Tiffani Donald, a Grenadian Civil Engineering student, is determined to make a difference

Perhaps 20 or 30 years ago when asked about a future career path, most Caribbean students would express the desire to become a medical doctor, lawyer, or an accountant. Today more students are venturing out to waters that were once uncharted. Women were especially less in numbers when it comes to the community of Caribbean STEM professionals. But while the many possibilities in STEM are still unknown to many Caribbean students, there are those who have braved the uncertainty and judgment (both good and bad) that may come with pursuing a career in a STEM. 

Meet Tiffani who is a civil engineering student at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine campus. Possessing artistic skills and a knack for details and structure, Tiffani was once interested in pursuing a career in architecture. Considering available opportunities, she then decided to become a civil engineer while attending the T.A. Marryshow Community College in Grenada. With a civil engineering degree, Tiffani believes she would still be able to fulfill her desire to design while contributing to engineering solutions in her community and country which include improved domestic water systems, wastewater and stormwater management, and disaster-proof buildings. A common issue faced by many, including Tiffani, is water shortages in the dry season. Tiffani is motivated to solve problems like these in the future with her experience and civil engineering degree. Her goal is to support and work on improving the planning and infrastructural design in Grenada. 

Although Tiffani faces challenges as an engineering student, she remains focused, balances her studies with extracurricular activities, and enjoys watching travel vlogs, and cooking from time to time. And of course, when in Grenada she grabs any opportunity to enjoy a relaxing bath on the beach. Her time as a student at UWI has been filled with several responsibilities and experiences. She was a member of the Grenada Student Association in her first year, and a leader in the resident life department on campus serving two rules at different times: trustee and hall representative for 27 students. In 2016 and 2018, she volunteered for the Institute for Structural Engineers bridge building competition supervising participants who were challenged to build structures with unusual objects such as spaghetti and marshmallows. She believes that mind stimulating opportunities like these could motivate more young Grenadian students to pursue careers in engineering. Other experiences Tiffani had include volunteering for a local health fair, and assisting with the construction of a small home in Central Trinidad as part of a Habitat for Humanity project. Her most rewarding experience so far is the time spent as a hall representative impacting the lives of other students.

With all the responsibilities and roles, Tiffani still finds time to research within her degree program. Her current undertaking is analysing scour depth formulas for ski-jump spillways. These formulas are used to determine the depth of eroded soil or rock material around the foundation of a dam due to water movement. Knowledge of this depth is critical for engineers as it could affect the integrity of a dam or any structure with its foundation in water. A ski-jump spillway is a component of dams which enables the downward flow of water. Tiffani is also developing a formula of her own using Gene Expression Programming, an algorithm that can learn and adapt to create computer models or programs.

Our conversation with Tiffani gave us some insight into her experience as an engineering student in the Caribbean. We were delighted to hear about her plans for the future and the exciting opportunities she had so far. Read more below.


When did you first decide that you wanted to become a civil engineer?  What motivated you to make this decision?

I made the decision whilst in TAMCC. Initially, I was interested in architecture; however my interest shifted upon realising a career in civil engineering presented more opportunities. Doing a civil engineering degree meant I did not have to abandon my love for design but would now be able to solve other problems, such as water supply, wastewater, and stormwater management, earthquake and hurricane resistant design, etc. Over the years I’ve noticed that not enough emphasis is placed on some of these things, especially in poorer communities back home. I myself have experienced water shortages in the dry seasons. I’ve seen areas like river road underwater during the rainy season, and I’ve also suffered loss during hurricane Ivan. My decision to pursue this career was motivated by my desire to contribute to the alleviation of these problems that have the potential to be more impactful with the effects of climate change.

Tiffani and her colleagues

What was a rewarding and fulfilling experience you’ve had along your journey?

Studying at the U.W.I St. Augustine I’ve been blessed to interact with many talented and insightful persons from other Caribbean islands and experience their cultures. The interactions I’ve had and the friendships that have fostered are certainly invaluable and have wholesomely impacted my life. In 2016 I was nominated to be a block representative in my Hall of residence. For the next year, I was responsible for ensuring the girls on my block had everything they needed, were comfortable and I also had to maintain peace. It was a challenge for me as I was also dealing with managing my school life and after the year was up, I felt as though I hadn’t done enough. Nevertheless, even though I felt the way I did, there were persons who came to me and expressed their satisfaction and appreciation for my service and are always so kind to me to this day. Representatives that came after me always mention my effort and make promises to continue from my example, which to me is more rewarding than anything else I’ve achieved. The fact that I could have a positive impact on persons who would have experienced my leadership as well as those who would have only heard indirectly.

Women around the world are still a minority in engineering. What were some of the challenges you’ve faced?

Fortunately, I haven’t experienced any discriminations or bias as a female student, but occasionally my methods and problem-solving skills have been overly critiqued. I did at times get frustrated always having to prove myself, but it also built strength, and I would admit that others see your mistakes before you do, so it wasn’t always a bad thing.

Tiffani

What professional goals would you like to achieve?

I would like my reputation to be that of a sound engineer both in practice and moral. My work should speak for itself, in being efficient, sustainable and feasible. My goal is to get involved in planning and infrastructural design in Grenada being a part of a team that can improve the standard of infrastructural work at home. I would also like to get involved in or even create avenues that will allow Grenadian aspiring engineers to get practice and experience through internships since opportunities are so few currently. I never had the opportunity while doing my degree to work under an experienced engineer. I saw the importance of it when others who got the field practice would excel. While in Trinidad I did have the opportunity to observe and be a part of activities that provoke the minds of young engineers. I was able to volunteer at the Institute for Structural Engineers bridge building competitions where myself and few colleagues would supervise secondary school students who were challenged with the task of building structures with unusual objects such as spaghetti and marshmallows. I believe that more opportunities like this in Grenada could encourage more students to pursue the career. 

What do you like to do in your free time?

I spend a lot of time looking at travel vlogs, tutorials and pretty much anything that pops up in my YouTube suggestions. When I’m in Grenada going to the beach isn’t something I get to do often however if I could I would do it daily. Cooking and Baking is a hobby I don’t like to brag about, only because of the fear that it becomes a chore rather than a hobby. 

How do you balance your studies with your everyday life?

After spending two years out of school getting back into the groove as you can imagine was a big challenge, it seemed harder now than it ever was to retain information and coming to a new country with new people from different walks of life added to the distractions. Cramming had to become a thing of the past if I wanted to achieve my goals, so I started scheduling my life not too strictly of course and making friends in my degree that had similar schedules. Doing this meant I didn’t have to miss out on hanging out because of work since we were all doing the same work at the same time. 

What advice would you give to young aspiring engineers from the Caribbean?

Firstly, ensure that engineering is something that you really are passionate about because it’s not a walk in the park. Do not only spend your time studying, find a balance so that you can enjoy extracurricular activities. It’s a good way to become more responsible and build leadership skills. Make friends because this degree is harder when you do it alone. If chosen wisely they will be the ones that push you to work harder. Their shoulders will be the ones you’ll cry on when it all becomes overwhelming, and trust me it can. When choosing your friends ensure that they have the same passion and drive as you do or even more. Be observant of your surroundings. Lastly, pay attention in and go to your CAPE math classes, you would be surprised at the amount of ways you can apply differential equations to real life.


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