Yewande Akinola is an engineer. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Design and Appropriate Technology and a Masters in Innovation and Design for Sustainability. Yewande’s engineering experience and responsibilities include the design and management of sustainable water supply systems in the built environment. She has worked on projects in the U.K., Africa, the Middle East and in East Asia. But her work doesn’t stop there…we caught up with Yewande to discuss her life as an engineer, what doors her career has opened for her and why she thinks industry-university collaboration helps to challenge the misconceptions about a career in engineering.
When did you decide you wanted to be an engineer?
I kind of always had huge interests in Engineering. I was very impressed by the built environment (buildings, bridges) and realised from an early age the implications of a lack of good infrastructure in developing countries. I felt it was something I wanted to be part of! I admit though, I went through a number of phases of wanting to be so many things. Architecture was my longest running. Just before I started to make decisions about university, my mum shared the thought that as an engineer I’d have more opportunity to express my ambition of creating inspiring spaces for people to live and work and also be able contribute towards water, energy and transport design. I gave it some thought.
What did you study at University and which key skills did you take from your courses that still helps you today?
I studied Engineering Design and Appropriate Technology at the University of Warwick and two years after graduation I did a degree in Innovation and Design for Sustainability at Cranfield University. Both degrees were very much centered on creativity in Engineering and were always linked to finding and developing real, practical and innovative solutions. My degree at Warwick had a significant ‘design for developing countries’ aspect to it and the course taught me how to develop solutions that are appropriate to the society they are being developed for. It covered water engineering, transport, agriculture and power supply. I loved my innovation degree because of the ‘idea to product/service’ aspect of it. It gave me the courage and skills to work with an idea through to an innovative product by thinking of lots of different aspects such as ‘what materials are used? How it is made? who the potential market is? And so on. All these skills are extremely useful in my daily projects.
Which non-engineering activities has your career opened up for you?
My career in engineering has expanded out to some also super exciting work in the media industry. Some of the thrills from the last couple of years have come from sharing my engineering story and presenting great engineering feats on television. I have had the amazing opportunity to present TV programmes for Channel 4, Discovery Channel and National Geographic….. and once, did a TV campaign advert for clothes shopping, it had a brilliant engineering theme. As part of a team of four, I walked in the shoes of the men and women who built the Titanic in a five part series titled Titanic: the mission. We built parts of the great liner to the original specification. It was an incredible experience and more than anything helped me appreciate the way engineering and engineers have helped shape our world’s progress.
How has engineering helped you with your charity work and what have you achieved though this?
Over the years, my interests in development have inspired and encouraged some truly fulfilling experiences. The practical aspect of Engineering has helped that happen -from understanding water demand in communities to being able to develop sanitations solutions that have a tangible impact on lifestyle and well-being. A recent experience was in Mozambique with some good friends, working with WaterAid, to find solutions to sanitation issues in some specific areas. Engineering allows for development work in all parts of the world and this presents incredible opportunities to learn from and interact with diverse and beautiful cultures. These interactions always guarantee priceless experiences.
Not enough students, and more importantly, female students, are taking up engineering courses – why do you think this is?
There is a perception issue. There are incorrect views of the possibilities and opportunities a career in Engineering offers. It is work in progress though. There are amazing initiatives to help people see the exciting and creative industry it really is. And for it to get even better we need that diversity! We need the boundless creative thinking female students will bring. Engineers like myself have a task on our hands. It is important that we tell our stories. It is important that we share and communicate our projects; our triumphs/successes and reach out to as many people as possible. We need to help others see how our engineering careers are challenging us and how all the challenges translate into the fantastic buildings, trains, aircraft, airports and cars that form part of people’s everyday lives.
What message do you think is important to get across to students about the opportunities engineering can bring?
The beauty of engineering is that its basic principles span across many different areas and aspects: communications, structures, mechanics etc. The prospect of learning something new every day keeps a momentum going. It is important to get that message of learning, applicability and creativity across. Another message is the fact that engineering allows you to ‘make it your own’. You can decide where in the world you want to be an engineer because you can apply the general principles of engineering everywhere in the world. If you work for an engineering firm in the UK as an Engineer, it is easier to take on opportunities in Asia, Africa, South America or in America than in a lot of other professions.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
I have had some amazing opportunities in my career so far. I still feel there is a very long way to go still but I am very, very excited about the future. The highlights range from the design of iconic buildings in London to the design of a huge hotel and waterpark resort in Asia. The last couple of years have been very humbling. Winning the IET’s Young Woman Engineer of the year, AFBE’s Exceptional Acheiver Award and Management Today’s 35 under 35 awards have inspired me to continue to ‘raise the game’. Daring to dream, having tons of fun and challenging myself help keep my engineering interests alive so whether it is a primary school in the country side or a 300m tower in East Asia or water supply scheme for a remote village, it is always my hope that my contributions have a positive inspiring impact.
How do you think businesses can help universities attract more females into engineering related courses?
University –business collaboration is very important. There are lot of things that seemingly get in the way of such collaborations. Organisations are sometimes worried about the financial implications and as such unwilling to take on ‘risks’. Businesses are however in the advantageous position of making long term potentially very profitable investments by attracting females into STEM courses. Schemes such as shadowing experiences, sponsorships, internships go a long way. They help sow the seed of STEM courses in students and help them see the practical day to day aspects of STEM professions. We live in an extremely visual age where real time interactions go a long way.
And finally, why should students take part in Talent 2030’s National Engineering Competition for Girls?
The Talent 2030 competition is a great opportunity to get some unrestricted creativity going! It is a chance for our future engineers to progress their ideas and start to see even more clearly how their ideas will help shape our world’s progress, well-being and development.
Yewande Akinola is an Engineer, to find out more please visit her website at www.yewandeakinola.co.uk.
Talent 2030 is an ambitious campaign to encourage more talented young people to pursue careers in manufacturing and engineering – including software development. We are particularly focused on inspiring more girls to consider careers in these sectors, working jointly with business and universities to undertake outreach into schools and colleges.
For further Talent 2030 updates follow us on Twitter @Talent_2030.