Career & Education

Blazing a Trail

28-y-o Kerry-Gaye McDonald only female engineer at Wigton

Sunday, May 05, 2019

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Thirty years ago, there were very few female engineers. In fact, many females would not have had it on their list of possible career choices. These days however, while the number remains proportionately low when compared to males, it is growing steadily.

In Australia, for example, 14 per cent of engineers are women, according to industry statistics from 2006.

In Canada, by 2009, it was 17 per cent.

According to Engineering UK, in 2018, 12 per cent of those working in engineering were women. Also in 2018, around 16 per cent of engineering students in higher education undergraduate programmes were women, compared to 13 per cent in 2003.

Locally, the number of females enrolled in engineering at The University of the West Indies (UWI) stood at 10 per cent in 2015/16; while 18 per cent were enrolled at the University of Technology (UTech) for the same period.

Turbine service engineer at Wigton Windfarm Kerry-Gaye McDonald is among the lot who studied at UTech, graduating in 2013 with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.

She told the Jamaica Observer that she entered the field after listening to a presentation by a female electrical engineer who presented at Career Day at Manchester High School while she was a student. She was so inspired, she decided on the spot that engineering was what she wanted to do.

Fast-forward to 2019, and McDonald, an unassuming, well-spoken 28-year-old, is a critical member of the team at Wigton, the Caribbean's largest wind energy facility. She was the first female service engineer to join the team assigned to the 62.7MW plant in Rose Hill, Manchester, and remains the only female engineer on staff.

But that's only one reason she stands out on the job. Her colleagues dub her engineering dominant, referencing her skills and aptitude.

Her superiors have noted her discipline, work ethic, intelligence and enthusiasm, and told Career & Education that she continues to surpass expectations.

As turbine service engineer, McDonald's duties entail carrying out preventive and corrective servicing and maintenance work on approximately 44 wind turbines and auxiliary equipment at the wind farm. She supports the generation capacity of the plant, reports individual turbine and power distribution conditions, performs monitoring and switching exercise for the plant substation, and completes weekly maintenance, and bi-yearly turbine service reports.

McDonald, a Manchester native, joined Wigton four years ago.

“Wigton is a team; each and every employee's role is vital to Wigton's success. But I would say the operations team is the core. As engineers, we have to ensure the day-to-day operations of the plant run smoothly. It is our job to maintain and/or improve systems that allow Wigton to make a profit by minimising the assets' downtime as much as possible. Wigton's success is our success,” she said.

Like the engineer who first inspired her, McDonald hopes she will be an inspiration to other young women. As for her own ambitions, she revealed plans to earn a master's degree in management to qualify as a wind energy expert or consultant. In the meantime, she says she takes every opportunity provided at Wigton to expand her knowledge about wind turbines and the intricacies involved, and gain hands-on experience.

“I believe your attitude determines your altitude,” McDonald says in reponse to how she handles the demands of her job.

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