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article imageNasra Agil: A Canadian civil engineer rises to next level Special

By Farid Abdulhamid     Jul 4, 2011 in Business
Toronto - Breaking into civil engineering, a profession considered the exclusive preserve of men, maybe a tall order for many women including those in western nations.
But Nasra Agil, a young Somali-Canadian civil engineer of the highest calibre, is one accomplished professional who has shattered this long-held myth
The highly determined and supremely confident young lady has not only conquered the realm of civil engineering but has taken her pursuits in this field to a new level.
Having arrived in Canada at a young age alongside her family from war-torn Somalia, Nasra decided from early on that civil engineering would be her chosen career path in future. And all this despite prevailing perceptions in her community and within Canadian society in general that this highly coveted field is a turf only befitting the ingenuity of technically-oriented men.
In 2005, Nasra attained the unimaginable as she graduated at the top of her civil engineering class at Ryerson University posting a 4.22 Grade Point Average (GPA) from a possible maximum of 4.33 to earn a Honours Bachelor of Engineering (B Eng ) degree and become the first ever female of Somali descent to achieve this important feat in the western world. Her shinning accolades in academic circles also include numerous awards such as the prestigious Golden Key International Honour Society Award, in recognition of her outstanding academic excellence.
Since age 15, Nasra had demonstrated exceptional leadership skills being a young activist in community organizing in her Jamestown Crescent neighbourhood, a housing project inhabited by a significant number of Somali-Canadian newcomers in what used to be a crime infested area mired in gang activity. For seven years, Nasra was at the forefront of community-based crime prevention strategies and was recognized for her contribution to community service with the Duke of Edinborough Award. Receiving this honour from Canada’s Governor-General only served to inspire her some more as she embarked on other important initiatives that helped transform her community’s fortunes for the better.
As a young activist, Nasra played a leadership role in the Leave Out of Violence (LOV) Program aimed at guiding youth caught in cycle of violence to pursue a positive, healthy lifestyle and stay on the right side of the law. At high school, Nasra completed 60 community hours and was engaged in promoting physical activity skills such as basketball, swimming and survival skills including setting up tents for dwelling in camps meant to familiarize young people with the rigidity of Mother Nature.
Nasra was also instrumental in promoting acting skills that saw her produce educational plays presented to audiences in schools. She completed bronze and silver levels for the set of skills but had to forgo the gold as she became busy with her academic pursuits at university and future career goals.
Upon graduation from her civil engineering program from Ryerson’s Faculty of Engineering, Nasra landed a job as a roads inspector with the City of Toronto’s Transportation Services. This challenging position required the skills of a qualified engineer of her stature.
Recounting her experience at Ryerson, the stunningly beautiful engineer states: “Even in a place like Canada, civil engineering is a tough field for women to get into. In my graduation class of eighty students, only six, including myself, were female students while the rest were male students”.
After working for a period of two years with the City of Toronto, Nasra was drawn into the lucrative labour market in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which became the international hub for real estate development. Qualified engineers, especially those with high profile credentials like Nasra, were in huge demand and it was not long before Nasra set her foot in the red hot real estate market in the Emirates.
In 2007, Nasra was hired by Cansult, a Dubai-based Canadian engineering firm considered one of the biggest operating in the Middle East region. Working in the position of Traffic Engineer/Planner, Nasra was tasked with designing complexes to determine the transportation infrastructure needs of emerging, rapidly developing communities. She sat at a roundtable full of male engineers providing her expertise in design and development.
“While this can be a very challenging position, I had the advantage of being a young, female, engineer of colour, presenting cutting edge proposals for mega development projects” says Nasra. Always an illustrious engineer on top of the game, Nasra stood out as a hard working, brilliant and a rare female engineer in the Gulf region.
As her reputation grew in Dubai’s rapidly developing market, Nasra caught the attention of Nakheel, the largest real estate developer in the UAE who offered her a key position as an advisor, where she evaluated and rendered decisions on proposals prepared by consultants. Nakheel, the world famous real estate developer, is known for constructing the classy and glittering, man -made palm islands built to the shape of the worlds. The palm islands are credited with being the architectural wonders of the modern world that has mesmerized visitors and tourists from across the world.
According to Nasra, working in Dubai has other advantages.
“Being strategically located at the centre of the world, Dubai lies at the crossroads of surrounding regions and offers a short and convenient flight distance to destinations lying within close proximity such as India, rest of Asia, Europe and Africa” observed Nasra.
