New engineering graduate is taking the lead
When Memorial engineering graduate TeAndra Thomas returns to her native Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), the 23-year-old will start working with Fortis TCI, a subsidiary of St. John’s-headquartered Fortis Inc.
In her time at Memorial and Fortis TCI, she has achieved a couple of firsts – first engineering student from Turks and Caicos to attend Memorial and the first female mechanical engineer at the Fortis plant in Providenciales.
Ms. Thomas says being first wasn’t her goal, but she’s happy to be a role model for other young women in Turks and Caicos, a chain of 40 islands that is home to about 30,000 people.
“While I’m proud of the fact, it just gives me a platform to speak to young girls and encourage them to get into science and math.
“Once I return home permanently, that’s one thing I’ll continue to try to do … speaking engagements, answer people’s questions and do media interviews.”
Ms. Thomas received a scholarship from FortisTCI in 2009 and worked with the utility while applying to universities to student mechanical engineering.
“Two students from the co-op program came to work at FortisTCI and they encouraged me to apply to Memorial University. I went online and applied, and Memorial was the first university to get back to me.”
At the age of 17, she arrived in St. John’s, knowing just the two co-op student she had met back home. Her supervisor at FortisTCI also put her touch with a civil engineering student from Belize.
“She showed me the ropes,” said Ms. Thomas. “I’d never been to Canada. When I got here it was a bit of cultural shock and I took a while getting used to it. My first year, it was really hard to adjust.”
Following a poor math placement test, she wound up doing pre-requisite courses during her first year at Memorial before re-applying to engineering in 2010. She doesn’t regret it.
“I’m still grateful for that first year when I did the pre-requisites – it helped me adjust and get accustomed to university life.”
Over the next five years, Ms. Thomas completed six work terms – one with Newfoundland Power, another with Metrobus and four with FortisTCI. She received hands-on experience at FortisTCI, assisting senior mechanics on engine rebuilds and the maintenance and repair of the diesel generators that are used in Turks and Caicos.
At the Fortis diesel generating plant, the company has made a few adjustments to accommodate female engineers.
“They didn’t have female bathrooms and showers. Now, we have a new mechanical workshop and it’s outfitted with females in mind – we have our own showers and locker rooms.”
Her male co-workers faced an adjustment of another kind: stop their natural inclination to help Ms. Thomas by offering to carry her toolbox or help her carry heavy equipment.
“It took them a while to realize that I have to do these things and to let me do these things. After a while, they started to respect me in the field and stopped babying me.”
Ms. Thomas is scheduled to start working full-time at FortisTCI in July.
“I’m excited and looking forward to start work and make a contribution to my island, my country and to the company that gave me the opportunity to pursue my dream.”