We have met women, and then we have met strong African women. It is this difference that drove Ozak’s electrical engineering passion from Nigeria to the world.
Hello Ozak, thank you for joining us today! Kindly give us a brief introduction about yourself
Hi Winnie, thank you for inviting me. My name is Dr. Ozak Esu from Nigeria. I work at Hilti, as a Technical Project Manager, R&D. Hilti employs 30,000 people around the world, in more than 120 countries, who contribute to making work on construction sites simpler, faster, and safer. Within this multinational, high-performance, and collaborative work environment, I lead the research and development of innovations in fastening applications and technology at the Corporate Research and Technology Centre in the Principality of Liechtenstein.
Walk us through your engineering journey from Nigeria to Switzerland
Born and raised in Nigeria, I began my academic and professional career in the UK, where I spent 12 years, before permanently relocating to Switzerland at the start of 2021.
I was good at Mathematics, Further Mathematics, and Physics at school. Through guidance from my parents and tutors, I pursued a career in engineering. My inspiration to specialize in electronic and electrical engineering came from my experience. While growing up in Nigeria, I experienced shortages in energy and power supply. I aspired to contribute to fixing the problem.
For my undergraduate degree, I moved to the UK from Nigeria and joined Loughborough University. I graduated with a first-class and was awarded a scholarship to advance straight to my Ph.D. in the same engineering discipline.
In 2014, I joined the Construction and Built Environment Industry as a Graduate Engineer, designing electrical building services (lighting, power, data, containment, fire alarm, and security systems). Later, I moved on to pursue strategic research exploring Smart Buildings, innovations, and new technologies. In that time, I have won awards and achieved Chartership through the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).
What challenges have you faced along your engineering journey?
I am an engineer who is black and a woman – both under-represented groups in engineering within Europe. I like to believe that I work hard because the perfectionist in me enjoys striving, developing, and achieving; but I also think that some of my drive to excel is influenced by being a member of under-represented groups in engineering.
Occasionally, throughout my career, I have felt some form of ‘pressure to prove’, from both external and internal contributory factors. Now, I recognize this, and I am cautious to avoid fatigue or burn-out. I draw the line at “my best” and constantly remind myself that, although I am a member of these under-represented groups, it is not for me to be the “model minority”. Being Ozak, the individual is enough!
What inspires you to move forward when faced with challenges?
My passion for what I do and the success I have achieved by staying true to my dreams inspire me to move forward. My basic motivations to work are impact and rewards. I feel fulfilled when I positively contribute towards advancing society while getting rewarded for it. As Maya Angelou said, “success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it”.
Along the way, I have developed my work philosophy from unconventional places like music. An example is ‘I can’t kill myself’ by Nigerian Musician, Timaya. If in my reflections, I can confidently answer “Yes, I gave it my best effort”, then I am happy. If my best effort did not yield the best outcomes, it’s a learning experience; I take notes, never repeating the same mistakes.
Let’s talk about your moments of celebration in engineering
My greatest professional achievements are; thriving in a new country following my move from Nigeria to the UK at 17, graduating with First Class Honours in Electronic and Electrical Engineering, advancing straight to my Ph.D. at 20, on a Loughborough University scholarship, and achieving doctoral success while maintaining a full-time graduate engineering job at 23 in a different engineering discipline.
I am very proud of two high-profile accomplishments. One is being elected to the IET’s Council. The other is winning awards in recognition of my contributions to engineering including the IET’s Mike Sargent Career Achievement Medal for Young Professionals and the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award in 2017.
In 2019, I qualified as a Chartered Engineer. It feels great to have accomplished this significant career milestone. I was awarded “Chartered Engineer of the Year 2020” and winner of the “Women of the Future (Real Estate, Infrastructure, and Construction) Award 2021”. The awards were for excelling in my career, achieving professional registration, supporting colleagues with their professional registration ambitions, and for inspiring others to consider a career in engineering.
Who is Ozak outside engineering?
Outside of work, I am pretty much the same person, interested in engineering and people. In my spare time, I create content for engineering engagement including presentations/talks, and educational demonstrator videos on topics in science and engineering.
Most recently, I became a video host at Climate Now, a multimedia resource on the science and economics of climate change. We cover key scientific theories underpinning our understanding of how and why the climate is changing, plus clean energy technologies. Climate Now also reports on policies relevant to the climate crisis and the energy transition.
I am passionate about advancing society through education and the practical application of sustainable engineering. In May 2019, I participated in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Build Malawi. STEM Build was a volunteer Women’s Engineering Expedition that involved fundraising, designing, and building a new STEM Education center for 124 students in Mangochi, Malawi in partnership with the local community. I aspire to undertake more challenging voluntary projects that promote engineering for international development.
My volunteer work with IET involves communicating my passion for and contributions to engineering to schoolchildren, teachers, parents, politicians, journalists, and the public. We aim to inform and inspire their engagement within the profession. I am an elected IET Council Member (2020 – 2023), tasked with tendering advice to the IET Board of Trustees. Through my position, I am able to promote a culture of continuous improvement.
Through The Visiola Foundation in Nigeria, I mentor young women studying at tertiary institutions across West Africa. The aim is to tackle the ‘confidence gap’ and retain the female talent within STEM. I am a member and volunteer of Engineers without Borders UK and the Association of Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers (AFBE-UK).
What’s your favourite quote?
“When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed” ~ Michelle Obama.
This quote motivates me to continue seeking and taking opportunities. It also encourages me to keep using my voice, privileged insight, effort, and time, towards creating new opportunities for others.
What are your words of encouragement for a young girl in STEM?
A STEM career is prestigious, global, collaborative, multifaceted with diverse routes and it is at the forefront of driving transformation in our society – a great choice you have made! Just like me, you will continuously learn and adapt as you go along. Say “yes” to opportunities to be challenged, develop, and grow. Occasionally, you will have tough days, where you question why you are even doing this. It’s important to know your WHY and constantly remind yourself of it. Having a good mentor is always a good idea!
I am just moved by how much you have achieved in a field you are very passionate about. Surely this is a success for you and us as a continent. May you keep raising the flag high.