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Q&A Jun 16, 2022

Connecting Communities to Endless Opportunities: A Q&A with our Bridges to Prosperity Team

Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day with the women on #OurJacobs team building a bridge in Rwanda with Bridges to Prosperity.

Jacobs B2P Rwanda team women

Before waving off #OurJacobs teammates on their journey to Rwanda to build a bridge for an isolated community with Bridges to Prosperity (B2P), we simply couldn’t resist connecting with the women on the team for an early International Women in Engineering Day feature.

Meet Ashley, Daisy, Nicola, Aleks, Charlotte and Erin:

Congratulations on being selected as part of #OurJacobs team for the Bridges to Prosperity build in Kibiraro, Rwanda! What made you want to participate?

Charlotte: I first heard about Bridges to Prosperity when I was an intern and the idea that I could one day be involved was really exciting. I’ve followed B2P on social media since then and was so pleased to see that Jacobs was supporting a build that I could apply for. I’ve always wanted to use my knowledge and skills to help people and feel very strongly about providing equal opportunities for all. I applied hoping that this unique experience will influence how I approach my work throughout my career. I also love to travel, experience new cultures and meet new people so this was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.

Erin: I got hooked on my first B2P build in 2015, which was also in Rwanda, and have since helped to build three additional bridges with students and professionals from other companies in Panama, Bolivia and Uganda. The coolest thing about B2P is its sustainable business model. We can exchange technical skills with the community members, including many women. After this bridge is built, the community members have newfound marketable skills that enable them to obtain jobs on new construction projects. Sometimes this is the first time a woman can earn an income for her family, and I love being part of that ripple effect that can go on to change the world.

Aleks: I really believe in B2P’s vision of eradicating poverty through providing access to basic amenities. Looking at the amazing work they’ve done to-date and its impact, I couldn’t not apply. I wanted to be a part of this movement, helping create a literal pathway so this community can grow. I’ve also been interested in Rwanda and its history for years so I’m really looking forward to experiencing the culture (and coffee!).

Nicola: I spent more than five years in my early career working on renewable energy projects in developing countries. Such projects can have a huge impact, if they’re done sustainably — if the design is robust, locals are involved at all stages of the process and long-term maintenance is provided for. I enjoy giving back to my community by volunteering as a surf lifesaver at my local surf lifesaving club. I see B2P as a continuation of such volunteer work, albeit in a different context. I also think there’s a lot to learn from how things are done elsewhere.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEAM?

Ashley: I’ve always been driven by wanting to do more for and adding value to the world. I kind of stumbled into environmental planning, and I’m so grateful that I did. I have certainly had an extremely rewarding career so far. Supporting the sustainable development of infrastructure projects that improve how we live, leading teams and delivering really cool projects that directly impact the world, both at home and internationally, is very fulfilling.

Daisy: Initially I was inspired by my dad, who has travelled the world with his job as a marine and mechanical engineer. At high school, I decided that I wanted to start earning and learning in a professional environment as soon as possible, so an apprenticeship was the best way to do this. I find it really interesting to learn how things work; civil engineering essentially requires you to harness all of your scientific, communication, IT, mathematical and engineering skills to solve problems.

Charlotte: When I was finishing high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to study and enjoyed almost every subject. I had always been fascinated with buildings so applied to study architecture at university and quickly realized it wasn’t for me, so I switched to civil engineering and loved it. I wish I’d had better information about careers in engineering when I was at school. I think a career in STEAM was of most interest to me as I love to be challenged and am competitive and determined, but also enjoy being creative.

What do you hope to achieve from the trip?

Aleks: We learn the most in that place just slightly out of our comfort zone, and that’s what I’m hoping to do — learn. I’m fully aware that most of this trip will put me out of my comfort zone and I’m really looking forward to learning more about myself, other cultures and engineering.

