Be the One They Lookup To: How Olamide Opadokun Was Inspired to Bring Clean Energy Home

Originally posted here via Wogrammer

As a child in Nigeria, Olamide Opadokun noticed a constant issue in her community: the sporadic availability of electricity. With not enough energy being produced for each town, families and businesses were often forced to use backup generators that made loud, disruptive noises and contributed to air pollution. Having read about renewable energy advances happening abroad, Olamide wondered why Nigeria didn’t have a better solution.

“It was sunny every day in Nigeria — why weren’t we using more solar energy? As the rest of the world moved towards cleaner energy solutions, I realized Nigeria needed to as well.”

Encouraged by her family, Olamide enrolled in the University of Ilorin’s Mechanical Engineering program to help tackle this pressing issue. At the time of her enrollment, there were only 6 girls in her class of 100 students.

The only woman in a class of 87

By the time she graduated, she was the only woman in a class of 87. Olamide remembers her family expressing concern over her “masculine” choice of profession, but credits her mother and aunt for being strong female role models who always supported her dream.

“My mother and aunt were very big on education. Though they were not engineers, they kept going back to school to pursue degrees, and they showed me I could do all the things that I wanted to do.”

As an undergraduate senior, Olamide completed one of the technical projects she is proudest of to date: A Computer-Aided Design (CAD) model of a steam boiler for the research laboratory in which she worked. At the time, her university had only just begun teaching students about CAD, so the project required her to draw on her practical experience from internships rather than formal schooling or academic mentors. After experimenting with several CAD packages, Olamide successfully completed a model of her design, which represented significant cost savings for the school as the hardware could be manufactured onsite. Based on this work, Olamide received the highest grade in her class among all senior research projects.

“Women tend to feel like impostors sometimes. In a patriarchal society, sometimes we are discounted just because we are women. It sometimes didn’t feel like I was given the benefit of the doubt the way men were. But once I showed I could do great work, I felt I was able to gain the same respect as my male colleagues.”

After graduation, Olamide worked as a design engineer in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry. She excelled in her first few positions, with achievements that included being one of Nigeria’s only female software administrators for the Plant Design Management System (PDMS) CAD package. Though the work was rewarding, Olamide started to feel like she had peaked after 6 years, and so she began exploring options for graduate study abroad to learn about renewable energy advances in other countries.

Moving to the United States

Olamide moved to the United States when she received a full scholarship from Iowa State University. Upon completing her master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering with a focus in Clean Energy Technologies, she was recruited for her current role as a Project Engineer with C2i, Inc. Olamide now uses her accumulated expertise to plan and manage projects for one of the Midwestern U.S.’s leading petrochemical companies. As a newcomer to the U.S. energy industry, Olamide is grateful for the support and mentorship she has received from her more senior colleagues. Though she is one of the few women in her workplace, she hopes other women will not be deterred from applying to jobs where women are a minority.

“Even if you don’t find someone who looks like you or talks like you, there are always people there to support you. Don’t let a lack of role models discourage you. And later when someone who looks like you comes along, they will have someone to look up to.”

In the long term, Olamide hopes to return to Nigeria, where she believes the expertise she gained abroad will be invaluable in pushing her industry forward. When the time is right, she is eager to help Nigeria make the leap to clean energy.

“When there is a good fit, I would love to go home. Home is where my skills are most needed.”

Originally posted here via Wogrammer
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