Ing. Bernadette Kargbo holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Sierra Leone and a Master’s Degree in Oil and Gas Management from the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia. She remains passionate about sharing knowledge and learning in science and innovation as demonstrated in her active involvement in the promotion and creation of opportunities for secondary going schools girls to consider careers in the sciences by studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in Sierra Leone.
She is an experienced Civil Engineer with a demonstrated history of working in a water utility company since 2011. Currently, she is a station manager of the Sierra Leone Water Company (SALWACO), responsible for the overall operations, leadership and management of the Magburaka Water Treatment Plant, in the Northern Region of Sierra Leone. She doubles as a project engineer for the ongoing “WASH in Schools” project in Sierra Leone, which focuses on providing water and sanitation facilities to over two hundred (200) schools across the country.
In 2018, she became a Fellow of the TechWomen program organized by the U.S. Department of States and Institute of International Education (IIE), an educational and cultural exchange programme hosted at the Silicon Valley, California, USA. The TechWomen program literally changed her perception of STEM and gave her a life changing experience. She was hosted at SUNPOWER, a leading solar company in the USA, where she worked on a project to design solar panels for water facilities for her community.
Ing. Bernadette is a registered member of the Sierra Leone Institution of Engineers (SLIE), the Sierra Leone Women Engineers (SLWE) and an aspiring chartered civil engineer. Apart from her professional life, she is a mother, a musician and an entrepreneur.
Why did you get into STEM?
Reflecting on my days at a very competitive girl school, the Annie Walsh Memorial School in Freetown, I chose the science stream and did all I could to always be promoted to the next class with the best students. With my mindset and relentless effort to acquire a university requirement after the West Africa Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (WASSCE), I got admission to study engineering at the University of Sierra Leone.
Engineering was considered a “man’s job” and that was somehow true because the percentage of female engineers in Sierra Leone had almost always been less than 10%. I wanted to know more about engineering so I took up the challenges of studying the “man’s job”. Successfully, I sailed through the course and graduated with an Honours degree in Civil Engineering.
My passion for STEM led me to work in a leading water utility company in Sierra Leone, managing and supervising 12 personnel that work to providing access to safe water supply to more than 25,000 people.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
This may sound unconventional but my greatest achievement is my ‘transformed mindset’. A greater credit goes to the TechWomen program that avails guidance and opportunities for me to maintain my passion and strengthen my scientific human capital. This has over the years helped me better contribute to my professional development, immediate society and the community at large especially in sharing learning with girls from less fortunate backgrounds and in helping the girl child successfully transition the national school system and get into University. For this I feel a sense of achievement.
With a group of female engineers (Sierra Leone Women Engineers), I mentor, organize and coordinate science learning activities, events and field trips for girls in secondary schools opting to become engineers. Through this mentorship program, the girls are exposed to different engineering career options, brainstorm and find possible solutions to problems in our society.
Follow the links to view some of our activities: https://www.slwe.org.sl/ , https://www.facebook.com/Sierra-Leone-Women-Engineers-SLWE-1259508014121109/
Personally, I feel satisfied finding time after my daily work and professional activities to manage a small business designing and producing construction finishes for houses. I believe this a major milestone in my career as I intend to build and develop a factory in the long run.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
Women in the field of science and engineering are sometimes marginalized by men in our society and I’ve been a victim.
In my very first year at the university, I was asked by someone – “what are you studying?” and I replied – “Engineering”. He was like – “Are you serious? That’s a male’s field”. At that moment, I started thinking otherwise but I was curious to know more about engineering so I continued and successfully graduated. The fact that I am a woman has nothing to do with a ‘man’s job’.
At a male-dominated workplace, I interface with lots of male colleagues and most times I am the only female among them. Some of these male colleagues do not openly discriminate against me, but elements of bias in favour of male colleagues is apparent in some instances and inequality felt by women seemingly institutionalised. For instance, without any evidence and basis for justification, I have been told I cannot accomplish tasks because of my gender.
I used to feel discouraged and disappointed but despite all these challenges, I continue to sail through professionally. With a success-oriented mindset, there is no stopping until I achieve my goals.
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
As I always tell my mentees – “Be self-motivated and do not allow anything or anyone to take away your dreams”. Always put yourself in a position for accomplishment and success. Build up your self-confidence and believe in yourself.
As potential women to join STEM, I admonish them to dream big, set goals, make plans and do something to achieve their goals.
Perhaps more important, I encourage them to think of and reach out to people less fortunate in life when they are successful as they see it.