But eight months into her high profile job, the Dubai real estate market went bust as it was hit hard by the global economic recession. Many in her company that employed thousands of people were laid off while only two out of thirty employees in her department retained their jobs. Nakheel, the giant real estate developer was on verge of collapse, almost pushed down by a slumping economy virtually dependent on the foundations of the real estate industry. Despite corporate meltdown elsewhere, Nakheel survived.
The dawn of the global recession meant that Nasra found herself out of work and pondering her next move. Once again, her well-established reputation in this market helped save the day for Nasra as she received a call from the Roads Authority in Dubai, which recognized that only few people possess Nasra’s skills in this sector. She was interviewed and then hired on the spot as Seniour Traffic Engineer and has now been working in this enviable position for the Dubai Government in the last two years. Dubai has since recovered from the downward spiral with its re-structured economy back on its feet.
Undoubtedly, Dubai offers any prospective engineers their dream jobs.
“One year experience in Dubai’s real estate development sector or any other booming industry is equivalent to ten years experience elsewhere” says Nasra in reference to the fast paced, ultra modern development environment in the wealthy gulf emirate.
One of Nasra’s favorite pastimes includes international travel. Dubai’s central location has allowed her to globe-trot to her favourite destinations.
“Since landing in Dubai, I have travelled to over 50 countries within four short years” says Nasra.
In terms of future outlook, Nasra aims to become an entrepreneur one day. This won’t pose any problems as she comes from a business savvy family known for their successful entrepreneurship. Nasra sees a huge potential for growth in the African continent which is ripe with international business opportunities. From an engineering business perspective, she would like to play a significant role to build roads, bridges, airports, seaports and other forms of infrastructure that Africa badly needs. A Nasra owned engineering firm would be an ideal starting point to venture into the ever expanding African markets. Nasra points to the growing presence of Chinese investment in Africa as a motivating factor driving the emergence of new trade ventures in Africa.
“China’s entry into the African markets is significant and the world has taken notice. It has offered the continent a new type of trade relationship that is mutually beneficial. For example, China’s investment in Africa includes the development of infrastructure such as the construction of roads, highways, seaports, dams, power plants etc which helps stimulate regional economies. But it equally raises key questions in terms of gaining a direct foothold in exploiting Africa’s resources” says Nasra.
“China’s rapidly growing economy requires access to Africa’s resources such as energy and raw materials. I have travelled to China to places like Shanghai and Guangzhou and have seen first hard the industrial and technological transformations taking place there” says Nasra.
But Nasra also believes that African-centred development should be a priority in strategic sectors of the economy. As such, Nasra is determined to enter the fray by taking her much needed engineering skills to help build and stimulate Africa’s emerging markets that offer vast potential for development.
When peace eventually returns to Somalia, Nasra hopes to play a major role in the reconstruction project as she can utilize her unique technical skills and expertise to rebuild her homeland. Apart from the need for expanded infrastructural development, Nasra states that Somalia’s environmental degradation that has worsened over the last two decades owing to ongoing conflict, needs to be checked.
“While it is understandable that global attention on Somalia has focused on the conflict and resultant humanitarian crisis, virtually no one has been paying attention to the environmental disaster afflicting Somalia” says Nasra, adding that “ Somalia is a country prone to drought and deforestation not forgetting the fact that it has suffered a great deal from toxic waste disposal that has contaminated Somalia’s territorial waters and the depletion of fish stocks stemming from the plunder of Somalia’s marine resources.”
Nasra points out that “with environmental degradation and deforestation, the top soil is lost. Many people don’t realize that it can take upto 750 years for the top soil to regenerate. Unfortunately, the level of degradation taking place in Somalia today is quite alarming”.
Nasra may be well known for her engineering and technical skills. But her well-informed assessment of Africa’s state of affairs and global events, clearly reveal Nasra’s other strengths; her intellectual prowess and political consciousness. This is not surprising given her level of social activism dating back to her high school years. Apart from her engineering profession and a knack for entrepreneurial ventures, Nasra is truly a social justice oriented person. She would like to see the emergence of a free and democratic, vibrant society in Africa where the suffering masses are treated equally and fairly. This calls for political freedoms and social justice for all.
For Nasra, the sky is the limit as she looks to consolidate her successful civil engineering career, embark on business ventures in the near future as well as provide opportunities for her community in various fronts.
For further enquiries, Nasra can be reached by email at : nasra3@yahoo.com
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