Atang Monicah Koboti is my name. I am a Mechanical Engineering Student at the University of Botswana, currently in my final year of study. Why did I choose mechanical engineering? I was very inquisitive as a child, and of course, my mother was present to answer these questions on the stars, the galaxies and whatever else I could come up with. She loved to read and she would, patiently, pass on her knowledge to me. Once I was able to, I would read more on the topics I was curious about and impress her with my knowledge.
So this is where I discovered my love for learning. I love to read, literature, art, poetry, the list is endless. I recently read the pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho which is more of a spiritual quest, but I digress! My love for learning served me as an increase in knowledge and an escape in times of hardship. With this need to know about everything, came with good grades, followed closely by expectation. My final exam grades were good, by all accounts, but a friend who I had helped in school got a scholarship to study at the UK. Everyone felt that I had failed since I did not get the scholarship. This was devastating to me, since no one was acknowledging the fact that I had been accepted at the University of Botswana. Expectation did not stop there, the unwritten understanding was that I would study medicine. Well, I went on a bender and chose civil engineering instead!
Yes, common year in university came and I got to study at the United States for part of the first year. I was exposed to mechanical engineering at its best, producing tangible products and solving problems, contrary to the repair and fix it that I was used to in Botswana. My mind was forever changed. I came back to Botswana and joined Mechanical Engineering. And my journey began.
Mechanical Engineering is what I was made to do. Engineering is who I am. It took me out of my shell. With engineering, it is all about practice, learning from those who know. I have had to make friends with people doing computer science to learn certain things which are part of the course. According to me, every part of these engineering disciplines is a part of mechanical engineering somehow. I tell people that mechanical engineering is the foundation of engineering. With Mechanical Engineering, you can use something that has always been there to form something else. I have also discovered my passion for applying what I learn to everyday life. Case in point, I was thinking recently, instead of damping vibrations in mechanical devices, can we tap energy and turn it into energy and produce power, using our knowledge of control engineering? These are the thoughts that run through the mind of a mechanical engineer, at least this one. I am into aeronautics and new inventions right now, enthralled by the possibilities that there are with mechanical engineering.
I am currently the only female student in my final year class. My tomboy nature and my love for knowledge have made it easy to assimilate to the mostly male environment. There has been a lot of support from the department, though there are no female lecturers in this department. I wonder why this is so! I am inspired by Dr. Jeffrey, a female engineer in the Electrical Engineering Department. I mentioned the expectation that everyone placed on me because of my grades. Well, the same happens now. Once you are good at something, there is always pressure to be good at everything. Well, I work hard and make sure that the results I get are satisfactory to me first. My policy is ‘Never struggle to fit in. Do your thing and stand out, then everybody will come to you.’ I also learn from every person I encounter. Listening to people has helped me learn so much from people. I would say that everyone is a mentor to me. Each person you meet has something to teach you, if you only listen.
Attachment rolled around and I was placed in a consulting firm. My take? Consulting companies do a bit of everything, hence there is a lot to be learnt. On the downside, the operation of consultancies is like a black box, as an intern, you are restricted to a certain level. Another thing you realize is that there is more concern with financial gain in the industry than with the future of our country. Engineers are more focused on making money than problems of our generation and mentoring those who are starting out. Bearing this in mind, I would like to be an engineer with a vision. My personal interest is to build a research institute which would focus on cutting-edge research, involve more young people in projects and innovations, with the aim of providing solutions through our own brilliant inventions. Research institutions like BITRI with projects such as solar street lighting are of great interest to me.
My disappointments? I haven’t been able to do as much research as I would have wished within the department. Perhaps the faculty feel that undergrads should not be concerned with research, which is disappointing. My colleagues, at the US, got to do practical research with companies like NASA and Boeing. My fate at the department is that of practicals limited to the curriculum. I would have liked to work on tangible products and see the possibilities of mechanical engineering. Another thing that is challenging is that the department is in charge of professional knowledge development, without other aspects such as social growth. Personal challenges which affect your classwork are just that, personal. I would hope that they would consider helping students out with certain issues, such as sponsorship and accommodation, which are our major challenges and affect out school work.
My final year! What have I planned to do next? This year, as part of the University of Botswana Engineering Students(UBES) Association, I want to take part in mentoring those ladies behind me, through a ladies in engineering mentorship group. I think this will encourage ladies to stay with engineering. I should mention that I am a perfectionist, which means my career plans are all laid out. After graduation, I would like to work for 2 or 3 years for experience, then, pursue a postgraduate degree. I know what problems I wish to research on, based on the challenges that are in our country such as energy and water. Afterwards, I would like to go into research fully. For me, success will mean achieving two things: running my research firm with viable engineering projects and a solar plant in Botswana. Maybe, the third would be to mentor someone, or several people in research. When I can help people in Botswana reach the same heights that people in developed countries have reached in science and technology. I think that is what success will mean for me.
I am not all learning and research. I have other interests. I like poetry and spoken word, even write a few lines myself. I also love dancing. I would have wanted to do a world dance tour if I wasn’t so focused on engineering. Dance is a form of expression, through your body, just in a different way that engineering is an expression of congruence of scientific ideology.
So yes, I dare to be a mechanical engineer!