The female engineers propelling Guyana’s infrastructural transformation
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YEARS ago, when I first entered the world of work, my mother would vehemently insist that I “dress the part.” Admittedly, however, I have always been a “trunks and vest” kind of gal, and genuinely, if I were allowed to show up for work that way, I would rejoice. But I do understand what she meant; first impressions are everything, and maintaining a neat image commands a certain level of instant respect; it opens doors and can rope in many incredible opportunities.

Similarly, as Guyana embarks on her revolutionary path to magnanimous multi-sectoral transformation, it is important that she looks the part. It is an indisputable fact that Guyana is a gem; she is home to almost every enviable resource known to man, and her children represent an amalgamation of all of the world’s most magnificent cultures. However, despite all that she is and all that she has, it is not difficult to recognise that Guyana is not as celebrated as she should be. It reminds me of a local expression I often hear: “you’z a nice girl inno? Yuh just need lil caring.” That’s how I feel about Guyana; she is the underdog that needs to go through a light makeover in order to become the star of the show.

Fortunately, the Ministry of Public Works has within its employ, several visionary female Civil Engineers who are committed to ensuring that Guyana is accessorised in a manner that commands instant respect and attracts all the admiration that she so rightfully deserves.

Among those women is Shinella Quintyn, a Civil Engineer, and the manager of the Design Department of the Ministry of Public Works. The 36-year-old heads a competent team of qualified professionals tasked with coming up with the designs for roads, bridges and several other public infrastructures throughout the country.
Although a trailblazer in a male-dominated field now, Quintyn was well intentioned to become a doctor. She eventually outgrew those desires and wanted to pursue a career as an educator, much like the strong, capable women she grew up around. Eventually, the St. Joseph’s High School student would be exposed to a “talk” from representatives of the University of Guyana (UG), and shortly after, in an uncalculated move, Quintyn enrolled for the university’s Engineering Programme.

“I didn’t know much about engineering, actually; I didn’t even know what a Civil Engineer was,” Quintyn confessed. She would later realise that being an engineer required much more effort than she had previously imagined. “It was a lot of work…but it became something that I really wanted to pursue and excel in,” she admitted.
Having fallen deeply in love with the field of engineering, Quintyn spared no hesitation in securing employment in her field. “I really enjoyed the challenge that it brought. I really like thinking on my feet,” Quintyn told the Sunday Chronicle.

She related that entering the world of work was quite a humbling experience, as it was vastly different from what she had experienced throughout her university life. Quintyn explained that even though females were always astoundingly outnumbered in the civil engineering courses, “gender issues” had never presented themselves. However, things would soon change, and an eager Quintyn would finally face those “gender issues” that never seemed to be a worry on campus.

“I would have to tell a man what to do and how to do it, and so, we would always be butting heads,” Quintyn recalled. She eventually understood the root cause of the problem, and began learning the art of compromise.

“As a young engineer, you think you know everything, and so when you get into the world of work, and you start talking to the guys with the experience, they kind of tend to shun you first because they’re a little offended by the fact that you are leading them as a [qualified] engineer while they have been working in the field for years,” Quintyn opined.
Soon enough, she would be mentored into being a better and more understanding team leader. Her mentor was notable Engineer Heidi Gillette, Head of the Inspectorate Division of the Ministry of Public Works.

“That really helped me to grow as an engineer…a guy who has all the years of experience is just as important as me, who has the education without the experience. It was always important for me to see eye-to-eye with those guys,” Quintyn posited.

Soon after getting the “hands-on” experience, the budding engineer secured a scholarship to pursue her Master Degree in Australia. Upon completing her studies, the young woman returned to the Public Works Ministry where she assumed the position of a Specialist Materials Engineer.

She would later resign in 2020 to dabble in entrepreneurship, establishing and running her own start-up company. “It was a rewarding experience, but it was a challenge that I was not prepared for,” Quintyn recalled.

The uncertainties and tragedies of 2020 took its toll, and Quintyn made a decision to return to the Public Works Ministry, where she is currently pursuing her second Master Degree; this time, in geotechnical engineering.

Reflecting on her life, Quintyn said that she was quite fortunate to have been brought up in a home where she was encouraged to follow her dreams, and never pressured into upholding the status quo. The young wife and mother related that she is often able to fulfill the demands of her job, owing to the unwavering support of her family, especially her partner. “I think I have the best husband,” Quintyn boasted.

As far as her daughter and two sons are concerned, the young woman said that they are being raised to understand equality, and to know that they can be anything they set their minds to, whether it is something traditional or groundbreaking.

Essequibian, Denita Crandon is also a female Civil Engineer whose dedication has manifested in her elevation within the Public Works Ministry. Having started off as a regional engineer attached to Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara), Crandon is now the manager of the Miscellaneous and Urban Roads Department of the ministry.

Unlike Quintyn, Crandon’s love for “building things” was ignited since she was just a little girl, following her father around. “He was a contractor, and I had a keen interest in the things he did…I used to love seeing my father work; watching him build things and so,” Crandon related.

As it turns out, both Crandon’s father’s and grandfather shared a passion for engineering, but as circumstances would have it, neither of them was afforded the opportunity to pursue a formal education in engineering. Crandon, on the other hand, remained resolute in ensuring that she chases the dream that she inherited from her father and grandfather. At that time, the young woman was sure that her dream was that of becoming a well-qualified architect. As a student of President’s College, Crandon would be the only female who “stuck it out” in the “tech stream.” As she moved on to the University of Guyana however, Crandon would realise her passion for engineering taking precedence over her love for architecture.

Crandon, now fondly referred to as ‘engine,’ went on to complete her Master Degree in Project Management at the UCI – the University of International Cooperation (Universidad para la Cooperación Internacional). Today, she stands proud, having fulfilled the aspirations of two generations before her.

As International Women’s Day (IWD) approaches on Monday, March 8, 2021, Crandon is hopeful that more young girls will consider civil engineering to be a lucrative and fulfilling career path.
“We are a team of about 15 persons, and other than myself, there is only one other female engineer,” Crandon said.

She believes that, oftentimes, young girls are misled into believing that civil engineering involves too much “heavy lifting” for the female gender. “It is actually more about a person’s ability to solve problems using mathematics and basic tenets of science,” Crandon surmised.
She expressed her appreciation to the Public Works Ministry, which she says has been quite fair in its staff assessment, and promoting persons based entirely on competence.

“For me, for as long as I have been with the ministry, I feel as though once you can do the work, you will be promoted. Capability is paramount,” Crandon told the Sunday Chronicle.

She is hopeful that the handful of female engineers at the Public Works Ministry would leave behind a legacy that emphasises the importance of women in male-dominated fields. Meanwhile, Public Works Minister, Juan Edghill, in his International Women’s Day message said that the ministry has “some of the strongest, most dedicated, hardworking and energetic women as administrators, managers, engineers, technicians, and of course, among the rank and file in our staff compliment.”

Edghill went on to assure the women that they are respected and very much appreciated for the role they play in helping to develop and modernise Guyana. International Women’s Day 2021 is being observed under the theme ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.’

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