WINNER OF the Cosmopolitan science and engineering Women of Achievement awards Jo da Silva this week welcomed the exposure the profession has gained as a result of her success (NCE, 13 May).
'Engineering is misunderstood. Many people don't think about engineering as a career because they don't know what it is,' she said.
Da Silva commented that Cosmopolitan was reaching women who may not normally be exposed to the idea of being an engineer. 'Maybe a few young girls might see that I have won the award and realise that being a civil engineer is not just about sitting in front of a computer and wearing a hard hat.'
She recently featured in a Department of Trade & Industry advertisement to encourage girls to consider engineering careers (NCE 19 November) and has been giving presentations about engineering at conferences for school children.
'Often, if a young girl is thinking about doing engineering they are the only person in their class,' said da Silva. 'The conferences allow these girls to meet others like themselves. They also get to see that they can be an engineer and do things like wear makeup and go out with boys - they don't have to be a spod!'
Da Silva was nominated for the award by ICE director of public affairs Ian Moore who listed among her achievements her commitment to engineering aid body RedR.
In 1994, da Silva spent three months in a Tanzanian refugee camp on a RedR assignment, in which time she was responsible for camp development. Despite contracting cerebral malaria, she used refugee labour and basic local materials to construct distribution centres, meeting halls, fencing, basic drainage, kitchens, showers and latrines.
'People are now realising that in a disaster, engineering skills are needed just as much as medical skills,' she said.
Da Silva is a founding member and current chair of RedR International. In the three years since forming the group with ICE former vice-president Peter Guthrie, offices have been opened in Australia, New Zealand, with a secretariat in Geneva. It has also developed an international network of contacts with other aid agencies and governments.
Da Silva is also project manager for Ove Arup's structures team on the new £15M National Portrait Gallery extension.
Moore said da Silva thoroughly deserved to win: 'I think she absolutely personifies enthusiasm, drive, and ability to commit herself not only as a professional but by putting herself on the line in terms of the public eye.'
Vice-president Joe Dwyer added: 'This is a very timely award in view of the fact that there are currently over 50 RedR members in the field in the Balkans, mostly civil engineers, striving to alleviate suffering.'
Cosmopolitan's editor-in-chief Mandi Norwood said: 'I am delighted that Jo has won this award and has succeeded in a traditionally male dominated field. She has also used her skills to help others and made time to carry out gruelling charity work.'
Da Silva was modest about her award: 'Compared to some of the women in the other categories, I felt very humbled,' she said.
She added that she has one ambition in life: to be able to tell people that she is an engineer who designs buildings and for people to understand exactly what that is.
Da Silva was presented with her £500 prize money and a framed certificate at an awards ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel in London last week.