MELINDA ODUM,CEng, MICE
Ramboll UK/British Antarctic Survey
Work on the coastline in tropical Belize led her to work on the coastline of frozen Antarctica — building a wharf to allow research ships to dock.
where am I needed?
What wasn’t quite so straightforward was how I got into maritime civil engineering.Much of our Belizian population is connected to the sea, living along the coastline or the mouths of rivers. I studied a small community that had a lot of erosion. I only got a basic understanding of the main processes — wind, waves — but I wanted to learn more. So I applied for a masters in civil engineering in the U.K.
Sometimes I’m in a meeting and say something, and I’m ignored. Then someone else says the same thing. In those situations, I think, well, if the project moves forward then that’s the main thing. Sometimes there is a little bit of a sacrifice of myself and my own personality in that respect. What keeps me going is faith, and a desire for my children to see that things can get better, to show them a good example of how they can live their lives in the face of any adversity.
Melinda is a STEM Ambassador in the UK, someone who visits schools to talk about the possibilities in science, technology, engineering, and math careers for school kids. If you’re in the UK, find out where the STEM Ambassador hub is in your area. Whether you’re there or in another country invite someone who works in STEM to visit your school and share their experiences, obstacles, and solutions. Melinda speaks to school and communities in Belize, as well, and is involved in the Nigerian community in her town, Southampton.
Minorities in Polar Research
Melinda is a member of Minorities in Polar Research, @PolarImpact, an organization for minority scientists working in the field. Events that organization sponsors include outreach to children where professionals can talk about their careers. She says, “I want to support children who may have this interest, or let them know that this job is out there, that there is someone in their community doing that work, and that it’s an option for them, too.”
Being the Only One
Typically I work with white men — not even women. I I think it is reflective of the rest of the industry. It’s really hard, because I can’t forget my color, but I can still try to understand other people. I tend to be more likely to ask questions, to spend more time trying to connect with other people. That’s how I have dealt with that situation.
In Antarctica, we’re kitted out with clothing and given a briefing on what to look out for and how to be safe. The anticipation of potentially being frozen to death was worse than actually getting down there and finding snow and ice but not experiencing any snowstorms. I don’t have any photographs of leaning into the wind, you know? I would have liked to have had a ‘hero shot’!
We got back from Antarctica four days before the UK went into COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. It was a bit touch and go on the way back and I was worried. One by one we put the borders behind us and asked each other, “Are we going to get the next flight?”… Oh yeah, we got the next flight. We’re going home!
I was nominated for best woman civil engineer. In the process of being judged, I had to reflect on my intention: Why am I still in civil engineering? Why haven’t I stopped and gone into something else? Because I am proud of the work that I do and the contributions that I can make through it.