Omar Kheir (he/him) is a gay engineer from Lebanon with a passion for solving problems efficiently with sophisticated data analysis.

He obtained a Bachelor of Engineering from the American University of Beirut in mechanical engineering and then went on to complete a Masters in industrial engineering at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Most recently, he completed a certificate program in data analytics from Georgia Tech. In his current position working as an expert in process improvement and optimization at EPCOM, he uses this extensive knowledge to translate business needs into technical requirements in terms of engineering theories and algorithms through creating innovative solutions, whether it’s collaborating with the sales teams, engineering team or purchasing agent. Essentially, he uses problem solving skills to engineer problems with a special twist to produce solutions to everyday problems. Outside of work he pursues interests in photography, hiking, bodybuilding, and anything outdoors and also takes time for self care.

We sat down with Omar (virtually!) to get to know more about his multiple intersecting identities, finding community, and owning his path as a queer person in STEM.
Please note some answers were edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: How did you come to your professional career?
I was lucky enough to grow up in a family full of science advocates; my mom was a science teacher and my dad was a math teacher. We kind of grew up loving and appreciating sciences. I remember my dad teaching me how to count when I was extremely young. I really liked Math and Physics in high school which naturally led me to pursue a career in engineering. I was extremely passionate and impressed by all the science behind the creation of cars, airplanes, engines which is why I chose Mechanical Engineering but I chose Industrial Engineering later on because I really wanted to learn how to make our world more efficient by turning day-to-day data into engineering problems.

Q: What does self care look like for you and how has that been to navigate as a professional?
Self care is taking a step back from worrying about the future and focusing on the “now”, whether by going on a hike, taking a yoga class or just watching a movie. At some point during this past pandemic year, I was feeling overwhelmed by everything (work, volunteering, taking additional online classes) to the point that I felt like I needed to do things differently--that’s when I started dedicating some time each day to just focus on my well-being.

Q: Describe some of the challenges that you face when navigating your identities as a queer person in STEM and how have you overcome them.
It’s tough being a queer engineer. It’s stereotypically a masculine cis-male straight environment, but I believe that my qualifications helped me stand out regardless. I was not out during my undergrad which created its own discomfort of not being able to be myself with friends. It’s especially harder to be out in Lebanon since it’s a less “tolerant” country.

Q: What has helped you to face these obstacles? What advice would you give to someone else? What do you wish you had known, if anything, before you set out down this path?
Moving to the US and being surrounded by supportive friends and colleagues definitely helped me be more myself. At some point, you also gain enough confidence that you can stop worrying about what others think, you can be unapologetically your full and true self.
I would tell other queer engineers that it does get better, as cheesy as it sounds. It’s not an easy road but it also makes you stronger than a “regular” person who does not have to go through the process of proving their capabilities to others in order to earn their respect or acknowledgement.

Q: What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’m particularly proud of turning my company profitable after a series of groundbreaking processes I managed to implement with my team, saving more than 30 American jobs and preventing the closure of our Miami branch. I was able to implement, with the support of a large team, a series of unique process changes that were able to overturn the losses that have impacted the company for years.

Q: Where have you found community in your life?
I was able to build awesome communities through the professional organizations I’ve been involved in, as well as the friends I got to make within the LGBTQ+ community in the cities where I lived. Relocating for studying and work makes it challenging to have a “permanent” community you’re connected to in one specific geographical location but you also get to meet great people and build friendships from all over the world.

Q: Who most inspired you to believe in yourself as a queer individual in STEM?
Unfortunately, when I was still going through college, whether it was undergrad or graduate schools, I did not know of many queer individuals in STEM I could get inspired by. Thus, the importance of initiatives like oSTEM who shed the light on these individuals that can inspire others. I do wish I was more connected to the community back then, I wish the resources were more easily accessible to me.

Q: How long have you been involved in oSTEM?
I have been involved with oSTEM since 2019 when we decided to launch an LGBTQ+ initiative in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. oSTEM has been incredibly supportive to us providing crucial guidance along the way; we’ve been very fortunate to have oSTEM’s support.

Q: How do your multiple identities intersect and interact with each other? What would you want others to know about your lived experience?
I would say that every background and identity feeds into making me the person I am: my queerness, my engineering background, my love for photography. Each experience I had created my unique self which I’m grateful for. Each person’s unique backgrounds and experiences creates their uniqueness as a human being which is what makes them special.
I would say that being queer definitely pushed me to work harder in order to prove myself as a successful engineer which a straight person might not have to do in a straight-dominant field. My love for photography highlighted my creative side and helped a lot in producing more unique and appealing engineering designs as well as marketing materials for our products.

Q: What are you most proud of outside of work?
Outside of work, I’m proud of many things. I’m proud of being more comfortable with my identity as a gay man. There’s always more progress to make but I can say I reached a good level of comfort. I’m proud of all the great connections and friendships that I made throughout the years. These friends have been there for me during my worst days and I would be there for them anytime I’m needed. Lastly, I’m proud of my family who has given me everything they had so that I can succeed.

Q: What keeps you motivated and moving forward?
I moved to this country because it’s the land of opportunity. I believe that if you work hard here, you can definitely have an impact and make a positive change in the world or that at least your chances of making it are much much higher than anywhere else on this planet. I’m looking forward to future opportunities where I can help make that massive impact.

Q: At the end of the day, what puts a smile on your face?
Seeing that the people I love are safe, healthy and happy. After a long day of work and stress, watching Instagram videos of puppies definitely puts a smile on my face as well.

Q: Is there anything else we haven’t talked about that you want to share?
I’m just thankful for oSTEM’s support and I’d like to stress on the importance of organizations like oSTEM that empower the LGBTQ+ community.