I got to know Cathie through a mutual friend called Christine Sanyu. Her proactive nature amazed me, haha. Here is our interview about her STEM journey:
Hi Cathie, how are you doing today?
Hi Winnie, I am fine, thank you. When Christine told me about this interview I was very excited. I am glad to encourage another girl. Thank you for setting this up.
Thank you for being proactive; it is an admirable character you have!
Please introduce yourself
My name is Catherine Nabanoba. I am a Ugandan, married with two children at the moment. I am a Civil Engineer by profession, with a specialty in Geotechnical Engineering.
How did you become a Geotechnical Engineer?
My professional journey in Science and Engineering basically started in primary school. I remember we were having a conversation with my mom (one of my greatest supporters by the way) when she made a statement that I didn’t agree with. The statement was, “sciences are for boys”. I looked her in the eyes and asked why sciences should be for boys only; “why can’t girls do sciences” I asked? She said they were very difficult! This is what she thought because it was her observation at that time. This raised more questions in my young mind; did this mean girls can’t do difficult things! This has been my motivation in life; I have to prove everyone with this mindset wrong! And glory be to God I have and I still am proving them wrong.
Around Primary Six, I made up my mind to always go for science fields and lucky for me, science always fascinated me. I did my Primary Leaving Examinations from Entebbe Christian Academy and passed high enough to be accepted into Kings College Budo on merit for my O’level. I unfortunately didn’t perform so well in my O’level examinations to allow me get back on merit. We asked for possibilities of having me back in that school and the only option was for me to study MEG (Mathematics, Economics and Geography). My father wanted me to do my A’level at Kings College, regardless of the subject combination – something that I wasn’t okay with. I am the kind of person who always wants to prove people wrong especially when I know that I am capable of offering a lot than what they are suggesting for me.
So I left Kings College and went to St. Mary’s Kitende, where I was given PCM/E (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Economics), which I really wanted to do. I was happy with my classes and excelled in my A’level. I joined Makerere University for a bachelors degree in Civil Engineering under the sponsorship of the Government of Uganda in 2007.
I enjoyed every single course unit I had during my degree. It was too much that I literally became a consultant among my course mates, haha. Gad gave me wisdom, I would understand almost each and every thing in class. I graduated with a first class degree in January 2011. Prior to finishing my degree, I got a job in MBW Consulting and started training as a graduate engineer.
You know how theory is different from practicals, I faced some challenges; I didn’t go back to square one but there were things I needed to learn that were in the field, and not in class. I went into my training very eager to learn, just being my usual self. My determination helped me pick up so fast, so I kept getting promoted to higher positions in short periods of time. It was a good journey.
In 2013, I started feeling like something was lacking within my career life. That’s when I applied to a Chevening scholarship and got it. God is so good, I was the only Ugandan considered in that round of scholarships. I applied for a study leave and In 2014 and started my masters degree in Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Birmingham, UK. I was so happy because even during that application I had been competing with boys mainly. This for me was a push because I am here to show people that being in a male-dominated field doesn’t mean you can’t do better than them. All you need is the will to excel and God will always bring a way for you to.
I returned to my job at MBW after my masters, for a year before joining Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) as a Geotechnical Engineer. This is where I have been working since 2017. I am having fun at work, working on various projects and seeing them come to life.
What challenges have you faced as a female Engineer?
It’s the gender issue; me being female! By the grace of God, I am ageing well, haha, so I am also facing the issue of “doesn’t she look too young?”. The good thing is when you start engaging, people realise that you know what you are talking about and respect you more.
The other challenge is that of analysis paralysis. It’s a condition where you start analysing everything! This some times gets into the way of you actually getting anything started. In the process of analysing every step, you end up procrastinating things. It has been a challenge on my side but I am learning to overcome it step by step.
What are your sources of inspiration?
I want my future self to be extremely proud of my younger self. That alone pushes me to try and do the best I can in the moment I have, with the resources I have been blessed with. This will help me to look back and congratulate myself for overcoming the challenges I faced. The choices we make today are key in the people we become in the future.
What are some of your prestigious moments in life?
Wow, these are many! Some of them that stand out are in terms of academics, with the best being the Chevening Scholarship. Many people say it is difficult to get this scholarship; I mean thousands and thousands of people apply and compete for the same opportunity like you! When I got shortlisted, I got very determined to ace my interview once invited. I remember I was the very last person to be interviewed that day.
Also getting the different jobs I have had in the past plus my present one has been a great achievement for me.
Who is Cathie outside work?
Wow! I have quite a number of hobbies! I am a very reserved person but sort of enjoy outdoors for some reason. Outdoors bring back so much life in me. I also like listening to country music. I love traveling; I love traveling, I can say that again, haha. I also enjoy learning new things.
What is your favourite quote?
Where there is a will, there is always a way ~ George Herbert
How would you encourage a young girl in STEM?
Do not be afraid of yourselves; you are always enough, in fact you are more than enough. You can only go as far as your imagination goes, so don’t restrict yourself. Dream, dream some more and start working, not letting anyone talk you out of your dream. If you know what you want, go after it, remembering that the grace of God is abundant to sustain you. Don’t be afraid of competing with other people – that’s part of life. Competition should be one of the things you enjoy because at the end of the day it is a competitive world.
Wow! Only you and I know the circumstances under which this interview happened, haha. Thank you very much Cathie, it is an honour to share your story with the world.