Student stories

Passion for sustainable development takes civil engineering student to Tanzania

Kate Worthy

African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS)

Civil engineering student Kate Worthy (right) traveled to Tanzania to work for the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), a Pan-African Network of Centres that offers post-graduate education, research and public outreach in the STEM field. As a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamon Jubilee Scholarship Program, she embraced the opportunity to develop her intercultural competencies and explore ways to make a positive impact throughout her work term and beyond.

In this Q&A, Kate shares some of her experiences and the impact that she made during her work term.

1) Why did you choose your academic program? Why did you choose to participate in co-op?

I chose civil engineering because I am passionate about sustainable development. I enjoy solving problems through applied mathematics while continuously striving to better the lives of a person, community or country. The co-op program was a large part of the reason I chose engineering at UVic. It provides endless opportunities to apply my learning in the field of engineering but also allows me to explore my future career options through working in different countries, in different areas of civil engineering and with diverse groups of people.

 2) What appealed to you about working in Tanzania? What did your work term involve?  

I am working for the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Tanzania. AIMS is a Pan-African Network of Centres that offers post-graduate education, research and public outreach in the STEM field. AIMS’ goal is to provide African students with the tools and skills to tackle African related problems. My role with AIMS is doing outreach and communications.

 I always wanted to complete a work term in a foreign country, specifically one in a developing country. I was fortunate enough to fulfill this goal in my first work term. Tanzania is a country of great talent and innovation. I wanted to experience that first hand. In addition to the outreach and communications work at AIMS, my work term has included connecting with a company involved in providing electric power to rural medical facilities, specifically through use of solar panels. This is an example of the sustainable, adaptive approach to civil engineering that I would like to make the focus of my education.

 Through my work at AIMS I have been exposed to the culture of 16 other African countries, through conversations and activities with students attending the institute. The students at AIMS, some of whom are there despite some difficult personal circumstances, inspire me. Their enthusiasm for learning is contagious, and that encourages my appreciation of the value of education, generally and for me personally. I believe that it is essential for civil engineers to have a comprehensive perspective of their role, which includes understanding the cultural context for their work. My time in Tanzania has certainly broadened my horizons in this regard.

3) How has your work term learning complemented your courses and classroom studies? What are you taking away from the experience? 

My work term is complementing my courses and classroom studies in so many different ways. I can see the material I learn in my courses is directly used in real world engineering situations. I have learned that one of the most important things when working on a project is to listen to the needs of the client and develop an appreciation of capacity challenges to strategically deliver the product. 

In addition, during my time in Tanzania I have learned to not approach situations with preconceived ideas. This includes adapting to the culture of the people and the culture of the workplace. This can be translated back to my schooling as I approach problems and projects and their respective outcomes. 

4) What intercultural learning are you taking away from your experience?

I have had the opportunity to see and explore the incredible beauty this country has to offer. I have learned about the culture, language and lifestyle of those living in the community. I have attended local festivals, social gatherings and learned to cook Swahili food.

I am also learning to put aside my “Canadian lens.” I allow the culture and environment to influence me rather than trying to implement my views on others. I am learning to appreciate different working environments and to truly be a citizen of the world. Through this I have become more confident and conscientious of my actions.

5) What impact would you like to make through your work?

The project I am working on to provide electric power to rural communities in Tanzania has the potential to help a lot of people. It will provide the resources for doctors and healthcare workers to do their work and for the patients to receive the healthcare they deserve. 

I am so fortunate to have experienced first-hand the ability to make a contribution that has a positive and direct impact on the lives of people.  This is an affirmation that the engineering career I have chosen matches my desire to help communities.

6) What are your plans for your future career? How has co-op helped you with your career exploration and goals?

I was fortunate enough to be the beneficiary of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship Program. This Scholarship was awarded through UVic with the goal of developing world ready graduates through international STEM based work integrated learning. Without the Scholarship, I would not have had this opportunity to pursue my passion of exploring and learning about sustainable living in developing countries and to really listen to the needs of the community.

As an undergraduate student, I am learning more about my place in the world everyday. Ultimately my goal is to help others through the work I am doing. I hope to do long term work in developing countries to do work on building restoration, to help implement sustainable infrastructure and to promote the use of alternative energy sources.

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