Yewande receiving her award from this year's YWE award ceremony host Gabby Logan.

Introducing Yewande Akinola 2012 IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year

A woman who loves the challenge of taking engineering ideas from concept through to manufacture, Yewande has been recognised for her commitment to sustainability and innovation, especially around water supply technology.

Yewande works for ARUP as an environmental services engineer, and now holds the title of 2012 IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year. She came to ARUP after completing a degree in engineering design and appropriate technology at the University of Warwick and a master’s in innovation and design for sustainability from Cranfield University.

Originally she had planned to train as an architect, but her mother thought she’d really excel if she entered the engineering world.

“My mum thought that as an engineer I’d have a lot more opportunity to express my desire to create inspiring spaces for people to live and work in, so I gave it some thought,” she says.

“When I started to really think about it, I thought yes, I’m interested in water engineering, I’m interested in transport, energy – having spent time growing up in a developing country energy was a big problem. I thought that instead of designing just comfortable houses, I could design roads and energy systems that would complement the whole idea of comfortable living. That was it for me: I then applied to Warwick.”

Following ideas through from concept to manufacture

Yewande loves that she’s able to marry all these areas in her engineering work and truly enjoys the challenge of taking engineering ideas from concept through to manufacture.

“The beauty of engineering is that its basic principles span across many different areas and aspects: communications, structures etc. That variety has helped me stay interested,” she notes.

When looking back over her career so far there are two projects that Yewande is particularly proud of.

Career far

The first is her contribution to the large brownfield redevelopment and sustainable regeneration of Central Saint Giles, London, one of the first city centre projects with a site-wide biomass heating system, extensive green roofs, and recycling of rainwater and grey water.

“I’d like to call this social engineering,” she says. “It was an amazing opportunity to work onsite and communicate my design ideas to the people there. Being able to express engineering concepts and ideas to the people on site is an important part of an engineer’s work,” she explains.

She’s also hugely proud of designing a product for a school in Devon.

“It’s about being able to translate an idea to a finished product, getting it registered and patented, then having it installed in a building and used everyday. Seeing it all come together is really good,” she says.

Working in developing countries

Yewande is also interested in water and sanitation for underdeveloped and developing countries, has travelled to Ghana to look into developing mechanised systems, and recently went over to Mozambique to work with Water Aid.

“That was really good because engineering is about being able to find the right solutions with the right resources,” she explains. “The problem there in Mozambique was with sanitation. These guys use pit latrines and when full they fill them up and dig new ones. Slowly but surely they’re surrounded by them. I came to work with the people there to understand how this problem could be solved.

“[The project] was about supporting the sanitation association to go into all these homes and empty the latrines. There’s something called a Vacutug that can be used, and these are then emptied at a local waste water treatment centre.”

Promoting engineering in the media

Yewande is keen to share the thrills of life in this industry and so combines her career with media roles where she can promote engineering to the general public. She’s already appeared on shows on Channel 4 and Discovery, and her work in this arena continues.

“All my media work has been about promoting engineering from start to finish,” she says. “I’ve always been a great believer in enjoying what you do and communicating that fact. No two engineers are the same, but letting people see what you do and that you’re enjoying it means there’s the potential for others to find and love their own niche. Working with the media is my way of expressing that.”

Her first work in this area was appearing on Channel 4’s Titanic: The Mission, which saw a team of engineers reproduce a 30ft section of the ship’s steel bow to scale, and erect it at the Belfast dock where Titanic was launched.

“I heard about it through a colleague at work. I thought I didn’t know a lot about ships but it seemed a good challenge, so I called them. I went along to the audition and met the other guys. I had to complete a couple of tasks around carpentry and building things and later got a call asking if I’d like to join the team. It was the beginning of a new exploration for me. There’s the adrenaline of looking into the unknown and still going for it!”

IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year award

When it came to winning Young Woman Engineer of the Year, Yewande says the award means a lot to her.

“These awards are very prestigious. In a way, people in industry see these as the perfect expression of excellence,” she says.

She decided to apply after an appearance in a newspaper led to friends and colleagues believing she’d already won.

“I appeared in an article in The Independent last year and there was an advert on the same page for the Institution of Engineering and Technology awards. Because my picture appeared right next to this a lot of people thought I’d won it,” she laughs.

“I had to tell people no, but I did look it up and realised what it was all about. I thought I’ve got a year to work as hard as possible and come up with some impressive stuff, so I gave myself that year and then applied.

How she will use the award

“It’s inspiring and encouraging to be a finalist, let alone a winner,” she continues. “This award will push me forward, help me carry on my engineering quest as such. It will allow me to reach out to more people and get involved in high-level decisions that may encourage women into engineering and also stick with engineering. That’s a problem too I believe – a lot of women come in and leave after a few years.

“Winning this has encouraged me to work even harder to put all the effort I can into spreading the message about how successful women in engineering are and can be. I’m hoping this will help me tell an effective story that will inspire young girls to consider a career in engineering and will demonstrate the diverse and fantastic opportunities this industry has to offer,” she concludes.

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