Engineer and broadcaster Roma Agrawal has won one of the Royal Academy of Engineering's most prestigious awards in recognition of her tireless efforts to promote careers in the profession. The Rooke Award for public promotion of engineering, named after industrialist and past Academy President Sir Denis Rooke, honours people who have brought engineering to life for the public. Previous winners include TV engineering experts Professor Danielle George and Professor Mark Miodownik FREng. Roma will receive her award at the Academy Awards Dinner in London on Thursday 29 June.
Roma, a 33 year-old chartered structural engineer, exudes enthusiasm for engineering and manages to combine broadcasting and promotional work with her full-time role as an associate director at AECOM. Having studied physics at the University of Oxford, she decided to do an MSc in structural engineering at Imperial College London, which set her on course for a career in construction. Her experience includes the design of, what she calls 'the cool steel' at the top of the Shard, and she had the unique distinction of becoming the first engineer to act as a style ambassador for retail giant Marks & Spencer.
Her latest project is a new book called BUILT: The hidden stories behind our structures, to be published in February next year, which explores how construction has evolved from the mud huts of our ancestors to skyscrapers of steel that reach hundreds of metres into the sky. In it, Roma will look at how humans have tunnelled through solid mountains and beneath the sea; how we’ve walked across the widest of rivers, and tamed Nature’s precious water resources. She will tell vivid tales of the people who created the groundbreaking materials used to build the Pantheon and the Eiffel Tower; and explain how and why the Quebec Bridge collapsed.
Roma is just as fascinated by the people who do engineering as she is by the structures they create. Among many great names, both famous and forgotten, she cites Emily Warren Roebling, who led the completion of New York’s Brooklyn Bridge after the Chief Engineer – her husband Washington – was taken seriously ill after getting ‘the bends’ working on the footings for the bridge.
“The book is part of my vision to tell stories like Emily Roebling’s,” says Roma. “Engineering was never presented to me as a viable career option when I was at school but, having chosen the profession, it has proved to be an incredible opportunity. Our modern world depends literally on engineering, we would have no homes, phones, cars, robots or satellelites without it, it is an intrinsic part of our lives. I love working with people but I also love the technical challenge – and it’s vital that we don’t lose amazing talent in the future, simply because people are not aware that they too could become engineers.”
Professor Mark Miodownik says: “Many engineers are committed to changing how school children view a career in engineering, but few are as effective as Roma Agrawal. The impact of her work was most potently demonstrated on the 20th June 2016 when students from the Arc Chamberlain inner-city academy in Birmingham voted to have their new building named after Roma. It is now the Agrawal Building - a lasting legacy from years of speaking with children and families from different backgrounds about her work as a structural engineer.”
Notes for editors
The Rooke Award for the public promotion of engineering is awarded to an individual, small team or organisation who has contributed to the Academy's aims and work through their initiative in promoting engineering to the public. The award is named in honour of the late Sir Denis Rooke OM CBE FRS FREng, a former President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and one of the UK's most distinguished engineers. As Chairman of British Gas, his legacy was to build the UK's gas distribution network and unite the gas industry, making domestic gas a cheap and convenient fuel source for millions of people. He later became Chancellor of Loughborough University and served on many national advisory committees on both energy policy and education.
The Rooke Award
Roma Agrawal will give the Academy’s Autumn Lecture, in conversation with Professor Mark Miodownik, on Wednesday 4 October 2017.
Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.
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