I am a Highways Projects Engineer

Winfred Gichuru is a Highways projects engineer working at Gibb International Ltd. Construction became her passion late in the game, but she has caught up, loving every challenge that the job provides. She speaks to us about her role in infrastructure, and why women need to just Get-Up-and-Go!

Why Civil Engineering? I consider myself a late bloomer when it comes to civil engineering. I loved science since I was a kid and even dreamt of becoming the first African woman in space. I used to read about the black hole, stars and so on.  My interest in civil engineering surfaced in high school. I became fascinated by buildings, structures such as roads, bridges and tunnels and would read everything and anything on them. Science related subjects were my thing and so when it came to the selection of a course at uni, it was no-brainer!

What is a highway (roads) engineer, and what is your typical day like? Highway engineering deals with the design, construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, tunnels to ensure safe and effective transportation of people and goods. From a project perspective, my daily tasks, depending on the phase of the project, are designing alignments and intersections taking into account future traffic flow; preparing and checking construction plans, design calculations to ensure completeness, accuracy and conformity to engineering standard or practices; preparing administrative and technical results; preparing project budgets schedules and specifications for materials and labour. I work closely with other engineers such as traffic/transportation engineer, pavement design engineers and structural engineers. It is very informative, interesting and challenging at the same time and rarely a dull moment!

Photo Credit: wired.com

What are the highs and lows, in your experience, of being a woman in the construction industry? My high has been the team I have a great pleasure to work with. They have made the journey worthwhile thus far. We work together as equals and challenge each other. There is no chance of slackening and you work your *** off but you have fun surrounded by such great minds. Unfortunately, there is a low. I am disappointed about numbers of female engineers running their own consulting engineering firms. We are not claiming our leadership space in the infrastructure development. We need more female-run firms to encourage more female engineers to enter consulting engineering industry.

Do you think mentorship is useful in supporting engineers to further their careers and how are you involved? Mentorship is critical especially for female engineers. Mentors give advice, share experiences and provide the social connections required, thus dismantling the barriers and help them find their place in the engineering field. Through such interactions, one becomes motivated, more self-assured and less anxious. It helps to suppress the effects of negative stereotypes one is more likely to face in the pursuit of their engineering dream, from school to the field.

Tell us about your role in GAMA YPF and how you are able to mentor consulting engineers? I am, currently, the secretary of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Kenya (ACEK) Young Professionals and a member of the GAMA YPF Steering Committee, I am the Secretary of the Steering Committee. ACEK is a member of GAMA (Group of African Member Associations) which supports the regional activities of International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC). The YPF is a dynamic grouping of passionate and energetic Young Professionals (YPs) in the consulting engineering industry whose intent is to develop the next generation of consulting engineering industry leaders through participation in FIDIC with their peers, organizing networking activities and sessions that encourage, nurture and sustain the professional and personal development of young professional engineers in the consulting engineering industry.

What two things do you know now about your career that you wish you knew when you were just out of campus? Interesting. I was surprised that what I was taught in class is rather different from what is applicable in the real world. You get to realize that some of the designs one comes up with may not be realized. There are so many factors to be considered and clients may not take it up mainly because of costs. Design is for the user and not the designer. Secondly, you will not dive straight into technical work. The path to engineering advancement is paved by non-technical tasks and one should embrace them wholeheartedly. These tasks do help in the overall professional development. These tasks include management tasks, preparation of response to request for proposal (RfPs) e.g. preparing proposed staff CVs and so on.

What is next for you? Be registered as a consulting engineer! I have given myself 5 years to achieve this and also claim my space, running a consulting engineering firm.

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions. 

– Stephen Covey

Any hobbies? Running and working out (fitness), reading novels, travelling and seeking new adventures.

Parting shot? I believe we are a special breed and we should stop over-analyzing things and just do it. If it is to start a business, just do it.  Trust what you are doing is going to work out in the end. If you don’t do anything different, you will stay where you are.

More about the author: Winfred Gichuru is a Civil (Highways) engineer with GIBB Africa Ltd with 11 years’ experience.

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