Meet Noella Nibakuze, Design Associate at MASS Design Group, Rwanda

January 7, 2020

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Noella’s bio 

Born and raised in Rwanda, Noella is a creative and qualified Architect with over six years of experience in architectural design, building technology, and sustainability. 

Noella currently works as a Design Associate at MASS Design Group, a design collective that focuses on ways in which design, including landscape architecture, architecture, and engineering, can be leveraged to create positive social and environmental impact. Before joining MASS, she was an Architect at Studio 4 Architects in Rwanda, where she worked on housing complexes, residential units, hotels, and education facilities. 

Noella completed her Post-Graduate degree of Architectural Technology at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria in 2012. In 2018, Noella participated in the United States’ TechWomen program as an Emerging Leader. 

In her own words, Noella describes her passion for design: “I believe that design has the power to improve people’s lives. Every person has the right to a dignified habitat. I am interested in improving living conditions in poor communities by immersing them in innovative building techniques that enable capital projects to deliver social and economic impact.” 

 
Why did you get into STEM? 

During high school, Mathematics and Physics came naturally to me and I excelled in sciences overall. In addition to this, I had a passion for drawing. While I did not fully understand my options for a career path, Civil Engineering or Telecommunications seemed to be ideal based on my academic performance. However, by the time I turned 16, I decided that I wanted to become an Architect. I had never met an Architect before and there was no school of Architecture in Rwanda yet. At that point, I did not see a big difference between Architecture and Civil Engineering. I just imagined building skyscrapers and that really thrilled me, to be able to create something from just an idea; that is beautiful, monumental and will last for a long time. During my studies I realized how much Architecture has a considerable impact on people’s everyday lives. Architecture has the power to transform communities, entire cities, and to create a long-lasting impact. This impact can be either positive or negative. Therefore, as an Architect, you have to make the right choices. 

 
What do you consider your greatest achievements? 

My vision is to contribute to the transformation of Africa by practicing, researching and developing design techniques that celebrate culture and achieve social and economic impact. So far, my greatest achievement towards this vision is being one of the few female 

registered Architects driving design practice in East Africa. As a member of the Rwanda Institute of Architects, I get to participate in conversations that are shaping the field of Architecture. 

Some of the key conversations include an approach to design that values community participation, social inclusion, and equity. By training local labor and using local materials, we contribute to the local economy and uphold the dignity of people who benefit from the very projects we are implementing. 

 
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them? 

My biggest challenge came when I started working as an Architect and realized the lack of women in the profession. At the beginning of my career, even as an intern, I would find myself being the only woman in the workplace, which meant I had no role model, mentor or allies, and sometimes you can feel out of place and lonely. Not having a mentor early on in my career was quite a challenge. I had no one to seek advice from; who could easily understand me or warn me. I did have male mentors, but it was not quite the same – you need someone who can easily understand the challenges women face in the workplace. 

To overcome this challenge, I had to actively engage within the community of Architects and proactively seeking advice and support from my peers. Currently, at MASS, we have started a mentorship program with female students at the only Architecture program in the country. We meet regularly with these young women for one on one mentorship and group mentorship. With this mentorship program, we hope to see more women Architects in the profession. 
 
What is your advice to budding women in STEM? 

My advice to women who have a passion for STEM is this: STEM fields are not easy and are quite demanding. The journey is not going to be easy for many reasons; most of the time you will find yourself being one of the few women in the room or the only one; you will have to face prejudices and judgment from people, your family, and sometimes even yourself because of culture and societal beliefs. Keep in mind that the world needs your talent, you are capable of solving some of the most difficult problems Africa is facing now. You have the power to be at the forefront of driving STEM innovations instead of being just a spectator. 

In order to be successful, you must have goals, make a plan on how to reach your goals; be disciplined and have values that will guide you; find a mentor as early as possible who will advise and help you along the journey. When you succeed, remember to be a mentor to others as well, sharing your knowledge. Cheer for other girls and women in STEM and help each other along the journey. It is in working together that you make the greatest impact. 

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