WHEN Trecia Campbell produced electricity for the first time using a circuit in her high school physics class, something also sparked inside her mind. She realised that she absolutely enjoyed the process of transforming an idea into a real, tangible solution to improve lives. So with excellent passes in physics and mathematics, limited knowledge of the careers within the field, and a powerful determination to excel, she graduated from Immaculate Conception High School and set out to become an engineer.
“It was mind-blowing,” Campbell-Sharpe, who has been an engineer at Red Stripe for 18 years, told All Woman on International Women in Engineering Day last Wednesday. “I fell in love with electricity, so I said if I'm going to do any form of engineering, the best option for me would have been electrical.”
It also helped that despite the generally lower enrolment rate for women in post-secondary engineering programmes, other female students also seemed to prefer that area too.
“It was one of the engineering departments in which I felt more comfortable as a woman, because I had more female colleagues in electrical engineering,” she shared. “While male students still dominated in most areas, it could easily have been a 50:50 ratio in the electrical electives. I felt more at home, and it was easier to navigate.”
After completing her bachelor's at University of South Florida (USF) in 2002, the young woman had high hopes of finding her footing in a large engineering firm in the States. This proved extremely difficult for her as an international student, however, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
“They weren't really hiring many non-nationals in engineering, so I worked anywhere that was hiring — Target, Express — just to make ends meet,” she recalled. “I even moved from Florida to Washington, DC, to see if I could find better opportunities in another state.”
The opportunity that came — to return home and participate in an engineering internship programme at Red Stripe — was not one she was looking forward to at the time, but her back was against the wall. With her student visa about to expire, she booked her one-way flight to Jamaica and resolved that she would rather figure out her future at home than overstay her welcome in America.
“When the internship was over after a few months, I was offered a permanent role as the junior electrical engineer,” she remembered with a smile. “A few years later I became a reliability engineer, then I ended up as a special projects coordinator.”
While the hands-on worker was initially hesitant to venture into the area of project management, she soon realised that she enjoyed it very much, as she now had the power to help all the smaller engineering projects come together. Her manager encouraged her to become a certified project manager, and she did. She has been a project management professional (PMP) since 2011. Today she is the CAPEX (capital expenditure) projects engineer, and one of the two female engineers at Red Stripe.
“The core of my job is to ensure that when my stakeholder has an idea, by the time I'm done with the project, the idea should have come to life,” she explained.
In order to carry out these deliverables that improve the business, however, Campbell-Sharpe has had to learn how to deliver ideas, instructions and reports in such a way that they don't get lost in translation.
“Just given the nature of my job, my stakeholders are men, and my contractors tend to be men, so there are many times when I am the only woman in a project meeting,” she said. “Being the one with the most high-pitched voice in the room, I have had to learn to ensure that what I am saying does not get overheard — not to try to shout or speak over anyone else, but to speak with confidence and embody the role of being a leader on a project.”
Being in such a practical field means that Campbell-Sharpe not only has to talk the talk; she also has to walk the walk.
“I find that I also have to walk around with a level of confidence, because when I appear on a job site, being a woman, unless people already know me, no one will assume I am in charge,” she said. “And when I am in a position where I need to challenge these men, I have to be able to challenge them from a position of knowledge, so I do my homework and surround myself with capable people to support me on projects that are not my niche area.”
It can be a challenge sometimes, especially when she also has the needs of her 11-year-old daughter and husband to consider, but new challenges are exactly what keep Campbell-Sharpe interested in her work.
“One of the reasons why I am still at Red Stripe is that we are always growing as a business. There are just so many opportunities to bring things to life, and it's hard to get bored when every project is different,” she beamed. “It's a win-win — the business wants to grow, and I enjoy being a part of the process. I'm always excited to see what we're doing next.”
She is also excited to see what's next for her life. She is a fit 42 and firm believer in Jeremiah 29:11, which speaks of God's plan for her life.
“Every three years I have ensure that my project management certification is up to date, so that is good, but I am also planning to go back to my first love of electrical engineering roots in the next few years, just to have that solid foundation with project management, as well as the technical parts of it as a combination offering of myself to Jamaica,” she shared.