Jo da Silva, currently an Associate Director with Ove Arup has joined the Department as a Senior Visiting Fellow.
I was lucky to be able to make a difference.Jo da Silva
Her experience as a structural engineer covers a wide range of projects focusing on technically challenging structures, and buildings with a high architectural content, often on difficult sites.
She has a particular interest in the design of public buildings. Her work to date includes major airport and transport related projects as well as museums, galleries and educational buildings.
Having graduated from this Department in 1988, she was awarded Young Consulting Engineer of the Year in 1995 and the Cosmopolitan Woman Achiever of the Year in the science and technology category in 1999.
As a member of Ove Arup's Sustainability Task Force, she is committed to encouraging responsible design, and is a Member of the charity RedR, 'Engineers for Disaster Relief' which she helped set up, with Peter Guthrie, Professor of Sustainable Development.
It was while she helped organise the refugee camps in Rwanda at the height of the crisis in 1994 that she realised how useful engineering skills are.
"I was lucky to be able to make a difference. Most people can only put money in a charity box. In Rwanda, I saw what need really means: water, food and basic sanitation. Not the psychological needs that we in the developed world feel we have. When those 250,000 refugees flooded into the camp, it became the second biggest city in the world, almost overnight. The lake was reduced to a muddy puddle within a matter of months and all the trees had been cut down to provide fuel. In these circumstances, you can see very directly the balance between humans and the environment. This got me thinking about what engineers are really doing. There, they managed to set up a water treatment plant and helped to keep thousands of people alive.
There is a real shortage of quality engineers. It is important to inspire the younger generation. It is a good career from many points of view, especially as the work tends to be project based, enabling people like me to take time out occasionally to do other things. For instance, I love the outdoors, and one of my passions is climbing, so I took three months out to climb a mountain. Now I have the privilege of spending one day a week of my time here as a Visiting Fellow and college lecturer at Sidney Sussex. I should very much like to spend as much of that time as possible interacting directly with the students. Engineering is very much about a way of thinking. I should like to encourage that."