As a child growing up in Lebanon, Lieutenant Commander Fatena El-Masri dreamed of being an astronaut, but she now has other dreams. 

Her love of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects is driving her new dream to set up a program to encourage children studying those disciplines.

“There are a lot of smart kids out there who may not have the right people around them to encourage them, guide them and keep them focused on STEM: I have a dream to do that,” Lieutenant Commander El-Masri said. 

Her drive and determination resulted in her becoming the first female Arab pilot to fly over Lebanon. 

“I was the only girl in my engineering class in Lebanon and wanted to do something different so got an internship with an airline as an avionics engineer,” she said.
 
“I loved it but wanted to fly, too, so I tutored mathematics to pay for my flying tuition and became a pilot flying Cessna 150 planes”. 

Lieutenant Commander El-Masri joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1995 as a deputy weapons electrical engineering officer (WEEO).

She said she enjoyed the work but her foreign language skills also proved useful. 

“I love the ocean. As a WEEO, my job was to make sure the communications, combat systems, information and ammunition systems were all compliant,” she said.

“Speaking four languages also came in handy during our time in the Persian Gulf.”

With a PhD in Computational Science (Applied Mathematics and Statistics), her focus now is building Navy’s capability in artificial intelligence (Ai) and machine learning (ML). 

Working as a reservist for the Defence Science and Technology Group, she said the work was extremely interesting and important as it would assist Navy with the process of decision-making in human-machine teamed environments. 

“With Ai, it will provide alternate options to people such as combat systems operators at sea. With their own analysis and understanding of the situation, it could really help them, especially in high-pressure situations,” Lieutenant Commander El-Masri said.

“I work with some incredibly smart people. This project is very exciting for the future of Navy and its capability.”

With her other hat on, Dr El-Masri also teaches university graduate students advanced econometrics and marketing analytics, which she said she loved as both were very heavy in mathematics and statistics. 

“I really enjoy teaching, which is why I would like to be able to help younger children in STEM, too, but working in Navy is also important to me,” Lieutenant Commander El-Masri said.

“I still have amazing friends from my Navy community back from my days as a WEEO.

“I am proud to be able to serve in Navy as a reservist and be a part of Navy’s future and would one day like to return in a full-time capacity.”