Engineer Risha Cozier, BASc, AMASCE, MAPETT,

A Chat with Engineer Risha Cozier, one of the New Faces of Engineering in Trinidad and Tobago

Risha is a recipient of the Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago (APETT) “Outstanding Young Engineer Award”, an accolade conferenced on a young engineer who has displayed excellence on a particular project in which he or she was involved. Risha’s accolade came from her demonstrable structural analytical prowess and illustrious initiatives displayed on key structural design projects in which she has been involved at her place of employment, Aleron Limited, which provides structural engineering services to the housing, commercial, energy and manufacturing sector in T&T and the wider Caribbean.

Risha grew up and was schooled in deep southern Trinidad, she is a UTT graduate with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Civil Engineering Systems with Structural Engineering and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering (UWI). In her relatively short period of engineering practice, Risha has established an impressive portfolio of structural engineering designs projects and Continuing Professional Development pursuits; the latter no doubt has contributed to her meteoric professional development, engineering competency and demonstrable technical capability in her field of practice.

If there is one takeaway for aspiring young professional engineers from Risha’s career development path, it is that you should take ownership of your career: Never stop learning, continuously seek opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills, whether through formal education, professional development courses, or on-the-job experiences. Set goals for your career advancement and take proactive steps to achieve them.

Q1. Congratulations on receiving the Award of “Outstanding Young Engineer” from the Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago! What does this recognition mean to you personally, and how do you feel about being honoured at this stage of your career?

It is a tremendous honour indeed to be recognized as an Outstanding Young Engineer by APETT. As a young woman who grew up in a rural community it means a lot to be bestowed with such an award. This accolade has not only validated the reason why I do what I do; it has also motivated me to continue working hard to strive for further excellence in the field. It has demonstrated to me that hard work and dedication never goes unnoticed, and I trust that it will do the same for other young adults especially women seeking to pursue a similar vocation.

I have recognized that this award has paved a pathway for greater visibility amongst more experienced engineers in the field, especially when collaborating on projects. While this award has felt like an accomplishment for me, there is still opportunity for greater awareness and appreciation for the great importance of the work that engineers do that enhances the quality of life and are essential to the functioning of our society.

Q2. Can you share some key moments or experiences from your journey as an engineer that you believe contributed to receiving this prestigious award?

I have had so many experiences over my career thus far and continue to encounter on a daily basis, experiences that helped me develop into the engineer that I am today. However, this would not have been possible without the opportunities provided by my current employer. Being placed as lead engineer on several projects, I have had the privilege to work with many “seasoned”/renowned engineers, architects and project managers throughout the Caribbean that have provided me with many invaluable learning opportunities. However, there is one that stood out:

A conversation with my current employer following the completion of a challenging structure, I asked, “How did it feel when you see something you spent hours designing finally built?” His response was, “The thought of people building something you imagined and designed structurally, the amount of responsibility placed on you, is a good feeling”. I thought to myself as he said this, “No one can truly appreciate the beauty of a building except the engineer that designed it, from foundation to finish”. Every single detail, design, bolt and specifications nailed down to develop a structure that is fit for purpose and able to withstand the test of time. It is with this mindset I persevere and challenge myself with both traditional and new unconventional designs as I appreciate the uniqueness of every new structure I encounter.

Q3. As a young engineer, what inspired you to pursue a career in engineering, and what specific areas or disciplines within engineering are you most passionate about?

I have always been a curious person that has a passion for mathematics but loved the sight of architecture and buildings even more. A gentleman by the name of Mr. Justin Paul convinced my father just before my admission to the University of Trinidad and Tobago that there was a shortage of good “young” upcoming Civil Engineers and that pursuing this field now would be a great decision. I knew I wanted to be a Civil Engineer, I wanted to design structures that will be there even after I passed on. I just wanted to be able to see structures that I can proudly point and show my family and close friends and say, “I designed that!” knowing that they would be proud of me. While I am passionate about structural engineering and transportation engineering, the former has always been my preference.

Q4. What are the most significant projects or contributions you’ve made in your field that you feel played a role in earning this award?

My structural design experience includes schools, hotel resorts, residential buildings, police stations and commercial buildings.

