Letter addressed to my form four leaver self:
I vividly remember my first day in campus. If we had met a week before 4th May that year, you would laugh at me if I told you that I was going to enrol for an engineering course. Well, that is a story for another day but here I am and I keep on thinking, what would I tell my first year self? This may sound cliché but the only reason I chose engineering was because I was confident that I was a bright student. Yes I am. In my family, engineering, medicine, architecture and similar careers are expected on passing your exams. I do not regret enrolling for engineering, infact, I have grown to enjoy it. So if I could go back, what pep-talk would I give myself? Here goes:
Engineering Is the Ultimate Field for Challenge and Creativity
As an Engineer, I have worked on exciting projects which have influenced positive change in the world. The amazing structures, vehicles and discoveries in modern society have been influenced and created by engineers at various levels. If you are curious about how things work and have a keen mind for applying what you learn to solve real world problems, engineering is the perfect avenue for your talents. Be prepared to dedicate years of learning and practice to master a field of engineering: agricultural, computer, electrical and electronics, mechanical, mechatronics, civil, software, just to mention but a few.
You will Learn Skills Applicable Universally
Engineers develop problem solving skills at the early stages of their training. These skills are incredibly valuable in the field and beyond. For example, the lack of access to clean and safe water for domestic use is a problem in Africa that is currently being solved by engineers. The ability to provide concrete solutions to problems is essential and will give you great confidence when faced with any challenge or impediment. You will develop an understanding of the feasibility of a project from both financial and practical perspectives. You also learn how to manage your time effectively, work as a part of a team and develop into a true leader. Trust me, that feeling of helping to solve a problem is fulfilling. These skills can also be applied to any area of your life which is a plus.
Engineering is not a “Tough” course
You’ve probably heard people saying that engineering is a tough course. Well guess what? There’s nothing like an easy course. Everything at the university is usually taught from scratch. The greatest task I had, personally, was to decide between ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t like’. Take for instance Electronics. Not every first year university student understands electronics, but the curriculum ensures that it is easily learnt through the semester.
Pay attention to the basics and the notion of tough courses will not occur! Hardwork and discipline also go hand in hand with this. Yes, you’ll probably spend a little more time studying than your counterparts pursuing other courses, but all you need is a little sacrifice and you will enjoy the fruits! You cannot plough a field by turning it in your mind. Larry Bird has a theory that if you give 100 per-cent all of the time, things will work out in the end. You can argue that with talent you can do without putting in a lot of effort, but hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
Femininity is to fashion and beauty. One of my major fears in my first year of study was that I would lose all sense of femininity. Some male friends even joked (I hoped) that I would grow ugly by doing engineering. Girls are brought up as princesses, so this can make the pursuit of engineering a difficult choice. Well, I guess you know where I’m headed now, seven years later and I love what I do. There may be some dirt and grime while working in the field, but there is a distinct separation between my profession and my personal style. And one can also look fashionable in work overalls (I love that look by the way!). Wearing the overall does not make you less of a woman; it makes you someone who cares about their work environment and the hazards that exist in that environment.
Your gender should not limit you.
Did you know that Hedy Lamarr invented a remote-controlled communications system for the U.S military during World War II?
Lamarr’s frequency hopping theory now serves as a foundation for modern communication technology, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi network connections. She is also remembered as a sexy movie star of the 1930s and 1940s. Yes, a movie star and an engineering innovator!
We all want good compensation even if we work out of our passions. Though engineering jobs have lower starting pay than other careers, the progression is faster. The gender equality policies in many countries have ensured that female engineers stand an equal chance of career progression as their male counterparts. An example is the two-thirds gender principle currently being employed in Kenya. I know that you wish for a lavish and exuberant lifestyle as well as a bright future for your dependants. Then young lady, this is the field for you. Engineering programs are rated at about 40% in the top 10 professions lists and one of the top-paid degree programs. Engineering gives you creative and problem solving skills, which gives you a slight edge in the global market. Studying engineering will guarantee that you are sought after.
These are only some of the things I would tell my doubtful self. My experiences have been invaluable and have helped me to grow. I hope you do not doubt your choice. May my shared experience be more convincing than your fear of the unknown.
Keziah Khalinditsa is an upcoming engineer and business woman (Managing Director at Lamworld Technologies Pty Ltd-Kenya). Her interests are to work with fellow engineers to eradicate poverty in African countries. She believes through engineering and technology, women can be part of something that will change the lives of their fellow women in Africa. She received her BSc. Degree in Biomechanical and Processing Engineering in 2014 and is currently a pursuing MSc. Agricultural Engineering (Mechanization) at Botswana College of Agriculture, Gaborone, Botswana. Miss Khalinditsa is currently working on an automatic borehole water management system for farms in Botswana with the aim of water conservation. Her motto is “to leave a mark bigger than me on this earth!”