Nicola: The lifechanging impact on the local community is the ultimate aim of building the bridge. B2P has a long history of building bridges with deep community involvement. Their bridge designs and construction processes have been honed over many years to achieve successful outcomes — and understanding the needs of the community is the first step in ensuring that solutions are fit for purpose. I haven’t been to Rwanda before, so I also hope to gain some appreciation of the local culture and language as well as the history.

Ashley: I’m really looking forward to working with our global team, coming together and working alongside the community to support them build a bridge that is going to change their everyday life. Personally, I’m excited to participate in another build to feel that spark and inspiration that comes from contributing to a bridge build and everything that it means to the community.

What are you most looking forward to?

Daisy: I can’t wait for the inauguration day where we will see the community using their newly built bridge and physically seeing the impact that we’ve had. I’m really looking forward to completely immersing myself in Rwandan culture and trying new things. I’ve heard that dance is the “universal language” over there, so it’ll be interesting to see what shapes our team members throw!

Erin: Learning from the community. I want to learn about their families and the lives they lead; what their challenges and aspirations are. I’m looking forward to rolling up my sleeves, doing hard work and celebrating with my new Rwandan friends!

Ashley: I am SO excited for the final decking to be in place, the fencing up and when the first community members cross the bridge — the joy, laughter and excitement is next-level good vibes.

If you had space in your luggage, what’s the one home comfort you would really want to take with you?

Nicola: Probably my bed! Just joking ?? We will have camping beds provided but we are advised to take earplugs, so the snoring doesn’t keep us awake! Apart from one tap, there’s also no running water at our accommodation so for those of us who like our hot water and home comforts, it may be a bit of a challenge.

Aleks: It would definitely be my lovely cat — Luna — who gives the best cuddles!

Charlotte: I would bring my pizza stone! My family started to enjoy cooking a lot more during the COVID-19 lockdown and the stone has allowed us to make really good pizza with any toppings we want at any time – I think the team would appreciate this after a long day on site.

Ashley: My golden retriever, Waylon! Aka my best buddy, the goodest boy, the golden boy.

Daisy: My bath robe, or dressing gown as it’s known in England! Admittedly, I would be quite warm wearing that in Rwanda, but I struggle to part with it. It is my go-to for all situations; nothing beats the comfort!

Erin: Besides cheese — there won’t be access to a refrigerator — I would say my husband! This will be my fifth B2P project, and I desperately want to build a bridge with him one day! He’s been so supportive of these efforts over the years, and I’d love to share that experience together.

About the interviewees

Ashley Betson

Ashley Betson is a project manager based out of Calgary, Canada, and is the project lead for the Kibiraro bridge build. She participated in a B2P bridge build in 2017 and has been hooked on bridges and the positive impact they bring to rural communities ever since.

Daisy Carter

Daisy Carter is based in Birmingham, U.K., and has just finished her five-year Civil Engineering Degree Apprenticeship. Alongside her work in the rail team, she’s Chapter Lead for the Jacobs Women’s Network and has a strong passion for encouraging equality and diversity.

Erin James

Erin James is a sustainability specialist and the program manager for Jacobs’ giving and volunteering program, Collectively. With a background in civil engineering and project management, Erin has blended her passion of inclusion and sustainability to bring accessible and safe transportation solutions to Jacobs’ clients throughout her career.

Aleksandra Tomczyk

Aleksandra (Aleks) Tomczyk is a civil engineer working on flood protection and flood risk management projects across the U.K. She was inspired to pursue a career in engineering by the work done by organizations like Engineers Without Borders and moved from her home in Poland to Scotland to study engineering in 2013.

Nicola Wilkins

Nicola Wilkins is an engineer and currently serves as technical director for solar photovoltaics (PV) in the Asia Pacific region. She’s passionate about renewable energy and enjoys spending time networking within Jacobs and mentoring and training colleagues in her field of expertise, as well as co-leading the Jacobs Solar Community of Practice.

Charlotte Wylie

Charlotte Wylie is a bridge engineer in Scotland who is driven by the opportunity civil engineers have to create positive change that will impact society and the environment. She works on a variety of projects from local footbridges to national infrastructure projects.

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