced as the Fulbright Anne Wexler Scholar in Public Policy for 2022. She will soon fly to the United States to study a Master of Technology and Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Here, Malik aims to cast a multidisciplinary lens on the transition to a low emissions electricity sector, with a focus on emerging energy technologies and data-driven policy development. But her eyes remain trained on home and her community – she intends to one day bring her expertise in energy equity, justice and innovation to Australia’s energy policies.
To the donor who supported her through her undergraduate studies, Malik is immensely grateful. “I am so proud to have been the recipient of an equity scholarship. Opportunities like this – for students like me – who come from hard-working, immigrant communities, mean more than the amount of money we receive. I have no doubt that where I am today is in part because of my donor’s investment in me.”
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