In case you are not sure of what Materials Engineers do, here is Alison taking us through her career journey in this field;
Hi Alison, I have been seeing your engagement with our content across social media. It’s wonderful to finally have your story shared through us
Wow! I have read some of your work and should say this is quite an honor. I am happy to share my story.
Thank you for the kind words.
Briefly introduce yourself to our audience
My name is Alison Nabitengero Kiwanuka. I’m Ugandan, and a Civil Engineer, currently working in Materials Testing and Geotechnical Engineering. What that means is that I perform a quality assurance function for construction materials, as well as an assessment of ground conditions before infrastructure works.
I am the third daughter of the Mutumba Family, born and raised in the suburbs of Kampala. I was originally a Catholic. Right now I would describe myself as a Christian. I was such a tomboy in my younger years, with a crazy love for superman and buildings.
I had the typical sheltered life in a safe closed knit community. For school, I went to Kitante Primary School and Kyambogo College, which had just started accepting girls the year before. My big sister was one of the first two girls there. I later joined Makerere College for my A’ Level and Kyambogo University for my undergrad.
How did you join the world of Materials Engineering? Is it something you knew about as a child?
I was offered my first choice course of Civil Engineering which I wanted since senior two. Then around my 2nd year in a Geology class, I fell in love with the earth. I would be in the library reading non-examinable material just for the sake of it. For that year’s internship, I trained with the Central Materials Lab under the Ministry of Works and Transport. That internship period fanned my desire for soil into flame. So when we eventually studied Geotechnical Engineering, I knew I had found my thing.
After campus, I pursued several options when job hunting like everyone else but wanted to work with soil. I lucked out and was given an opportunity as a graduate trainee at Teclab Ltd and the rest is history.
What are some of the challenges you have faced on your journey in life?
Life is full of challenges for everyone but by God’s grace, we overcome.
I have struggled with anxiety and impostor syndrome in the past, although I didn’t have the name for it until adulthood. It was rare for me to be happy with my grades. I remember getting 15 points in my S.6 mocks and was read out at assembly. The general performance was poor, however, I was among the top students with 15 points. But for some reason, I was utterly embarrassed. My motivation to do better has always been about my next target based on previous results, regardless of what other people are doing. So when I didn’t hit the target, it wouldn’t matter if others thought it was great. I’d be hard on myself for not working hard enough. But I’m working on that now and setting more realistic goals for myself considering how busy my life is at the moment.
I had a car accident when I was younger. I could not remember my name or where I lived. But for some reason, they say I recited our home phone number. Perhaps that’s part of why I’ve drummed the emergency phone number into my kids. But that’s how my parents could find where a good samaritan had rushed me to for first aid. My baby sister was involved in that too when she was 6 years old. Thankfully she was unharmed.
Also, my parents separated when I was a teenager. They did their best to manage the separation but there was still stigma (remember that close-knit community?) and confusion. As a kid, it skewed my view of marriage! However, through that experience, my sisters and I formed a bond I can only describe as covalent. We are very close; shout out to the girls. I have also been working on my worldview.
Even with that and more, I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people in the world. My dad describes himself as lucky and I recognize similar patterns of luck in my own life. Not lucky like lottery-winning lucky, (that would be cool though), but in the way things have panned out for me.
You have gone through a lot to be where you are at the moment. What helps you not give up?
For me, it’s family 100%. The support from my family is my biggest reason not to quit and to keep on keeping on. We always speak positively to and about each other. Of course, there’s drama once in a while, but my family absolutely holds me up, especially when life isn’t very rosy. And that’s both the family I come from and the one we are creating with my husband. I want to make them proud and contribute to the greatness we are all building.
Also, the sessions held by the Business and Professional Women Uganda Chapter kept me sane during the first Covid lockdown in 2020. They were very important and pivoted me onto the trajectory I’m currently on.
Let’s talk about your prestigious moments on your path into Materials Engineering
I have been privileged to work on major infrastructure projects like the Achwa Hydro Power Project, Kingdom Kampala, Kampala Entebbe Expressway, the Kampala Northern Bypass, and even the Kampala flyover. Our work makes us the first Engineers on site so we get to know about upcoming developments years in advance and contribute to design data inputs. It makes me so proud to see the executed works of the dams, bridges, and highways later on.
I shared second place with another student during our Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) or call it O’ Level National Examinations. Also, I was the second-best student in my Physics, Economics, Mathematics (PEM) class during my A’ Level National Examinations.
I used to run cross-country and track as a kid and won those a lot. The shorter races were harder for me. It made me so proud to be good at something. I once won a basin when I was 9 during the school sports day. And we had that thing until I was about 21. Imagine that!
We would like to learn about what you enjoy doing outside of work
I’m a wife to 1 and a mom to 3 sweet and very active little boys. And I can say I’m a bit of a boring individual. I like staying home and chilling. Generally, my life revolves around my family and I always try to make decisions around them. Although this and next year I’m a student so most decisions have had to be made around my work and class schedule. But I realize how lucky I am to have the opportunity to do this. My husband has been super supportive. He makes sure I don’t worry about the kids on the weekends which is when I have school. My parents and sisters are rooting for me so much you would think I was doing tryouts for the Olympic team. It’s crazy. But I’m very lucky to have their support. Many people don’t have that.
Do you have a favorite quote?
There are so many great quotes but the one that instantly comes to mind is one my former Head Teacher, Ms. Rose Izizinga, shared when we were preparing for our final exams. She gave it to our S.6 class as the year’s motto and it stayed with me until now.
She said, “Focus on quality performance, one percent better every day”. I believe it is self-explanatory.
What are your words of encouragement for a young girl interested in Materials Engineering?
Civil engineering is one of the best engineering options because you can do so much to serve the community from public health to road design and construction, building people’s homes, working on underground structures and so much more. We have a great opportunity to inspire the next generation of both girls and boys coming after us. Let us make a way for them to love the work we do by doing it well. We have a responsibility to not deter people from our professions. Let’s not paint a picture of it being a dead end.
Secondly, marriage is important. In pursuit of a career, don’t forget to find someone to grow old with. I was on my way into the feminist movement a few years ago which I still believe has its place, but it feels too radical now and I may not fully subscribe to the current narrative. But ladies should remember that marriage and having babies makes life challenging yes but fuller. There’s more to life than work.
And lastly, may we all remember that we are who we are intrinsically, not what we do professionally. Be kind, be humble, be generous, and useful.
Thank you very much, Alison, for highlighting what you do in Materials Engineering. I am sure it’s going to be an inspiration to someone else. Also, thanks for sharing more about your personal life. We appreciate you!