Celebrating Women in Engineering
June 23, 2020
June 23, 2020
International Women in Engineering Day spotlights stories from our colleagues about why they became engineers
Innovators. Creators. Problem solvers. The world today would look drastically different were it not for the brilliant minds of women engineers making bridges safer, the environment healthier, buildings stronger, and the list goes on and on. To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, we asked some of our colleagues from around the globe why they chose a career in engineering. Here’s what they had to say:
I became an engineer because I love to learn, problem solve, and be outside. For a career path, engineering ticked all those boxes. The physical world is constantly changing and new technologies are emerging. As an engineer, I am always taking courses on the latest technologies or more technical aspects of the civil engineering field. Working with a design team and clients allows for plenty of problem solving, especially in the north. Being outside, whether it is topographic surveying or site inspection, is one of the greatest learning tools that we have!
The biggest influence on my chosen career path was my father. He didn’t go to university, nor was he an engineer, but he did have an engineering mind so I grew up surrounded by creative people who were fascinated by how things work and how we could make things better. Engineering as a subject fascinates me, it affects every part of our everyday life from the clothes we wear, to the transport we use, to the medicine developed, to the water flowing out of our taps and far beyond. Now I want to inspire the next generation and make it not unusual for women to pursue a career in engineering.
Most people in my life expected me to become a doctor. Everybody had the idea that “the best student” in our very small school- should follow the most fascinating career – medicine. In opposite, I just knew that I liked math and chemistry, so I investigated and decided that chemical engineering would guide my future. My family was shocked, of course. Later, I also decided to pursue water resources to focus on preserving the environment rather than on building and development. I eventually found a balance between preservation and development, learning that it’s possible to do both through innovation and creative thinking.
It has been my dream to become a Civil Engineer since I was in primary school. Not any engineer, or something similar. NO! My 10-year-old self was very specific that when she grows up she most certainly wanted to be a CIVIL Engineer. The love with the profession started when I visited the office of a family friend that was a Civil Engineer, and I saw for the first time a drawing table and huge drawings of a house he was building. It was an instant fascination that remained unwavering and was fully nurtured and supported by my family until I entered the doors of the University Civil Engineering Department years later. The reality never disappointed and the profession has taken me in an interesting and very fulfilling journey all around the world.
The decision to become an engineer was a lot easier for me than deciding which field of engineering to specialize in. At the time, the career path choices presented to students within the Ugandan education system and society in general were limited. The professions that were considered respectable were becoming a doctor, lawyer, engineer, banker, or teacher — although girls were especially encouraged to enter the medical or teaching fields. I started out studying civil engineering and finally pivoted towards environmental engineering after realizing my growing interest in water quality issues and how they affect public health, especially in low income countries with limited water/sanitation infrastructure.
I knew undoubtedly early on that I was interested in the natural sciences. National Geographic magazine was a must read for me. I read issues cover to cover, fascinated by the articles and captivated by the photography. Although I pursued a degree in Biology first, I soon realized that I wanted to move towards an applied science, but I was entirely unsure of what I wanted to do next. While completing my biology degree and living at home, I spent time in our garden. Chores turned into small scale projects like implementing backyard composting, setting up rain barrels, thinking about runoff, and best watering practices. That’s when it clicked that I enjoyed finding ways to conserve, reuse, reduce, and recycle. Environmental Engineering (an engineering discipline I was unaware existed) was a perfect fit. This offered an opportunity to study and ultimately design solutions to conserve water and energy, reduce waste and pollution, and protect our environment.
When I was in 8th grade, my middle school held a Women in Engineering day where they invited engineers from IBM to talk to the girls about what it means to be an engineer. They explained that engineers are the people behind the world’s infrastructure, robotics, space travel, computers, phones, biomedical devices, environmental protection systems, batteries…basically everything that has become a fundamental part of today’s society. That day, I decided that I wanted to be an engineer so that I could help society keep advancing and I never changed my mind! I narrowed my interest down to structural engineering because of my love for bridges—these critical pieces of infrastructure that connect people and places and can also be iconic symbols for entire cities. Today, I am a bridge engineer at Stantec and could not be happier to be living out my childhood dream!
Back at university during my first work placement, I was inspired by my boss to become a Chartered Waste Manager.
Reflecting on my career, I can see that what has guided me the most are people. What inspired me isn’t whether they are men or women, it is their passion and enthusiasm for what they do. I recently took my daughter and her entire class to an Energy from Waste plant in Oxfordshire. In the morning she asked me why I was so excited. By the end of the day, she became fascinated by the whole process and didn’t stop talking about the bunker and crane!
In the busy weeks of conference calls and meetings, we sometimes forget the real reason why we do what we do. Sometimes the best therapy is to get back to your roots, be out on site, and don a hard hat!
Growing up I imagined becoming a ballerina and, let's face it, I still dream of that sometimes! But I also liked math and science and knew they were my strengths. I was drawn to study engineering as a practical application of these skills, although starting out I didn't really have a good idea of what it meant to be an engineer and how diverse the choice of career paths can be. I feel fortunate to have found a home as an engineer in the water industry, planning and optimizing the operations of water supply networks. I can see how my work contributes to the lives of people in my communities, and I have opportunities to work with others striving to improve how we manage water in ways that respect environmental and cultural values. People say engineering is all about problem solving; I’ve learned it’s about taking what you know and applying it to new situations. I love continuing to learn how things work, understanding relationships between systems, and how context and external factors change what the optimal solution will be for each new challenge.
When I think about why I became an engineer, the first idea that comes to my mind is “because I wanted to be like my dad.” Since I was 6 years old, each time that I visited a town in the highland or in the jungle in Peru, it was common for me to hear that a place was electrified by my dad, a mechanical-electrical engineer. I discovered that engineers had the magic to change life and make the world a better place. Now that I’m a civil engineer, I am incredibly proud of my work on geotechnics applied to mining because I get to work on responsible mining projects that preserve Earth´s resources and our environment.