To mark Black History Month, Energy Futures Lab is shining a light on the experiences of its black students and alumni.
“Being a black woman at Imperial, it wasn't solely about academic mastery; it was an assertion of belonging, ambition, and endless potential.”
So writes Nadia Assad, an alumnus of Imperial’s MSc in Sustainable Energy Futures, in a powerful account of her experience as a student at the College and later as a professional in the energy sector.
Nadia describes how being a Black woman in energy “often translates to mentally steeling myself, prepared to frequently be the sole black woman and, occasionally, the lone woman in rooms that echo with familiar tones of dominance. Yet, despite these traditional confines of the industry, I am here, unwavering and unshakeable.”
Some days you'll need to bulldoze barriers; others will seem smoother thanks to the powerful women before you. Those moments aren't just luck – they're legacy; and you're not a token but a testament to resilience and sheer brilliance. Nadia Assad Alumnus, MSc Sustainable Energy Futures
Nadia is one of eight Black women alumni and students who have shared their reflections, memories and lived experiences with Energy Futures Lab, Imperial’s global energy institute, as part of Black History Month – an annual celebration of Black heritage and culture. Their testimonies are being shared on the institute’s Twitter and Instagram accounts over the course of the month.
This year’s theme, ‘Saluting Our Sisters’, recognises the role Black women have played in shaping history, and the words of these eight women highlight their respect and admiration for those who have gone before them and the responsibility they feel to forge a path for others.
“I am by no means intimidated or afraid to take that centre stage, especially in spaces where it was nearly impossible a few decades ago for a woman like myself to sit in and speak up,” writes alumnus Christabel Ofori-Atta who now works as a Project Engineer for Alten and Rolls Royce.
“I have found my voice and I use it unapologetically to challenge myself every day; challenge the status quo in many ways; collaboratively with others, turn ideas to value towards a sustainable energy future; and build on the foundation of Black women before me to be a shining can-do example for my peers and the next generation”.
Designing for diversity
The importance of diversity is highlighted throughout the testimonies. Tackling climate change requires us to listen to voices of people who do not always get a seat at the table, according to Jada-Tiana Carnie, who completed the MSc in Sustainable Energy Futures in 2022 and is now undertaking a PhD in the Mechanical Engineering department at Imperial.
Being a black woman at Imperial and having my research supervisor also being a Black woman at Imperial was an extremely positive influence on my experience. Orabelema Rachel Sekibo Alumnus, MSc Sustainable Energy Futures
“It’s important to have inclusive collaboration to have a better understanding of the scale of the problem, and more first-hand accounts of the ways in which these issues can impact different people both physically and mentally. Diversity of thought encourages innovation, which will be necessary to help us to implement timely sustainable actions, whilst also ensuring that we do not leave anyone behind.”
Current MSc student Adeoluwa Jimoh also stresses the importance of taking diversity into account, writing that “as a Black woman in energy, I count it a privilege to ensure that the needs of Black women are represented in the energy solutions that we design.”
Recent graduate Orabelema Rachel Sekibo describes the current transformation of the sector towards more sustainable energy sources as “a golden opportunity for innovation, diversity of thought and greater gender and racial diversity”.
“Encountering ‘people similar to you’ is one thing. Seeing them in positions of influence, however, brings the unattainable that bit closer. Being a Black woman at Imperial and having my research supervisor also being a Black woman at Imperial was an extremely positive influence on my experience. I felt validated about this 'new and intriguing' pursuit of a career in the energy sector and it was reassuring to see role models to aspire to,” she writes.
Resilience and determination
“To be a Black woman in energy is to embody the resilience, determination, and unwavering belief that diversity and inclusion are not just ideals but the cornerstones of progress,” writes Naa Okailey Ayitey from the Class of 2023. “It's a journey of breaking down barriers, embracing your unique perspective, and standing as a beacon of change, lighting the path for others who will follow.”
Current student Amina Ouattara writes that while being a Black woman in energy “means that I am a part of a minority group in a field that is still predominantly white and male… I want to inspire other black women to pursue careers in energy and to show them that they can be successful in this field.”
Embrace every opportunity, don't fear failure, and always trust in your unique journey. Naa Okailey Ayitey Alumnus, MSc Sustainable Energy Futures
Sustainable Energy Futures Alumni Manager Victoria Ebo, who led the initiative at Energy Futures Lab, said she felt an overwhelming sense of pride when reading the words of the alumni and students, and said she was humbled by their strength, desire for change and commitment to inclusivity:
“Each and every one of them had to overcome various challenges to get to where they are now, and they still continue to face obstacles as professional black women, and yet they remain positive, resilient and committed to inspiring others. They are an inspiration to me, and it is an honour to celebrate them.”
Asked for the advice she would give to her younger self, alumnus Mervin Azeta wrote:
“Don't let anyone ever make you think less of yourself. You have got tremendous capacity and grace to accomplish great feats, more than you could ever imagine. The world is waiting in eager expectation for your authenticity, energy, kindness, sparkle, and wisdom. So rise up in glory, with an incredible sense of purpose & powerful air of responsibility, and let your virtues radiate brilliantly.”
Find out what's on at Imperial for Black History Month and follow Energy Futures Lab on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn for more from our brilliant alumni and students.
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