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Now reading: Women Who Inspire: Structural Engineer & STEM Evangelist Roma Agrawal

Women Who Inspire: Structural Engineer & STEM Evangelist Roma Agrawal

Women Who Inspire: Structural Engineer & STEM Evangelist Roma Agrawal

Roma Agrawal is a British structural engineer with a degree in Physics. In addition to designing bridges, skyscrapers and sculptures with signature architects, she promotes STEM careers to young people and under-represented groups such as women, and engages with institutions and government on these issues. For our Women Who Inspire series, she spoke with Shefaly Yogendra in London.

Svaha: How did you first get interested in engineering? Especially, we would love to know how you got to choose structural engineering as your passion? 

Roma: I always loved maths and science at school (that's not to say I found it easy!) and knew I wanted to pursue some sort of technical career. I didn't know what exactly, however, so I decided to study physics at university to keep my options open. During a summer placement, I was surrounded by mechanical engineers that were designing experimental equipment used to detect new particles at the amazing facilities at CERN, and I was hooked. I decided to study structural engineering because I was always fascinated by skyscrapers so thought it would be fun to design them.

Svaha: The Shard is visible from every corner of London. You were, of course, the structural engineer on this very imposing building on London's skyline. How did you come to work on such a cool project? 
Roma: My first project out of university was the Northumbria University Footbridge. I spent a year on that working in a team of engineers, and after that came to be completed, my boss was asked to form a bigger team to work on The Shard. He asked if I'd be interested in working on it, and without a moment's hesitation I of course said yes. I spent the next 6 years of my career on the project, working on the foundations and very top of the tower called the Spire. It's really rewarding to see it from different parts of London and think that 'I helped make that'.

Svaha: Talking with you is specially exciting for us because many of SvahaUSA's young fans, including founder Jaya Iyer's son Sohum and daughter Swaha, who are keen Lego makers. You recently judged a nationwide contest to find Britain's best Legomakers. How do you see the link between your love for Lego and your structural engineering work? 
Roma: My mum and dad gave my sister and I Lego right from the start - every Sunday we played with different building blocks. I think that instilled this idea of making (and breaking!) things from a young age. I'm sure it played a role in developing my visualisation skills and a love for creation, so when I was asked to be a guest judge on Lego Masters, I jumped at the chance. It was so much fun watching these extremely skilled builders create all sorts of forms from the simple plastic brick.

Svaha: We are looking forward to your book Built that is coming out in January 2018, which is now available to pre-order. We would love to feature a fuller interview about the book in the near future. Could you tell us what inspired you to write this book? 

Roma: Ironically, I have never liked writing and hence was never good at it. I have been presenting to schools and universities for a few years now about the amazing profession that is engineering, but wondered how to reach an even bigger audience. Someone came to me with the idea (which I thought was a terrible one since writing filled me with dread) but I took some time to understand the process and decided to go for it. I found it a very tough journey but am really proud of the end result and can't wait to see it in the shops.

Svaha: The Royal Academy of Engineering recently gave you the prestigious Rooke award for your tireless work on public promotion of engineering. Congratulations! What's next for you? 

Roma: Thank you! More of the same I think - finding new ways to raise awareness of what engineering is, work on fantastic projects and maybe do more work on TV, I do love presenting!

Svaha: Finally, would you like to give some advice for our young readers who are curious about engineering? 

Roma: Break things! Well, maybe your parents won't love that advice - how about, explore the world around you. Every single human-made object is designed by an engineer - be curious and ask questions about what an object is made from, how it was made, why it was designed the way it is and so on. Be filled with wonder about your world!

Svaha: Thank you, Roma, on behalf of the readers of SvahaUSA! We wish you the best with your book and hope to speak with you about it soon!

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