The University of Southampton
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Michelle Tutt

Michelle Tutt (MSc Civil Engineering, 2009)

The University offered a unique "conversion" degree for graduates of numerate undergraduate degrees to do a Masters in Civil Engineering without an undergraduate degree in the same subject. I had just graduated from Royal Holloway with an MSci in Physics and I was keen to do a Masters in Civil Engineering to give a more practical grounding to my numerical and analytical skills. The University helped me to secure sponsorship and arrange my Industrial Placement with a local engineering consultancy - this later proved invaluable to my career.

The department was quite small and so it really feels like a family - especially as the campus and university itself is so large. It was great to have our own common room and space for discussion, or to work through calculations together. The University is a buzzing environment with constant events and initiatives going on.

The lecturers were real industry experts, many of whom had had wide and diverse careers, not routed solely in academia. They spoke from experience, not just from knowledge. My favourite courses were in Highway Engineering (an area in which I went on later to work) and Earthquake Engineering. The highway engineering course was especially good because the class was mixed with some part time students already working in the industry. Their questions and insight gave a new dimension to the class and to the learning environment.

The University helped me to secure an Industrial Placement with Mott MacDonald who offered me a job working in their Southampton office when I graduated in 2009.

It was a difficult time for the engineering industry in the UK, as the credit crunch took hold and the national spending on infrastructure plummeted. Rather than make people redundant, Mott MacDonald took a very pragmatic approach and offered their graduate engineers overseas experience. Following a 4-week placement in Ghana, I accepted a position to go to work in Uganda for three months... and I liked it so much, I end up staying for two years!

From my position as a project engineer in Uganda, I was recruited to the African Development Bank in 2010, and I moved to their headquarters in Tunisia (the headquarters has since moved to Cote d'Ivoire). I was recruited to the Young Professional Program which is a leadership program for economists, engineers, political scientists, financial analysts and lawyers, and I worked on Regional Infrastructure project finance for three years, before moving to my current role.

I work as a Senior Transport Engineer in the Transport and ICT department at the African Development Bank. I'm based in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa). The Bank manages funds from our member countries and aims to disburse these funds as loans or grants for the elimination of poverty in Africa. I work with African Governments to structure effective and inclusive transport projects for financing by the Bank. I am also focused on Gender mainstreaming in transport projects and advise on issues like harassment on public transport, intermediary transport and how journey needs differ by gender.

I honestly feel that I've achieved the ambitions I had when I graduated. I decided to do a Masters degree in Civil engineering because I was particularly touched when teaching Physics at a school in Zambia in Summer 2006. Up until that point, I was certain that my career would be in particle physics, but I was struck my the basic lack of infrastructure in the community I was working in (Linda, Livingstone) and the impacts that it had on everyday life. I wanted to go directly into a career in development engineering, but I was warned by many people that it's a tough industry and you must gain a good few years of domestic experience first. The credit crunch actually opened up a great opportunity for me.

In terms of my ambitions for the future, I delayed my chartership with ICE when my career took a lurch into the financing side of projects, so this is a short term ambition that I hope to achieve this year or next year.

For the longer term, I'm looking forward to seeing a number of my projects realised, for example, a project that I designed in Uganda, is now approved for financing, four years later! Timelines are often long, but the rewards make it worth it.

I would like to become a stronger advocate for women going into engineering, and speak out more on the subject.

My proudest achievement? In 2013 I was selected by the President of the Bank to be on a task force to create a financial tool to effectively develop infrastructure projects in Africa and to leverage emerging sources of finance, such as African pension funds and sovereign wealth to finance infrastructure projects. We delivered a product called Africa50 which aims to direct $10bn of finance to the continent. It was an honour to be asked and a pleasure to work with such a dynamic and passionate team.

I would say to students starting their degrees at Southampton: give it 110% and work flat out. You will get out what you put in. Also read around the subject and stay passionate. Don't take your foot off the pedal as soon as you graduate, those first few years in the workplace are crucial.

Get interested. Join your local ICE Students & Graduates group (If only for the nice snacks at the meetings). Also develop your communication skills, some people go into Engineering because they are really good at numbers, but the key to being a great Civil engineer, is being able to explain your numbers and calculations and to communicate effectively. As a student I hated giving presentations, but it was only through repeated practise that I have learnt to calm my nerves and present effectively - now I sometimes have to present to several hundred people as part of my job, and it doesn't scare me as much.




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