ENGR FELICIA AGUBATA: Competence defines today’s woman

Practising engineering as a woman in a country like ours can be challenging, but for Felicia Agubata, no course is men’s reserve. She is currently a Chief Engineer at the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Incoming President, Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN). Her exceptional skills and work ethics have earned her letters of commendation from the agency. Agubata, who is also a recipient of two aviation scholarships, in this encounter with Omolara Akintoye, said getting to the top in the engineering profession has nothing to do with gender… Excerpts

WHAT inspired you to study what can be considered a man’s course, engineering, and how did you cope?

I have a natural flair for mathematics. Engineering offered me the platform to ventilate this flair and my inclination to problem-solving in a structured manner. No course is a man’s exclusive.

What is it like practising engineering in a country like ours?

It is challenging, to the extent that progress is slow as is the case in most third world environments. However, we still experience pockets of excellence and commitment to best practices in some facilities and platforms.

Tell us about your growing up

I was born into the family of the late Mr. Alfred and Mrs. Nwoye Agubata of Enugwu-Ukwu in Anambra State. I bagged a B. Eng. Computer Science and Engineering with Second Class Upper Division. I also obtained a Masters in Communication Engineering (M.ENG) degree in 2014 from the same school and presently pursuing a doctorate degree in the same field. There was no drama to my growing up. I am from a regular background and not “silver spooned”. I experienced hardship but uncles and cousins were very helpful because theysaw me as well behaved. My academic performance endeared me to them and they took interest in me.

My eventful career in the aviation sector commenced in 2002 when I joined the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (an Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) responsible for managing the airspace through the provision, installation and maintenance of navigational aids, communication equipment and surveillance system) as an Electrical Engineer 11. I have served in various capacities including Special Project Officer (SPO) for the rehabilitation of thirteen control towers in Nigeria, Coordinator Project Management Officer, among others. I’m presently a Chief Engineer at the agency.

How were you able to compete favourably with your male counterparts?

Standards are not established with gender in mind. It is either you are up to it or you are not. Permit me a little immodesty here, I am up to it. It has nothing to do with gender. Engineering is my calling. I am gender-blind when it comes to performance and standards.

What distinguished you among your colleagues?

Nothing really; efforts and commitment can make the difference though. I have a personal commitment to learning and continuous improvement.

Your success stories

I am a work in progress. I can look back and take pride in the fact that I have departed base but my destination is still a bit far. So I am in transit, figuratively speaking. I am sure that God being my helper, I will arrive my destination safely. I will not wait for luck. I will work for my luck and then pray.

What were the challenges encountered and how you were able to overcome them?

As an engineer, I relish challenges. They are stepping stones.

Every challenge is an experience that comes with useful lessons. Hard work, being methodical and detailed have been useful tools and of course my natural ability to learn from those who are better and more experienced than me.

Why is it that there aren’t enough women in the engineering profession?

Of course there is, and there will always be the misconception that engineering is for the guys. Lately, a lot of women are enlisting in the engineering profession. The numbers are looking better than it has ever been. The prospect of going forward is even more exciting.

Any effort on the part of APWEN to increase the number of women in the engineering profession?

We engage in a lot of activities geared towards encouraging the girl-child to read science and engineering. These include career talk/fair at secondary schools; introduce a girl to engineering initiative. These programmes are tailored towards catching the girl-child young at junior secondary to take interest in mathematics and sciences. As a former chairman of APWEN in Lagos State, we organised lots of career talks at different secondary schools. Some of the students we mentored are in different engineering departments in universities today.

As the President-elect/Incoming president of APWEN, tell us some of the projects you will execute

We will expand the “Introduce a girl to engineering programme” to cover the six geopolitical zones in the country, as well as the mentor/mentee programme. My team will also launch the “invent it, build it” programme for young innovators. We intend to partner with corporate organisations and individuals to drive our initiatives and programmes that reflect our ideals and at the same time resonate with specific corporate bodies that show interest. There will be a lot of idea generation and selling to key stakeholders and the public at large.

Advice to young aspiring female engineers

You must believe in yourself, remain focused and strive for knowledge and skill because competence and skill will define today’s woman. Additionally, they need to learn the concept of deferred reward. Learn first, get the job done, demonstrate ethical behaviour; reward and recognition will come in due season.

Final word

Follow your passion; tell yourself that you are not competing with anyone but yourself. Be constructively dissatisfied with current attainment because the biggest window in the world is the window for improvement. Avoid vogue exterior and vague interior. Keep yourself updated with latest development in your vocation. Be a hands-on person.

This interview was first published in Thh Nation

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