1 May 2023

From A+ to struggle street and back on top, UoW student Lord Thabet is a next generation leader in engineering

| Dione David
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University of Wollongong engineering graduate Lord Thabet in her ceremonial graduation robes and hat

Lord Thabet at the University of Wollongong’s autumn graduation ceremony, where she officially received her Bachelor or Engineering, majoring in telecommunications. Photo: UoW.

If you want to find the limits of the English language, ask Lord Thabet how she feels about graduating with her Bachelor of Engineering degree.

“They would have to invent a new word,” she says.

Lord is the third member of her family to graduate from the University of Wollongong (UoW) with an engineering degree, following her brothers Fadi and Majd.

To begin to understand what this represents to her, you have to go back to her childhood.

Lord grew up in Mosul, Iraq. Amid conflict in the country it was a cautious life, centred on family and school, where she excelled.

“I was a straight A+ student. If I got 99 out of 100 it was the end of the world,” she recalls.

“I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to help people and as a child, to me that could only mean medicine.”

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University of Wollongong graduate Lord Thabet as a small child

The only photo Lord has from her childhood. Photo: Lord Thabet.

When ISIS invaded in June 2014, they left everything behind and fled to Kurdistan before moving to Jordan. Lord was 14.

They applied for a humanitarian visa to Australia and just before Christmas 2015, they got the call.

“They wanted us to come in and interview,” Lord says.

“To this day, that was the best Christmas gift any of us ever received.”

On 8 June 2016, the Thabets moved to Australia.

“I remember that day so clearly,” Lord says.

“It was the day we came to heaven.”

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They settled in Wollongong and Lord’s brothers Fadi and Majd enrolled at UoW to complete their engineering studies while Lord completed an intensive English course.

Given the option to hang back and improve her English further or start year 11 at Holy Spirit College Bellambi, a somewhat nervous Lord took the plunge.

“I spent hours upon hours, night after night, trying to improve my English. I had all the knowledge but not yet the language skills,” Lord explains.

“If my friends took an hour to write a paper, it took me three. But I challenged myself.”

By Year 12, Lord’s English had improved so vastly, she found the courage to apply for early entry to UoW.

Instead of presenting her academic record as it stood in that moment, she focused her interview on the progress she had made in just one short year.

University of Wollongong engineering graduate Lord Thabet in her ceremonial graduation robes and hat, standing with her family

A proud moment – Lord is one of three UoW engineering graduates from the Thabet family, alongside her two brothers who she says are her role models. Photo: UoW.

Not only did she land the degree, UoW offered her the Dean’s Scholarship, which included a research component looking at using AI and machine learning to help blind people walk safely on sidewalks.

Lord was later also awarded the Westpac Young Technologist Scholarship.

In her second year she became the ambassador for both the Westpac Young Technologist Scholars and Engineers Australia at UoW. She also placed in the top 5 per cent of students in her faculty.

She undertook lab volunteering during summer breaks and became an Engineering and Information Science Faculty mentor in her final year.

She completed two internships with Optus and a graduate internship with Hearing Australia before she was promoted to security analyst for the latter.

“We work 24/7 to protect people’s personal data. We’re keeping everyone safe behind the scenes,” she says.

“I’ve realised it’s not only doctors who can help people.”

University of Wollongong engineering graduate Lord Thabet in her ceremonial graduation robes and hat

Lord says she’s happy where she is, but one day would love to work in international security and give back to the nation that’s given her so much. Photo: UoW.

Looking back to where she started, Lord says she would never have guessed she would come this far. But she quickly adds that she’s had plenty of support along the way.

“I’m so grateful to all the people who supported us in Australia and gave us the opportunity and the space to study, work and succeed,” she says.

“That includes Holy Spirit College, where the teachers spent extra time helping me, the University of Wollongong, where we all earned our qualifications and Hearing Australia where I’ve been given the opportunity to start, learn and grow in my professional engineering career.

“And of course, my family, who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. My brothers are out there nailing it as engineers themselves. They’re my role models.”

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