Women In Stem: Trudy Morgan, the first African Woman fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers of the UK.

Lusaka, Zambia

When asked if she had always wanted to be an engineer, Trudy Morgan told Swenga News that she wanted to be an artist.

‘No!! I watched the movie “Fame” as a teenager and wanted to be a singer, dancer or actress! In our school, if you got good grades, you were automatically put in the science stream unless you opted out. All my good friends and I were in the same class, so I was happy to stay in science’.

She is now the only African female fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) of the United Kingdom. The ICE fellowship is the highest grade of membership and a yardstick for those practicing at the top level within the profession.

With a membership of at least 92,000 spread across 150 countries worldwide, the institution has a total of 5236 fellows of who only 210 or 4 percent are women.

From the total number of fellows, Africa only contributes 75 members or 1.43 percent among who Ms. Trudy Morgan is the only female.

The low rate of female participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) education and consequently Stem careers is a longstanding concern.

This is a major concern, as Stem careers are often called ‘jobs of the future,’ driving social and personal well-being, inclusive growth and sustainable development, through innovation and creativity.

According to date captured by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics on women in science only 28 percent of the world's researchers where female as of 2015 and in Sub Saharan Africa about 30 percent women are researchers.

UNESCO also indicates that 27 percent of jobs in Computer Science are held by less women and generally, women make up less than a quarter of Stem professionals at 23 percent with only about 20 percent of these women in Stem in leadership roles.

Image by pencil parker from Pixabay

Trudy stands out as one of the women achievers in Stem and is determined to contribute to its advancement and use Stem as a tool for bridging the gender gap. Born in 1966 in Liverpool, United Kingdom whilst her parents were studying, Trudy is the first-born child of Professor Hector Morgan and Mrs. Marion Morgan.

‘I am the first of four girls – my father has only daughters and as the first child, I experienced all the usual “first child” challenges! I had to share my toys, food, clothes and shoes with my sisters; I had to take them to all my “social events”; I had to do well academically…’, she says.

Having started school in the 1970s, Trudy went to a lot of different schools, some of which she cannot remember. In Sierra Leone, she attended school at Fourah Bay College Primary School, the Annie Walsh Memorial School, which is the oldest girl’s school in sub-Saharan Africa as it has been in existence for 170 years. Trudy also went to and University of Sierra Leone where she studied Civil Engineering

Trudy has fond memories of her childhood and talks of family adventures with admiration, as she remembers some of the family holidays.

‘My parents love to travel and throughout my life, I can remember great memories from different countries. We lived in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Canada and Nigeria. I have great memories from a big ship we travelled on and on the former Pan Am and Air Afrique flights’…Trudy said.

Though not something that was planned, theirs is a family of all girls in science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics -stem. Trudy shares with Swenga News that her sisters are all in different fields of Stem. She says she is close to her sisters although they all live in different countries.

‘My three sisters - all beautiful, all younger and all very vibrant! My immediate sister is the Mayor of Freetown (our capital sister) and received an OBE from the Queen of England for her services during the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. The sister after her is a medical doctor, a public health policy maker in the United States and a Fulbright Scholar. My baby sister is a biochemist in Canada…” added Trudy.

Trudy who herself dreamt of becoming an artist during her teen years says she started thinking of studying Medicine while in secondary school. She however disregarded the idea after a summer job at her dad’s cousin who was a neurosurgeon.

‘Suffice it to say, after two operations I decided I didn’t like the sight of blood and maybe medicine wasn’t the right career choice for me’…she noted

Her father Professor Hector Morgan continued to have a great influence in Trudy’s career choices such that when it was time to go to university, he suggested very strongly that she pursues engineering. This is because of Trudy’s love and passion for drawing.

‘Of course, engineering involves some drawing (technical!) but not the type of abstract drawings I had anticipated…’she says

Trudy Morgan. Photo Courtesy.

It was notwithstanding that even as a student of engineering Trudy, still joined a band and decided that engineering was not for her. She thought it would be good to focus on music and leave university. She says after much discussion with her father, she agreed to stay and finish the degree programme in case she did not make it in music and at least three would be something to fall back on. Trudy was of course confident that she would never use her engineering degree, but because of her constant voice of reason always present in her life, Trudy choose engineering over music while she was in the United Kingdom.

‘One of the things my father said to me when I said I would do pure science after secondary school was, “I don’t have a lot of money to leave you – I am lecturer. What I have is education and good guidance. I know that with engineering you will be able to look after yourself and have to rely on anyone to look after you” …Trudy adds.

And true to her father’s words, Trudy is co-founder of the Sierra Leone Women Engineers, the first female Vice President of the Sierra Leone Institution of Engineers (SLIE), a member of the Professional Engineers Review Council and the UK’s Institution of Civil Engineers International Representative to Sierra Leone.

Trudy has also worked with the Prince’s Foundation for Building Communities training engineering graduates, skilled professionals and illiterate construction workers on the basics of structural design. And most recently, she made history as the first female Fellow from Africa of the Institution of Civil Engineers in the UK.

All those accolades have not come easily, Trudy has had to work hard, be disciplined, stay focused and above all she has had to shut her mind to negative energy. Trudy tells Swenga News that she had to overcome challenges of racism and sexism during the early years of her career in the UK.

‘As a young engineering student, I believed I could do it all because I was smart and getting good grades. When I went to work in the UK, I had to face real challenges around racism and sexism. Coming back, 20 and more years to Sierra Leone, I continue to face sexism and have to fight to be taken seriously with certain groups of people’…she laments.

Image by (Joenomias) Menno de Jong from Pixabay

On the other hand, Trudy is excited about the future of Stem with regard to women and girls. She says in Sierra Leone, Stem is becoming very popular. Noting that mentorship programmes, conferences, and engagements with the media through programmes all focused at showcasing women in Stem and encouraging young girls to enter the Stem field and stay there are yielding results.

With at least 50 percent of the global population and over 50 parent of Africa’s population is being female the need to encourage girls and women to take up Stem careers cannot be over emphasized.

Trudy says there is need for every woman and girl to work to their full potential to give back and develop the continent.

“Role models are important – in the classroom, in the media, in business, in professions. And the focus should be on competence, hard work and excellence”, she said.

She is hopeful that by embracing STEM at an early age, the gender equality gap between men and women in most African countries will be a thing of the past and a catalyst for achieving the 2030 sustainable development goals.