To mark International Women in Engineering Day (Thursday 23 June 2022), we interviewed third year chemical engineering student Blossom Tariro Kafumbata, about what sparked her interest in engineering, and how this carries through to her work on sustainable engineering projects today.
Tell us about what inspired you to get into engineering – and the journey you have been on since then.
My interest in engineering started when I was in primary school and would every day pass by a derelict industrial area in a small town of Zimbabwe. I then asked my Dad what I would need to do to rejuvenate these industries and stop them from running to the ground and that is when he told me to do engineering.
After noticing my fascination with science and its applications, my Dad would let me tag along to the timber and chemicals industries where he worked as a contractor. Seeing chimneys of smoke and the towering distillation columns was my idea of a day well spent.
Fast forward to high school, I was fascinated by the industrial revolution that we were taught in history classes. I went on to study some of the main industrialists that were influential in the western world like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford among others.
However, I also had a keen interest in the female industrial revolution inventors and always thought that it was unfortunate that some of them were not as well documented in history books as their male counterparts.
I then set a goal of being a pan-African industrialist. But then again, I was not sure which type of engineering to do exactly and when decision-making time came, I chose chemical engineering. A choice I haven’t regretted making.
You are part of a team that recently reached the semi-finals of the international Wege Prize, for innovation and the circular economy. Can you tell us a bit about the project you were working on for the competition?
The concept is about consolidating urban diets with rural and traditionally neglected plant species as a way of strengthening food security and fighting malnutrition and under nutrition that is prevalent in the world. At the moment, there is a huge demand for food supply from a handful of plant species and leaving out so many other species that could be used as food.
Our team, 'Wild Fruits Powered' proposed to use tamarind fruits otherwise left to rot to create nutritious natural juices and fertilizers, which could help fund a community project and support local reforestation.
The circular part of our concept is that the residues that are left from our processing activities are used in making agro-forestry fertilisers and production of bio-gas, which can be used as a clean energy source.
My motivation for working on the project was the excitement of being able to use my engineering knowledge and working with a team to bring forth innovative products made from traditional and highly nutritious plant species that can appeal to the GenZ and Millennials. Anywhere where innovation is, I strive to be a part of such stories.
The theme of this year’s International Women in Engineering Day celebrates ‘Inventors and Innovators’. Why do you think innovative engineers are key to the future of our communities and planet?
Engineers truly can make an impact in all aspects of human life. Being able to think critically and use the practical skills that engineering teaches to solve modern day problems is something I think is phenomenal.
Innovation is the heart of the human story and one cannot help it but look in awe at the massive contributions that engineers have made to humankind.
In any given situation that engineers find themselves, they can apply the transferable skills gained through their journeys in engineering and use them in invention and innovation at any level.
Are there any words of advice or inspiration you would share with the next generation of young women who are considering getting into engineering?
My advice would be to never doubt your capabilities. Yes engineering is a challenging major, but the invaluable skills that it equips you with will help you in transcending into any career of your choice and being able to make an impact.
Dare to dream big and don’t let anyone deter you. If you want to build the next space salon or hotel on planet Mars, go for it! Never stop trying and do not let your gender be your limiting factor. Engineering is fun.
Outside of academic life, what do you enjoy doing?
Outside of academic life I like working on product formulations and running process simulations for the projects I’m involved in.
For relaxation, I like going to the gym, dancing, reading non-fiction books and interacting with friends and family.