Roma Agrawal, IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year finalist
Women Engineers On television or visiting schools, Roma uses her experiences working on projects including The Shard to highlight to students what a career in engineering can offer.
Senior structural engineer
Roma, a senior structural engineer at WSP Group, was an Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) 2012 Young Woman Engineer of the Year award finalist.
Taking a fairly unusual path into engineering, Roma focused on physics until she completed her degree.
“I studied in India until the age of 16, then moved to the UK and did A levels in maths, physics and design technology. When it was time to do my degree I wasn’t sure what career I wanted at all, so I just went for physics because it was something I enjoyed,” she explains.
“One summer I worked with some engineers and realised what they did was really interesting, so I then went on to do a master’s degree in structural engineering and got a job at WSP as a graduate structural engineer.”
During her seven years at WSP, Roma has had the opportunity to work on a number of complex and iconic projects with high profile architectural practices. These have ranged from tall towers and footbridges to sculptures, all in a variety of materials.
“WSP is one of the biggest consultancies in the UK so we get wonderful projects to work on, and I’ve been lucky enough to work on The Shard,” she highlights. “That was a big achievement for me,” she continues. “I worked on this for about six years so was really involved in the whole project.”
Roma was one of a small team of structural engineers who worked on The Shard, which meant that each of them made a big contribution to the project. Roma herself designed part of the building’s foundations and also the very top of the building. “I think projects like that only come once or twice in your career, so I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on this.”
Another thing Roma is very proud of is being given the opportunity to promote engineering on the television. As a teen she always loved the idea of becoming a science and technology TV presenter, so she was very happy to be asked to feature on Channel 4’s documentary ‘The Tallest Tower’, explaining the principles of The Shard’s structure.
“My friends and I used to joke about becoming a presenter like Philippa Forrester, so I felt like I’d achieved that little dream I had when I was 16,” she enthuses. But this wasn’t Roma’s first involvement in the promotion of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). WSP supports staff that wish to promote engineering, and has built relationships with many schools.
“My company has been very supportive,” she continues. “We have a schools engagement programme that started a few years ago. WSP believes it’s important to support schools and promote engineering. We’re actually given two days off a year to go out and do social responsibility work, so that can be anything your passionate about that gives back to the community.
Roma’s gone into many schools, colleges and universities to talk about engineering in general, as well as the projects she’s worked on. “Some of the local schools had been running design and technology projects around The Shard so I was called in to talk to 14 and 15 year olds about my work there, my career and what engineering is, because many of them aren’t aware of all the different things you can do with an engineering degree,” she says.
Roma also talks at university career days and attends networking events for students where she tries to encourage them not only to do engineering degrees but to also stay on in the industry: “because sometimes that jump doesn’t always happen,” she notes.
Not only has Roma reached the finals of the 2012 IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year award, in 2011 she was awarded the Institution of Structural Engineers’ Young Structural Engineer of the Year award for her work on The Shard and with students. She believes such awards are important to the industry, and hopes to use them to continue her promotional work.
“People are working hard to push forward women in engineering and engineering careers in general and I think we’re very lucky to have these opportunities,” she says. “It’s such an honour to be a finalist as we’ve also done very different, but all amazing, things.
“I think having these kinds of achievements really helps put your name out there, and these awards are really important. People then begin to contact you and ask you to help them with promotional activities,” she explains.
Roma feels very strongly about engineering and hopes that her voice can make a difference, and that she can help bring more fresh blood into the industry. “I’d love to keep going into schools and universities,” she says, “I think this is really important. I’d love to do more media work and already as a finalist I’ve been asked to participate in activities to promote engineering to young females. It’s so great to get the opportunity to do that,” she concludes.