Jhanelle aims to excel in civil engineeringSunday, October 17, 2021
BY ROMARDO LYONS
Jhanelle Crawford swoons at the thought of roads, bridges, design, construction and maintenance.
She is a woman on a mission in a male-dominated field. The 21-year-old is graduating from The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, with a BSc in Civil Engineering.
Admittedly, she pointed to the field as one densely populated by men, but assured the Jamaica Observer that the reality has never pushed her to much hand-wringing.
“I'm ecstatic! I'm so happy and grateful to have been awarded my degree in civil engineering as a woman. I'm grateful to God, I'm grateful to my family, friends, support systems, my lecturers, everyone who has been on this journey with me because it most definitely was not an easy one. It is not a typical career path for women. And interestingly enough, that was never a roadblock or a thought that lingered through my mind,” she said unwaveringly on Friday.
“My parents supported me all the way. They never discouraged me and they were my biggest supporters. My mum would always be on call with me every night. She would listen to my problems, give me advice or find some way of cheering me up. She always reminded me that I could do anything that I put my mind to. Even during COVID when learning was virtual, whenever I couldn't manage, she would just hug me knowing that would be enough strength and encouragement for me to keep going. My dad provided words of wisdom and always supported me.”
We live in a world, she added, where women can go after their dreams and desires.
“It may pose challenges at times and that is okay, but the goal is to never allow those challenges to prevent you from achieving your goals. Even during my time studying, I never felt any discrimination as a female.”
Crawford, who is also a volunteerism and dancing enthusiast, told the Sunday Observer that she had “quite a number of female classmates” and has seen where her lecturers never showed favouritism or more interest towards the males. She added that whenever she mentioned her programme of study to anyone, they always seemed to be impressed and cheered her on.
“I believe we live in a world that encourages females to go after their dreams. And maybe in different countries women may be judged for their desires of going into a male-dominated field, but I have never felt that way in Jamaica. I have heard that as a female in this field, you have to work harder than a male engineer to gain respect as you will mainly work with men, and that is understandable. But outside of that, I receive support from everyone,” she related.
While attending Belair High School, the Mandeville, Manchester resident spent a summer volunteering at Denron Engineering Services Ltd. Through this experience, she was able to get a better understanding of engineering.
But what made it even better for Crawford was that the civil engineer and co-founder of the company was a woman.
“So from high school days, this is the environment I was exposed to, and she encouraged me intentionally and unintentionally. She would take me on site visits, show me around the place, give me pointers and all while doing this, all the labourers were men. All who we encountered on the projects were men and they spoke to her with respect and they treated me with respect,” Crawford recalled.
“I started to develop great interest in civil engineering in the latter part of high school. After thoroughly thinking about it, analysing my interests, looking at what I did in high school… all sciences and math, no business, no arts — I made the decision to study civil engineering.”
She further described herself as a problem-solver and told the Sunday Observer that she decided to venture in the field because it is what suits her best.
“This is what engineers do — solve problems. And they solve them with their creativity. As an engineer, your aim is to solve problems in the most effective and economical ways possible, ensuring that all aspects of your project are considered whether it may be the environment, the community, the landscape, the type of material, etcetera,” she explained.
“And when carrying out projects, engineers have to work with many engineers in various disciplines. It's not a field where one man can stand alone and survive. We all must come together. This aspect of engineering also aligns with who I am, as I work well with people and believe that we reach farther in life and make a greater impact when we work together. Engineers are innovators and this aligns with the creativity and problem-solving.”
Crawford imagines a Jamaica filled with “exemplary roads and highways,” with “little to no potholes” and skyscrapers in various parishes, as well as amazing bridges that connect “cities to cities.”
“Well, with the hopes that we will create more cities in the future,” she said.
“I would love to see Jamaica develop tremendously in our urban planning so we can become one of those stunning nations such as Singapore. And I use Singapore as an example as I have always heard that they came to Jamaica and followed our plan, which has contributed to their development as one of the top tier first world countries. Imagine our concepts and plans guided Singapore,” she said, noting that this proved to her that Jamaica is capable of achieving the same and even more.
“And we have very talented people in our country. The engineering industry is one that can improve a country's economy if approached in the right way and I want that for my home Jamaica.”
But civil engineering is not a stroll in the park, she disclaimed.
“It is a challenging programme with a large workload. I had so many sleepless nights due to the workload. We had many projects, presentations and coursework assignments along with exams and quizzes. We had more courses than many other programmes every semester. There are times when I personally had a hard time with understanding the information and had to go to my classmates one away for help or sometimes to prep for exams.
“I had to create study groups because while studying, we also had presentations during the study week alotted for study break. There was less of an opportunity to socialise and go out, hang out with friends or even go home compared to many others.”
Being in her final year when the novel coronavirus pandemic translated the programme — which is largely practical — to virtual learning, Crawford said she dodged a bullet.
“The face-to-face labs and site visits occur in first and second year so it didn't affect too many things as it related to that. It caused a slight hinderance for final-year projects as we didn't have so much luxury to go around and collect all the desired information we wanted, but we still were able to acquire some. As it pertains to learning, especially virtually, I found it a bit challenging because I felt disconnected,” said Crawford.
Offering a word of advice to young girls who are eyeing male-dominated professions, she said: “Never be discouraged to go after what you want. Your path is yours and your gender won't hinder you from achieving your dreams. If you want to be a boxer, go for it. If you want to be a race car driver, nothing can stop you. If you want to be a trades person, mechanic, electrician, carpenter, etcetera, the world is yours for the taking. Go after it.”
She added: “I want every young person to believe in themselves and pursue their dreams. Do what you love and what you believe is your passion and your path.”