Some of the prestigious projects I completed includes but are not limited to:

– Kempinski Resort, Dominica

– Shirvan Road Police Station, Tobago

– Hotel Royalton Chairman Building, Grenada

– East Coast Apartments, Dominica

– Ministry of Health Main Administration Building, Trinidad

I strongly believe my involvement in the Ministry of Health Main Administration Building design and construction paved the way for me earning this award.

Q5. How do you balance innovation and practicality in your engineering work, especially as a young professional navigating complex challenges?

As a young female engineer in the workplace with no formal “hands on “experience in the field, it was seen as hurdle for only a very short period. However, I believe communication is key to unlocking opportunities for success in whatever you do. I sought advice from senior engineers at the time in the field as well as doing research on my own that aided in my accelerated development in the field. Challenges are destined to occur in projects. However, being able to think about possible solutions quickly can easily change the outcome of any situation in a positive manner. Utilizing experiences and advice from mentors and colleagues, along with sound research can help anyone overcome challenges in the field.

During one of my most recent projects, I had to listen to concerns from my client that certain materials were in shortage or were too expensive. I therefore researched and found a way to optimize the rebar detailing in the ACI 318 Code.

Q6. Collaboration is often crucial in engineering projects. Can you discuss some instances where collaboration has been instrumental in achieving successful outcomes in your work?

As a young woman in the industry, I believe success is mandatory. As a result, a tremendous amount of communication with peers, mentors and other significant stakeholders is crucial for success. Recently I encountered a project of magnitude which required frequent coordination meetings; collaboration with various engineering disciplines as well as with architects, contractors and clients was of paramount importance to ensure successful completion of the construction works. We all needed to understand the basics of each party’s role to ensure that requirements were satisfied, code violations did not occur, and overall client satisfaction was met. It required a lot of research and communication to ensure that encounters were addressed, and the project was successful.

Q7. In what ways do you stay updated with the latest developments, technologies, and best practices in your field, and how has continuous learning contributed to your success as an engineer?

Over the years I have managed to obtain extensive CPD (Continuing Professional Development) hours from online webinars, documentaries, case studies and graduate studies. I continuously learn about new improvements in the industry by staying updated via engineering organizations’ websites and social media. It can sometimes be daunting to keep up at times, but the knowledge gained from each event advances my career.

Q8. What advice would you offer to other young engineers who aspire to excel in their careers and perhaps even receive similar recognition in the future?

Money is essential but knowledge is far greater. I have seen too many young engineers walk away from promising jobs because salaries are a little lower than what they expected. While it is important to know your worth, if your employer or anyone is teaching you something, listen and learn! When I started as a young engineer, I selected the firm that promised/offered the most professional development for me. This has been a major contributor to my upward trajectory.

My employer, Mr. Brendon Inniss as well as my colleague Mr. Kerhann Jones possess significant experience in the field. As I recall my initial years, I would sit with them for hours sometimes while they drew out concepts and explained first principles on any piece of paper. I am eternally grateful to them. My message to the young Engineers, therefore, is to never stop learning, never stop developing yourself, work hard and most importantly always trust God.

Q9. Reflecting on your journey so far, are there any mentors or role models who have significantly influenced your career path or approach to engineering?

I am forever grateful to God as well as my parents; without whom none of this would have been possible. My engineering journey has been blessed with very prominent and knowledgeable lecturers for example; Professor Winston Suite, Dr. Rae Furlonge, Dr. Lestor Forde and Mr. Kerrin Burgess. As I previously mentioned, Mr. Brendon Inniss my current employer has been a wonderful leader and mentor throughout my career thus far. His discipline, knowledge and guidance have been instrumental to my development in the early stages of my career. His depth of experience and training has enabled me to think outside the box and work well under pressure – core competencies of this career path.

Q10. Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and goals for the future of your engineering career, and how do you plan to build upon this award as you continue to grow professionally?

As I continue to grow professionally, my short-term goals will be to complete my master’s degree in civil engineering and apply to the BOETT to achieve Registration as a Structural Engineering. As a driven young woman working in a traditionally male dominated field; I intend to continue to strive for excellence as a Structural Engineer in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean with the hope to inspire other young women along my journey.