I have inspired [my daughter] and she looks up to me as a strong figure who has grown through great resistance to achieve my ambition.

Dounia Bakira
Dounia Bakira
Applications Engineer, AESSEAL
Foundation Year & Chemical Engineering Alumna
2019
Dounia is an Applications Engineer at AESSEAL and a Foundation Year & Chemical Engineering Alumna who graduated in 2019. Dounia had a difficult journey to becoming a chemical engineer but she graduated with a first class degree. Here she tells us about her journey.

Read: Our interview with Dounia


Dounia Bakira

What is your background and why did you choose engineering as a career path? 

I have a Moroccan Baccalaureate and studied SMP (Science, Maths and Physics) for one and half years at the University in Morocco. I chose engineering as I have always had a thirst for knowledge and dreamed of pursuing a career where I could use my problem-solving/analytical skills. I have a keen interest in Mathematics and Chemistry and chemical engineering seemed to offer the greatest opportunities to pursue and hone these interests while developing a rewarding career.

After doing my research I found that chemical engineering offered a wide scope of industries to work in, starting from chemical industries, pharmaceutical, and project management to finance and economics. A chemical engineer does everything from turning raw materials into every day, useful products; the water we drink, the food we eat and the electricity we use to power our homes.

Humanity is currently facing, and will continue to face, challenges in the future, so engineers will play a central key role in tackling these challenges. Therefore, there are infinite career opportunities for engineers as a whole.

Dounia Bakira

Why did you choose to come to the University of Sheffield specifically?

After moving to the UK from Morocco and after four years of marriage, I found myself divorced with a two year old daughter. I felt lonely, hopeless and sad. A change in circumstances meant I had to find a new way to support my daughter. I started my journey by studying GCSEs at Liverpool City College, then moved to Bradford to study A levels (since it offers day time courses for mature students).

While I was in the middle of studying my A levels, another wave of disappointment had hit me again. Due to my financial circumstances, I had only two options to take; to quit education and look for a job, or to starve. I had sleepless nights for many weeks, but I have always believed in this idiom ‘where there is a will there is a way’.

One night I wrote an email and sent it to many universities in the UK which offer a chemical engineering degree. Each word I wrote in the email, was coming from deep down in my soul. I wanted to reflect my situation and how much I was craving to achieve my goal. I was lucky enough that my voice was heard by the University of Sheffield.

When I looked at the University of Sheffield I saw a Russell Group University with cutting edge technology and research in my chosen field of chemical engineering. It offered me access to leading experts who could support my professional development as an engineer.

The diversity in the university offered a welcoming atmosphere, where I felt comfortable to grow and build connections with people from diverse backgrounds. I saw opportunities for personal development and enhancing my soft skills through the many societies and activities.

As well as achieving a first class degree, I have been a member of the Women in Engineering Student Society, acquired a scholarship and done two internships: at the University of Sheffield and at the AMRC.

In my case, the University of Sheffield chose me. I moved to Sheffield before the A level results were released, because I knew it was going to be the best decision I would ever make.

What has been the highlight of your engineering career so far? 

The highlight of my engineering career so far has been working at AESSEAL. I will never feel bored in my job, as my role as an Applications Engineer entails so many different activities, such as providing solutions to many applications, supporting our customers, site visits and seal failure analysis.

Being the only female in my department always makes me feel special and appreciated. I have always been given the support and help needed to make me feel relaxed and welcomed in the company. I am so grateful to have an amazing team, who have never hesitated to answer my endless questions or even put a smile on my face.

With AESSEAL I have all the tools I need to make a successful career. AESSEAL is one of the leading engineering companies who supports efforts in the areas of gender equality in engineering. I am pleased to be a woman still actively raising awareness of engineering and encouraging more girls to study STEM subjects in primary schools. I have been involved in activities and events held on site, which aim to show the young generation how fun engineering can be.

I am so fortunate to say that I have been put in safe hands. AESSEAL cares about its employees, from day one you are considered one of the AESSEAL family.  This surely shows in the support and opportunities that are available. Among the support I have been getting, is training. It has been so far one of the tools that will help me in my professional development and to further grow my confidence.

What does your daughter think of it all?

Dounia Bakira

My daughter is the most important thing in my life. Ensuring she has a good life has been my guiding aim through all the difficulty and hardship I’ve faced on my way to becoming a Chemical Engineer. The graduation ceremony was a very emotional but beautiful moment for my daughter and I, as it felt as if it was both of us graduating.

I believe I have inspired her and made her feel proud of her mum’s achievements. She looks up to me as a strong figure who has grown through great resistance to achieve my ambition. She feels motivated to follow in my footsteps and become a Chemical Engineer like her mum – but better!

What does the future hold for you?

So far, I have been involved in many projects. This will surely help me in my career path in the long term. I have been trusted to help work along the companies’ digital roadmap on the path to industry.

I’m also looking forward to gaining a Chartership! I’m currently building on existing skills and learning new ones. Every day I’m expanding my portfolio of experience and technical abilities, working towards greater responsibility and career progression. I would like to develop to the point where I’m able to manage entire projects. From there, who knows?

What’s the best thing about being an engineer?

I love the daily opportunities it gives me to apply my creativity in solving interesting problems. I think engineering offers one of the most dynamic and engaging environments of any career. I also love the way it allows me to have a direct impact on my organisation, and gives me a clear sense of how my work contributes to achieving shared goals.
 

Image: student working; Text: Futures. Sheffield Made.

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