By: Awa Conteh
In this week’s riveting episode of our Women in STEM column, we have the privilege of introducing you to a trailblazing engineer whose work reshapes urban development’s foundations.
Mrs. Khadijah Ceesay, a dedicated Civil Engineer in land development focused on drainage solutions, is our beacon of inspiration. Khadijah’s journey is an extraordinary testament to the power of passion and expertise, defying stereotypes and carving her niche in a male-dominated field. Her tireless commitment to land development and infrastructure is not just a career choice; it’s a profound dedication to safeguarding our cities against the perils of changing climate patterns.
Join us on a journey into the world of Mrs. Khadijah Ceesay, where engineering meets environmental stewardship. Her story is a testament to the incredible impact women in STEM can have, and her innovations are building a more resilient, sustainable future for us all.
Young Khadijah was a dreamer who had an unusual journey into engineering. Believe it or not, engineering was only sometimes her first choice. No, her heart was initially entangled with the complexities of law. If you knew her, you’d probably understand why – she was naturally argumentative, always ready to defend her stance with eloquent words and a smirk. But life, as it often does, had different plans.
The twist in her tale occurred during seventh grade when she switched from a Home Economics to a Technical Drawing class. This decision would set her on a course that would change her life forever. Technical drawing wasn’t just another subject; it was a key that unlocked her fascination with design, problem-solving, and the intricate world of engineering. The drafting board became her canvas, and the lines she drew were like poetry to her. Technical drawing became her favorite subject, igniting a passion she never knew existed.
With her stellar results from the GABECCE exams (aggregate 6), the path into the science field seemed like the natural next step, almost like an automatic choice, waiting for her to embark on the journey. She didn’t object, though, and that’s where her engineering odyssey truly began.
Today, she is a proud civil engineer, having obtained a Bachelor’s degree from Howard University in Washington DC, United States, a journey she balanced with being a mother to her infant son at the time. She served as the President of the Howard University Muslim Students Association. She interned at Amazon as a Transport Engineering intern.
Mrs Ceesay’s passion for civil engineering was sparked by the tears of the rainy season in The Gambia.
The Gambia rainy season floods were no ordinary natural occurrence; they were like the annual visit of an old and relentless adversary. Streets turned into rivers, homes stood in the path of torrents, and the very foundations of their communities quivered under the relentless assault of raindrops. For many, these floods were a dreaded annual ordeal, a challenge to their resilience, and an affront to their way of life. But these floods were more than a mere inconvenience for the superwoman. They were a call to action, a siren song that resonated deep within her heart. She was passionate about land development and infrastructure, and the sight of her beloved homeland’s infrastructure barely holding up under the weight of the rainy season had become her inspiration. She envisioned herself working on projects that would fortify her nation’s foundations against the fury of the rainy season. Her dream was to design and build a resilient infrastructure capable of withstanding even the most relentless downpours.
“The Gambia rainy season floods [ignited my passion]! I am very passionate about land development and the infrastructure in general. Seeing our further crumbling infrastructure that can barely handle the rainy season has been my inspiration. My goal is to gain enough experience and come work for The Gambia. Inn Shaa Allah”, she told TAT.
Although her journey in engineering is relatively fresh, it is nothing short of remarkable, as her dedication and passion for what she does earned her several opportunities. She has had the privilege to work on various projects across the state of Maryland. Her primary role as a civil designer has involved crafting infrastructure designs in different counties, such as Baltimore County, Prince George’s County, Montgomery, Fairfax, and many more. These projects span various tasks, from managing stormwater to designing land layouts and monitoring flow.
In male-dominated industries such as Civil Engineering, women face several challenges as they embark on a journey where they must constantly prove their place and worth, to which our trailblazing guests are no exception. It is also a parallel journey to balance the scales between work and family. This is where the real magic happens. It’s a delicate act of juggling priorities and finding harmony amid the chaos of responsibilities. Yet, women like Mrs Ceesay persist with unwavering determination, summoning the strength of a hundred warriors because they know they belong.
“There are always challenges for us as women working in a male-dominated industry. You always have to prove that you belong and often have to work ten times harder. That, paired with having a work/family balance, can be quite challenging, but Alhamdulillah. It’s honestly not been so bad”, she said.
One of Mrs Ceesay’s most significant challenges in land development is managing stormwater. It’s like trying to control a wild river within the boundaries of a city. Yet, she fell in love with projects that aim to recycle water and promote eco-friendly buildings. These projects are special to her because they bring a touch of green to our urban landscapes. They often involve creating rooftop gardens, where plants and nature take root amidst the concrete.
Another part of these projects is rainwater harvesting, which requires the setting up of systems to collect and store rainwater for various uses. It’s a simple yet effective way to make the most of this precious resource and reduce the strain on traditional water sources. So, while stormwater management is a significant challenge in land development, these green projects are a ray of hope, making our cities more sustainable and beautiful, one rooftop garden and one rainwater harvesting plant at a time.
When asked about the advice she would give young women and girls with a passion for STEM, Mrs Ceesay encouraged them to explore careers in STEM because they have it in them to excel. During her journey, she has observed that among the bustling crowd of voices, some of the most influential and resonant belong to women. These voices carry the wisdom of empathy, a quality that flows naturally through the veins of many women. The feeling of doing good, not just for the present but for the future, is the torch that guides women. In the face of challenge and adversity, they persist, knowing that their actions today will echo through time, creating a legacy that transcends measure.
“Do it! It is challenging, but I have found that some of the most powerful voices in the water and civil industries are women. I can argue that women are more empathetic, and the feeling of doing good for future generations is immeasurable,” she asserted.
As she reflects on her journey in the world of water systems and stormwater management within the context of land development, Mrs Ceesay feels that her proudest accomplishments are yet to be written. She’s an integral part of the GDEI (Gambian Development and Engineering Initiative), a collective of Gambian professionals living abroad, each contributing their expertise to developing infrastructure in The Gambia. This a remarkable undertaking that has ignited a spark of enthusiasm within her.
These accomplishments stand out for her because they are not merely milestones but a testament to her commitment to her homeland and her passion for her profession. The project she and her team are working on for The Gambia is a source of immense pride, and it fills her with wonder. It’s an endeavor that holds the promise of transforming communities, creating a more sustainable future, and leaving a lasting legacy for generations to come. For her, these accomplishments are about personal recognition and being part of something much more significant. It’s about bridging the gap between her passion for engineering and her love for her homeland, contributing to the betterment of The Gambia.
So, as she looks back on her career in Civil Engineering, it’s not just what she has achieved that fills her heart with pride; it’s the potential of what lies ahead and the knowledge that she’s part of a movement that’s changing lives and landscapes, one project at a time.
From her journey in engineering and land development to her commitment to making a difference in water systems and stormwater management, Mrs Khadijah Ceesay exemplifies the resilience and dedication women bring to the STEM field.
Her story is proof of the incredible impact women are making in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We are again reminded that women continue to break barriers and shape the future of STEM with their innovative ideas, unwavering determination, and dedication to creating a more sustainable world for us all. The journey of these extraordinary women in STEM is far from over, and we look forward to sharing more inspiring stories in future episodes.