This month’s profile is Zoe De Grussa, who is Sustainability Engineer and Communications Designer for the British Blind and Shutter Trade Association. Zoe graduated from LSBU with a BSc (Hons) in Engineering Product Design in 2015 and has recently completed her Viva for her PhD at LSBU. We asked Zoe some questions about her experience of being a woman in engineering and her time at LSBU, read on to find out more.Can you tell us a bit about your background and why you came to LSBU? I am the first in my family to go to University and I came to it a little later than most. Sadly, I had a family bereavement when I started doing my A-levels and so I decided to go to work instead as at the time I was finding it hard to concentrate at school. After working in a few different jobs, I realised that after six months or so I generally got a little bored as there was nothing new to learn. This is when I started thinking about getting back into education. I had an ok portfolio of design work that I’d added to over the years and I was luckily accepted at LSBU as mature student onto the BSc (Hons) in Engineering Product Design. I originally went to apply for the BSc in Product Design but the Course Director at LSBU encouraged me to go for the engineering degree. Looking back, I am so grateful they twisted my arm to go for it. You see I wasn’t very confident before starting at LSBU – the first time I went up to present my work in class I went bright red – now I do that kind of thing on a day-to-day basis. How and why did you choose your initial subject and your PhD research? I suppose it goes back to my GCSE’s – Product Design was my favourite subject. It was always something that I wanted to take further. I was intrigued into how things worked and wanted to be able to solve problems with the products I designed. Through doing my degree I learned a wide range of skills and about the responsibility a designer has for the products they develop. This is where I became really interested in sustainability and this helped shape my major project. My major project was a vertical gardening system for disaster relief. Towards the end of my degree, I was approached by one of the lecturers at LSBU and asked if I would be interested in studying further. I went through an interview process and was offered a sponsored PhD position working in collaboration with the British Blind and Shutter Association. The original PhD brief was to investigate the energy saving benefit and environmental impact of different shading products. However, I soon realised there were other aspects that were I suppose slightly more interesting to me and could be greatly beneficial for the industry to investigate. Blinds and shutters whilst common in homes are under used in the UK. However, in future years and as the climate warms, they will become essential in providing comfortable environments for people through maintaining internal temperatures and attenuating daylight. So, my PhD research investigated the broader sustainable benefits of blinds and shutters – focussing on how effective they are at mitigating overheating in buildings and how they impact people’s perception of the indoor environment and their comfort health, well-being and productivity. Did you face any particular challenges around people’s expectations of what you might study? (Given that some people still consider engineering subjects an unusual choice for women) My family were quite used to me breaking the norm. For instance, at primary school I was the only girl on the football team and the captain. So, it was no surprise that I chose a subject that perhaps would be considered a subject that more men do. I think the most challenging thing for me was in the workshops – being one of the few girls on the course you get offered a lot of help from your peers – particularly when it came to the more physical tasks. When I started, I wasn’t very confident, so it was easier to accept the help offered but I soon learned that it was better if I at least gave it a go before accepting any help or tried to find an alternative way that didn’t require perhaps so much physical strength. By the end of my final year I certainly had a few more arm muscles than I started with. Do you think that engineering has changed for women in the time you’ve been involved with it? Yes certainly – there were a handful of women in the first year of my degree. By the time I finished my degree and got close to the end of my PhD the split was closer to 50:50 enrolled in the new first year of the course. Its great to see this as women really bring something different in their approach and problem-solving ability. What changes would you like to see happen in the future? I would like to see more women in higher positions – in my experience there is still an issue here as often women must choose between raising a family and progressing their career. It’s important that there are more women in higher roles as they inspire new generations coming through. How do you think more women can be encouraged into engineering? I think making sure young girls are aware that they have options and showing them that Engineering is not all about crunching numbers but requires a wide range of skills is important. That is what I love most about working in the field as two days are very rarely the same. I also think women in engineering need to be more supportive of one another – I think women engineers mentoring other women engineers is very valuable. Thank you Zoe!