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On being the ‘neighbourhood engineer’ that people need

03 October 2022

Virtue Igbokwuwe talks about the importance of representation, and the role YouTube has played in that.

On being the ‘neighbourhood engineer’ that people need
Being on Richard Hammond's Crazy Contraptions was a great opportunity. Image credit: Virtue Igbokwuwe

Up until the age of 16, the words ‘civil engineer’ weren’t in my vocabulary.

It was only when my year 12/13 physics teacher told me about the profession, and what ICE does, that I learned what it was. To this day, I’m very grateful for her advice and guidance.

Before I went to Southampton University, I remember desperately searching ‘civil engineering student’ on Google and YouTube with the hope of finding someone like me studying the course or in the industry.

However, the content was scarce.

Since starting university, I’ve learned that the narrative that engineering is male-dominated and that it's not a place for women is so outdated. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

When I joined, I remember seeing so many wonderful young women and my cohort split was 60:40, men to women. If only more people knew this!

I decided to take matters into my own hands.

This was the main reason I decided to start my YouTube channel, “The Virtuous Life”.

The Virtuous Life

When I started filming YouTube videos, I had two things in mind:

  1. Representation: showing a young, Black woman in the field, hoping to inspire people.
  2. Changing narratives: showing the world that civil engineering isn’t a male-dominated field anymore (maybe 100 years ago, but times are changing, and people need to get on with it).

So, with my YouTube channel, I documented life as a civil engineering student, including my lectures, labs, site visits and my summer placements as a contractor on site.

My passion for outreach and increasing the representation in the field was enough to fuel my motivation and put out more than 50 videos. I’ve grown the channel to almost 5,000 subscribers.

I found that ‘day in the life…’ videos resonate the most with the viewers, as it’s a chance to see the day-to-day activity of a site engineer or a placement student.

The importance of representation

Not everyone knows an engineer or has one in the family, so YouTube vlogs are the next best thing to bridge that gap and be that ‘neighbourhood engineer’ people need.

It’s so important for people to feel like they are represented.

Seeing someone like you in a field you wouldn’t expect goes a long way, and I think people downplay or underestimate the impact.

From my experience, seeing people in a field or position I never imagined was possible, evokes inspiration and motivates me to pursue that career.

Also, reading comments from my active YouTube subscribers explaining how my videos influenced their A-levels choices as well as their desire to pursue engineering cemented the fact that what I’m doing is needed.

From the computer screen to the TV screen

With my YouTube channel, many opportunities and blessings came my way.

One of my highlights is the opportunity to appear on TV.

I was approached through my YouTube channel to appear on a new engineering game show called Richard Hammond's Crazy Contraptions.

Virtue and team mates on set
Virtue and her team mates Chienyem Mezue and Esther Ilelaboye. Image credit: Virtue Igbokwuwe

At first, I was nervous as YouTube and TV are completely different, but I knew that I couldn’t turn down an opportunity like this.

I was proud to be in an all-Black women's team competing as civil engineering students because let's be honest, civil engineering has a stigma of being mainly dominated by white males.

So, seeing a team like mine on prime-time Channel 4 was truly amazing.

Lessons learned and hopes for the future

It’s an experience I will never forget, and I took the opportunity to express how important representation is and showcase what civil engineers do.

The actual filming of the TV show was way more tiring and challenging than expected, with long 12-hour set times and four consecutive days of filming.

Also, as it was an engineering game show, there was a lot of design and construction done on set, using various machines and materials to bring your drawings to life.

I found the whole process challenging but very rewarding.

Now that I’ve graduated with a first-class MEng degree in Civil Engineering, this new chapter will bring many more new videos to my YouTube channel to hopefully document life in the industry.

Virtue at her graduation
Virtue graduated earlier this year. Image credit: Virtue Igbokwuwe

I’m excited about the future and hope to continue inspiring the next generation.

How to share your work as a civil engineer

I think it’s easy to be put off by social media, especially YouTube if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing.

However, I know it sounds cliché, but if I can do it, you can do it too.

Simply recording different aspects of your working day on your phone and posting it can be a great start.

Viewers like authentic content so don’t see editing and finding the perfect scene as a barrier, just take the first step and the rest will follow.

I believe this form of outreach should be considered alongside the norm of visiting schools or presentations as it’s far more accessible and reaches a greater audience.

Watch Virtue’s YouTube videos

Become an ICE STEM ambassador

Virtue is an ICE STEM ambassador, receiving a special commendation at the ICE STEM Ambassador of the Year Award in 2021.

Do you have a passion for the built environment and want to share it?

Do you want to share your experience and give young people a chance to enter this great profession?

Do you want to develop your own skills, like planning and public speaking, which can count towards your CPD?

Volunteer as an ICE STEM ambassador
  • Virtue Igbokwuwe, graduate civil engineer at Eurovia