Shanna Charlette is the first Seychellois woman to join the Public Utilities Corporation (Seychelles) as an electrical engineer.
The 24-year-old Electrical Engineering graduate talks to Cosmocreole about her journey into the STEM field, her time studying at the University of Hull and offers her advice to other motivated young Seychelloise.
By Jade Gilbert-Finnigan
What was your school experience like and how did it prepare you for your studies abroad?
I went to Mont Fleuri primary and secondary school. After that, I went to Advanced levels studies (SALS) to study Maths, Biology and Chemistry. A-levels was tough since it was a huge step up from IGCSE. After completing A-levels, I went to PUC to work for a year where I was a hydrology technician. I was mainly collecting, recording hydrological data, and writing monthly reports to the CEO.
Which path did you take into Electrical Engineering?
My first choice was to study Medicine because I wanted to help people and give back to the community. I then realised that I would not be able to bear to see people in pain. After, I decided to do Control and Instrumentation Engineering which is a branch in electrical engineering. The course was funded by the government of Seychelles and PUC.
When I got to university, there were only two of us signed up for the course, so the university decided to put us with the Electrical and Electronics Engineering cohort and changed the syllabus to accommodate us.
What inspired you to pursue the career path you’re pursuing? What aspect of that profession are you enjoying the most?
I was always intrigued with electronics and fixing things. I remember once I learned in secondary school how to change a plug and I thought it was so cool. The same night I bought a 3-pin plug and replaced a 2-pin plug with it. It worked and I remember that it made me so happy and I felt proud.
I prefer fieldwork because there is something new every day and there is a lot to learn. As a result, that will make me gain more experience.
What was it like studying in such a male-dominated environment?
It was quite intimidating because I was the only female on my course. The men always test you to see if you can do it but it’s what I love to do and I put my mind to it, so in the end, proved them wrong.
A lot of people asked me why I chose this field and my answer is always the same: you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it. The first key to success is confidence and determination.
Did you come across any setbacks whilst studying?
Yes, definitely. Being far away from home can be depressing at times. I did not have any other Seychellois at my university, so I had to make friends on my course and through societies. I felt alone most of the time. Another setback was minor discrimination from males on my course but that kept me going and made me stronger. When they think they are breaking me; I am working twice as hard to prove them wrong.
However, you overcame those setbacks and achieved so much. Which of your achievements are you most proud of?
I am immensely proud to have been the only female on my course and to have managed to receive a first-class with honours for my master’s degree. I have worked so hard for it and did not stop even though I felt like I could not do it. Also, I am proud to have been chosen by the professors at the university to be a laboratory demonstrator, which is a paid position to help guide and assist undergraduates during laboratory in electrical, coding and electronics labs. I was also my course representative on the engineering society committee at my university. Most of all though, I am proud to have represented my country.
Who would you cite as your inspirations?
Strong independent women- especially my mother. She taught me to depend on myself and to be strong when life gets tough. Her personal motto was ‘life is not easy but with focus, drive and determination anything can be achieved.’
Who else in your life acted as a mentor to you?
Dr Valentin was my extra maths teacher and was extremely helpful, and he always said to take your education seriously since that is the key to your dreams. The staff and teachers at Mont-Fleuri secondary school and School of Advanced Studies gave me the motivation to continue trying my best, which has paid off today. My PUC family- they know who they are. They inspired me to follow my dreams and not to listen to people who tried to discourage me. My parents, relatives, and friends- both from Seychelles and abroad. They guided me on the path to where I am today. For that, I thank all of them and I appreciate the roles they’ve played in my life.
What do you do when you’re not working or studying?
I like to keep updated with the technology world and my engineering field. As a result, this keeps me on the right track in my career path. Moreover, spend time with family and I like to go to the beach. I also like to spend time in nature and appreciate my surroundings whilst reading a book.
What’s next? What are your future plans?
I am back at PUC. I want to put to use everything I learned at university and develop a set of skills that will be valuable for me and my country. Also, give back to the community in any way that I can.
What’s your absolute dream job?
My absolute dream job is to be a researcher in the renewable energy field. Basically, finding ways and experimenting with new materials on how to improve the efficiency for example solar cells. As a result, this will make the renewable energy field more reliable and efficient. Plus, that will gain more consumers which will make it cheaper and affordable.
Your academic achievements are incredible, what advice would you give to young aspiring Seychelloise who wants to get into this field?
A message to all the females out there is that you can achieve anything you put your mind to. Just believe you can do it and you will be halfway there. God is good and put your trust in him. If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask and also ask as many questions as you can because there is no such thing as silly questions. One saying that kept me going was “a bird that keeps its mouth closed doesn’t get fed”. But listening and understanding are also great skills that will help you to move forward.