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Trudy Morgan: a believer in hard hats and lipstick

27 March 2019

ICE's international representative in Sierra Leone recently became the first female African ICE Fellow and is encouraging women and girls to become and remain engineers.

Trudy Morgan: a believer in hard hats and lipstick

Those who know me well, know that I love life and I show it! Laughing, singing, dancing and smiling is my byword for life.

But I guess my scream of 'yes!' was a tad too loud when I got my letter of acceptance as an ICE Fellow.

I went into high-school mode and started running around the office like a lunatic, shouting: "I did it, I did it!"

Thankfully, after a few months of 'celebrating' (probably 10lbs heavier, too) I'm more composed and can respond to congratulations with a smile and an appreciative nod of thanks. 

I was asked recently "how does it feel to be a Fellow?” and I touted my usual response: "Great … good … wonderful ... proud ..." and all the usual words that one says at times like that.

Being asked to write about it is another thing. It’s forced me to think deeply about why I applied for ICE Fellowship, and more importantly, what will I do with it, now that I have it. 

Trudy Morgan with her ICE Fellowship certificate.

Setting an example

In Sierra Leone, we say that children belong to the family.

My parents are both one of eight children, which tells you how many aunts and uncles and cousins I have, and who, by virtue of their link to me through family, have a "right" over me!

I'm the first of my father’s four daughters, therefore, I had to set the right example for others to follow!

With parents who are academic, studying wasn’t difficult.

I studied engineering because my father and I agreed that my aim to be a singer/dancer/actress could come after I had one degree under my belt.

Suffice to say, I finished my engineering degree and started working as an engineer in London in 1989, and have done so ever since.

Representing ICE and civil engineers in Sierra Leone

Over the years, I've enjoyed my work as an engineer and had the opportunity of working in over 17 different countries.

Fast forward to 2011 and I moved back to Sierra Leone to build the first five-star hotel in the country, with funding raised by Sierra Leoneans and a company, IDEA UK, owned by Sierra Leoneans. 

In the interim, I became the ICE’s International Representative in Sierra Leone and organised meetings and events to promote the ICE in country. 

Sierra Leone.

In 2015 I co-founded the Sierra Leone Women Engineers – a not-for-profit organisation which supports women engineers in the country and works to retain them in engineering.

I also set up the Saturday Club, an avenue for girls in secondary school interested in engineering to learn more about it through activities, site visits and mentoring and coaching. 

What made me apply for ICE Fellowship?

I have to admit the idea of fellowship never crossed my mind until I met ICE Past President Paul Jowitt, at a conference in Kyoto in 2015, who encouraged me to apply.

My mind ran to my very first visit to the ICE in September 1989 and the interesting encounter I had - I was asked if I was in the right place ... would I be accepted? Would I fit?

I quickly put the thought to the back of my mind until 2018, when I worked on the UNOPS- implemented Landslide Remediation Project where I had a "challenger", ICE Fellow Nick Gardner, who encouraged me to review the issue of the ICE Fellowship!

An eye-opening experience

The ICE Fellowship is the highest grade of membership and a benchmark for those practising at the top level within the profession.

I see this as a stepping stone to truly making a difference in Sierra Leone and across the continent.

The process of putting my submission together was eye-opening. It’s interesting how much work we do and don’t even stop to think about its impact or relevance, and quickly move on to our next project.

To be honest, I missed two deadlines and almost missed the last one due "technical issues".

'How do I become like you?'

Since attaining Fellowship, I've been asked to speak at numerous events, including the Next Einstein Forum and TechWomen meetings in Sierra Leone.

Trudy Morgan speaking on a TechWomen panel in Sierra Leone. 

A constant feature at all events is the number of young (and sometimes mature) women who come up to me and ask me "how do I become like you?", "what do I need to do to get to where you are?"

In a country where the literacy rate is 48%, the total female population is 52%, of which 57% are not educated, I want to use my fellowship in advocating and speaking for the education of women, especially in STEM and particularly in engineering. 

The Saturday Club

We've already started with our work with the Saturday Club, and plan to extend that to more schools.

The Saturday Club in Sierra Leone.

One of the things I try to do with the Saturday Club is to show that engineering is fun and exciting, but most of all, rewarding.

Working with young girls from all walks of life, I try to use their own environment to show them how they can start to identify problems and find solutions in their homes, communities and ultimately our country, through engineering. 

We're mothers, wives, and teachers - but we're also engineers

This is truly an exciting time for women in engineering in Africa.

Across the continent, we're finding our voice and are demonstrating that we can be at the forefront of infrastructural development in our various countries.

We're combining our natural curiosity and nurturing instincts with technical know-how and competences to deliver solutions that meet the social and economic needs of both men and women in our society.

As a believer in hard hats and lipstick, I hope that everyone will realise that from an early age, we should allow our children (boys and girls) to be the best they can be and not put anyone, especially our girls, in a box.

Children on construction site in Sierra Leone.

Yes, we are mothers, wives, nurses and teachers, but we're also engineers, rocket scientists and neurophysicists.

Civil engineering is an exciting career for women as it shapes the world we live in. As a believer in showing by doing, I hope I've demonstrated to numerous women and girls that engineering is a career for women, too!