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Fania Christodoulidou - Chemical Engineering

Fania Photo

How would you describe your area of study?

I am currently studying Engineering for International Development, an MSc in the Civil Engineering Department. It allows me to apply the knowledge I gained from my undergraduate study in Chemical Engineering to a global development context. I am currently working on my research project, which is on portable sanitation technologies in refugee camps. There is a need within refugee camps and conflict zones to be able to adapt and provide water and sanitation for influxes of migrants; my project combines the technology aspect with the social, political and economic restraints of the areas in need. 

 

What is your favourite part of your area of study/area of research?

I really enjoy combining the technical engineering aspects with the social-economic issues that our world faces. I feel that with my MSc in Engineering for International Development I can apply my engineering skills to help others,  which is extremely rewarding and definitely my favourite part of my studies.

 

What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt during your studies/career so far?

One of the most valuable lessons I have learnt is to approach every situation not only as an engineer (applying the design cycle, critical thinking, and quantitative knowledge), but also to approach difficult situations and problems involving others with empathy. My bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering at UCL taught me to think like an engineer, strategically and analytically, and gave me the tools to solve problems efficiently, but it was my volunteering experiences which taught me to use these tools in an effective and caring manner. My MSc has allowed me to build on all of these skills, combining everything harmoniously.

 

Describe your day-to-day life as an engineer/engineering student

As an engineering student during my bachelor’s degree, I would spend my mornings going to lectures and my afternoons and evenings volunteering; either organising sessions, running our Outreach Programme, training new volunteers or running the sessions themselves. In my final year of my bachelor’s degree, I was also President of Engineers Without Borders UCL, so I would spend a lot of the evenings working on that – needless to say, there was a lot of paperwork during my day-to-day activities! I am currently completing my MSc by working on my research project, so my days are spent mainly preparing for my fieldwork, which will take place in a refugee camp.

 

What attracted you to participate in outreach and engagement activities?

One of the reasons I started volunteering was because I was the only girl in my 12th grade Chemistry class and one of the few girls in my Physics class. I believe this has to do with various societal factors; in many areas of the world STEM subjects often do not have a gender balance. For me, volunteering is showing a young student that STEM can be for them if they want it to be and that they should not steer away from STEM subjects just because others have told them to. It’s about proving to them that STEM subjects can be fun, engaging and a lot more than just what you read from a textbook in class.

Being involved in Engineers Without Borders (EWB), we created  the EWB UCL volunteering project in which we go into  to schools and teach pre-GCSE pupils about STEM. EWB UCL has a mission of sustainable development – this encompasses social cohesion, inclusion and above all, creating equal opportunities, especially in education, which are vital to our global society. Therefore, the Outreach Programme we created promotes STEM subjects in the hopes that these become accessible to all regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, ability and socio-economic background. This allows students to simultaneously contribute more to our community, which is also rewarding within itself.

 

What is the best thing about being involved in outreach activities?

So many things are great about being involved in Outreach Activities! Probably the most rewarding part about being a volunteer is that, by the end of the session, the younger students who you’ve been teaching become just as excited and just as motivated as you are about engineering and science. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to share the subject you are so passionate about with younger students. Another great thing is that by leading the outreach programme, I’m able to aid younger UCL Engineering students in developing their skills such as time management, public speaking, teaching and project management, among many others when they are volunteering in our programme.  Volunteering helps you develop a different skill set compared to academic studies, and the two definitely complement each other.

 

What type of activities or programmes have you led?

I led the EWB Outreach Programme. We try to break the misconceptions of engineering being limited to things like bridges and automobiles, and we strive to show younger students that although bridges and automobiles are still very cool, there are other aspects of engineering. For example, the production of shampoos, soaps and detergents, and even sports shoes (such as football boots and basketball shoes) also entails the use of engineering - even though we don’t usually place these products in the same category as “engineering”. We then start our activity for that day, normally we teach them about the Engineering Design Cycle, and allow them to apply it to a problem, showing them that they too can think like engineers.

 

What outreach activity or programme are you most proud to have been involved with?

Having created the EWB Outreach Programme, running it for three years and then handing it off to my successors, I am incredibly proud of how well they have done in continuing our work.  I spent most of my final year during my bachelor’s degree trying to not only inspire younger pupils but to also provide personal and professional development opportunities for the outreach volunteers who worked with me, by teaching them skills and building up their confidence. I was able to train and develop successive teams of outreach volunteers in the hopes that the outreach programme would be sustainable and remain long after I graduate. In my absence this year, I am extremely proud of the work they have accomplished.

During my three years with the programme, we were able to empower over 600 young people. Having now handed over the project, I have watched it grow even further as my successors created more partnerships and new activities, reaching over 300 new pupils. This has made me tremendously proud of them and what they have accomplished.

 

How has volunteering changed you?

Volunteering has made me a more patient, caring and conscious citizen. I am also happier, as I feel as though I am giving back to the community in which I live in. I believe that I am fortunate to have the opportunities that I do and so with volunteering, I aim to give back not only knowledge but also encouragement and support to younger students.  

 

What advice would you give young people wanting to study or work in STEM-related fields?

I believe that it is vital to know who you are, to work passionately and tirelessly for the things you want and the experiences you deserve. Do not let anything or anyone diminish who you are or what you have accomplished.

 

More about EWB UCL