A day in the life: Rana El Chemaitelly, the woman behind The Little Engineer

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While working part time at the American University of Beirut (AUB), mechanical engineer Rana El Chemaitelly noticed that many of her students didn’t have practical skills. To combat this, she set up The Little Engineer (TLE), an after-school club that gives children exposure to the field of engineering. Wanting to focus on the skill sets required for an increasingly automated and sustainable world, she has focused her courses for the children on the fields of robotics, renewable energy, and the environment.


El Chemaitelly shares her engineering knowledge during a TLE session in 2015. (Images via TLE)

Going forward TLE has already struck partnerships with Airbus and the UAE Space Agency in Abu Dhabi, in order to start providing courses in aviation and space exploration.

For El Chemaitelly, equipping the children with the right tools, guidance, and a safe space in which to experiment, she is preparing a new generation of engineers who really know what they want to do and how to do it. Witnessing many students dropping out at university level engineering, not having the right language to tackle the subjects, has been a driving force behind her work through TLE.

“I want to see successful and determined engineers,” she says. And starting from an early age the talent needed in these sectors can be honed. So, with an understanding of the world of engineering starting at an early age there’s a chance for a MENA-born Elon Musk to emerge, a now-prominent CEO and global game changer that once said, “I grew up in sort of an engineering environment - my father is an electromechanical engineer. And so there were lots of engineery things around me.”

Since founding TLE, El Chemaitelly's workshops in Lebanon have been consistently fully booked and she’s now expanded to Qatar and the UK.

Her accolades include an MIT Arab Business Plan Competition, a Cartier Women’s Initiative Award, and a Green Mind Award.  

As a mother, there is a work/life balance that she has come to adopt. Take a look at how she divides up her time.

6 AM

I get up. I take a coffee, then I’m up with the kids. I spend about 30 minutes on social media, this is essential for TLE, seeing what’s going on, retweeting etc. Then I go to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for the kids.

8 AM

The children are taken to school by a driver, at which point my domestic helper usually has to remind me to eat some breakfast. I’m really bad at doing that. I shower and dress and leave the house.

10:30 AM

I look at the social media first thing, but when it comes to emails I don’t like to do them on my mobile in case I miss something. Around this time I hit the emails so I can answer them properly.

I often work at home, usually when I really need to concentrate. You know, when you’re in an office someone always wants something. I have a little office, well, there’s certainly always a spot to work from.

11 AM

This is time for another coffee, this is important, again. This time though it’s a cappuccino or an American.

I actually go to the office when I have research and development to do, but paperwork, financial planning, and strategy is all done from home. The TLE system is very channeled, I have many assistants helping me with the work, and they also cover HR and marketing.

Midday

The work continues. TLE has a branch in Qatar and I’m working on growing the network so that it’ll eventually cover the UK, UAE, KSA, Bahrain, and Italy. We are planning to grow the business in the region - working on developing franchises. We’re restructuring the courses, restructuring the business itself.

I did have a partnership back in 2012 for TLE but I eventually bought the shares back and now I’m alone again. Being the entrepreneur behind TLE I know where and when to put in the money.

3 PM

If I have been working away from home, running to meetings, or at the TLE office, I aim to make it home for 3 PM so as to see the children as they start to come home. I’ll still be working but they see me working and I think this is good - they try to imitate me.

3:30 PM

My daughter, 10, comes home from school around this time and this is when I have lunch. Even if I’ve been out all day at meetings I make sure I’m home when she gets back (unless I’m travelling of course). The food I cooked early in the morning is what we eat.

4 PM

Coffee time! This one is an Arabic coffee.

4:30 PM

This is when my son, who is 12, comes home from school. We talk about his day. This period, from my daughter returning and my son, until nearly 5 PM, is totally dedicated to them. I want to know all of the things they are up to.


El Chemaitelly oversees a workshop during a TLE session in 2015.

5 PM

This is when the kids study and so I work in parallel with them but not on the serious tasks. I’ll manage social media type things. Being there with them means I can assist when they need it.

Because I’m so busy during the week I have to wait until the weekend to dedicate any time to sports. I try and do about two hours over the weekend. I’m missing my time for the gym and finding a slot for that is something I’m working on.

7 PM

Usually around this time we prepare a light dinner. I do like cooking. With a hectic life I don’t really go to parties or lunches unless I’m obliged. I certainly am not hosting any dinner parties. But sometimes if I’m looking for a change of mood or pace….

9 PM

Get the children ready for bed and read with them for about half an hour. They sleep by 9 or so, I don’t push them. I like to give them freedom, as long as they’re doing well at school.

After the children are in bed I might go back to working, or I’ll go out with friends, or I’ll connect with them online, depends on how much energy I have. I might watch a movie. I love the National Geographic channel or read. Often if I work late I don’t then get up at 6 AM with the children.

El Chemaitelly ends her daily routine for Wamda with her thoughts on what keeps her getting up for TLE each day: “It is a joy for me, everyday, to see these children performing well and learning. I want to see talent on the right track.”

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