Date of Birth: 12 Dec 1983
- Ramai Trace Hindu School, Penal
- Barrackpore Secondary Comprehensive School
- BSc (Honours) Civil Engineering, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad, 2005
- MSc (Merit) Diploma of Imperial College, Imperial College London, England, 2009
- The Ranjit Kumar Award for Junior Engineer (Silver), NIHERST Awards for Excellence in Science and Technology, 2013
- Outstanding Young Engineer, The Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad & Tobago, 2013
- Kenneth Severn Award Certificate of Commendation, The Institution of Structural Engineers, 2011
- Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago
- Institution of Structural Engineers, UK
Director, KS&P Limited Consulting Civil & Structural Engineers, Trinidad
T+T Icons In Science & Technology Volume 4
Whether large or small, temporary or enduring, buildings have met our basic human need for shelter, reflected our historical heritage, and defined our island’s landscape from time immemorial. As Trinidad and Tobago continues to progress, the demand for new structures, both dwellings and businesses, continues to increase. With modern times comes new challenges and so today’s engineers must incorporate safety regulations and environmental concerns in planning their creations, which must perform their roles effectively and protect the people within from natural disasters. Savitree Singh is, undoubtedly, a modern engineer. Whether she is designing and overseeing a vast engineering project, supervising other engineers’ projects as a director of KS&P or assisting her home community, her work is marked by passion, thoroughness and a distinct drive for excellence. She is a graduate representative of the Institution of Structural Engineers and an accomplished structural engineer. Her love for engineering is matched only by her deep desire to spread that love to young people.
NIHERST interviews Savitree Singh
Q: When did you discover your interest in science?
A: I have liked mathematics since I was young. I inherited that from my dad. Numbers always made sense to me. Math problems only have one right answer; they weren’t subject to interpretation and I appreciated that.
Q: Was there any significant event or person that led you to sciences or was it a natural attraction?
A: I think it was mostly natural attraction. As a small child, I remember looking at my house and trying to figure out how they built it, wondering how the builders put up the columns and beams. Later, in secondary school, my physics and chemistry teachers encouraged several of us to pursue engineering.
Q: Why civil engineering?
A: Actually, I first wanted to pursue petroleum geoscience but when I applied, UWI’s Petroleum Geoscience programme only took the top twenty applicants from the Caribbean. I was not one, so civil engineering was my
second choice. I was initially unhappy about it but from my first year, I realised that I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the bridges and buildings; that childhood interest just came back to me. For my postgraduate studies I pursued the
specialised field of Structural Engineering.
Q: Is this a decision that you regret?
A: Not really. A year or two ago I had the opportunity to enter the petroleum engineering sector and I turned it down. It was a lot more money but I enjoy my job.
Q: Given the field you’re in, where can one find visible evidence of your work?
A: My work can be easily identified. I help construct buildings, after all. The University of Trinidad and Tobago Wallerfield campus, the Chaguanas Borough Corporation, as well as the Victoria Keyes and Four Roads Housing Projects in Diego Martin are projects with which I have been involved. In the construction of a building, the structural engineer has a limited but important role. The contractor builds the building but the structural engineer
determines where columns, beams and walls are placed with the guidance of the architect. Structural engineering
involves designing the building and also supervising during construction. This ensures that what is depicted
on paper becomes a physical reality, ready for the purpose for which it was designed. As an engineer, there’s always a sense of achievement when driving past a project you worked on, or knowing that you are inspiring or mentoring younger engineers. For specific achievements, I think that when the UTT Wallerfield campus is completed, I will be very, very happy. Ten years from now I’ll want to return to that campus, walk around and think back on my work there.
Q: You’ve risen to the position of company director at a relatively young age. What is your role at KS&P?
A: I’ve been with KS&P Ltd for nine years and I think my promotion to director is a recognition of the work that I’ve done at the firm. As director, my concern has been to uphold the firm’s reputation for providing good
engineering services and to continue its tradition of hiring local engineers. It’s a big responsibility. As an engineer I
was focused on individual projects but now I have to manage people and numerous projects. There is a more
human element now.
Q: What projects are you currently involved in?
A: I mentioned UTT’s campus. We’re at the supervision stage. That is, making sure that our designs and
instructions are followed properly during construction. Another of the firm’s projects is a residential development
with approximately 300 houses.
Q: Does your very demanding job allow time for community work on a pro bono basis?
A: My community wanted to build a new mandir so they asked me to help. I’ve developed some drawings which they have used for construction. It’s really nice to give back to the people who look out for you and whom you see during your daily commute.
Q: Have you any special plans or goals for the future?
A: I’m currently a graduate representative for the Institution of Structural Engineers. Right now we are on a drive to
inspire students to enter the field of structural engineering. There has been a loss of interest in engineering. Younger
people are interested in trends; they’re not really inspired by people in the Engineering field. If you ask a young
engineer who inspires them now it’s very difficult to get an answer so we are in the process of trying to bring about
interest, whether it’s via workshops or competitions to get them more involved in the field of Engineering. We have
a committee that hosts a yearly design-build competition in which secondary school students are required to build
a model of a tower or bridge at the UWI. You’ll be amazed at how enthusiastic they are; they’re very passionate
about this competition. So enthusiasm exists- we just need to get them more aware of it.
Q: And this committee is based here?
A: Yes, it’s the Caribbean division of the Institution of Structural Engineers. Local engineers volunteer time
and services to create the modules, and assist with the competition. Sometimes we do workshops or lectures at
schools. It’s all part of a campaign to raise the profile of engineering and its appeal to students.
Q: How receptive is the local engineering community to green energy and sustainable engineering?
A: I think a good engineer will always be sustainable. If a builder builds a house on his own, he’ll use a lot of
materials and it will be expensive. But with an engineer’s guidance the same house should be a structurally safe and more economical design. Carbon emissions still provide a challenge because we need specific training in that field. But locally, I think there has always been that initiative to be sustainable, from both engineers and architects.
Q: Is it true that contractors are not held by any regulations to build as the engineers recommend. How does that feel, knowing that your vision may not be the final product?
A: During the construction phase of a project there is constant monitoring to ensure that the design is followed. When there is deviation from that, you have to inform the client and ensure that it is built to standard. So if there is a problem on site, you resolve it with the contractor to ensure that the client gets the best quality work. If what you observe isn’t to standard, one can make an informed decision to not approve the work. I think that in Trinidad and Tobago, we need better regulations. Whilst there are competent contractors, there are also many inexperienced contractors who often get jobs they can’t properly perform because they have the lowest price.
Q: How would you describe the state of your field locally and internationally?
A: The field is in good hands internationally. When you travel, you see beautiful structures, elegant buildings that inspire. There will always be people who are driven to create bigger, better structures. There’s always that drive in the human mind or the human psyche to be better and I think a lot of engineers have that quality. Here, we are
still a young country and at present, regulations are not enforced properly. But some firms locally are designing
buildings and structures to international standards, which is very important because Trinidad and Tobago has
natural disasters such as earthquakes. It is a slow process but I think we’re going in the right direction.
Q: Of the new or emerging technologies you see in the field, what stands out?
A: There is always new software to design buildings and structures. When my mentor worked on the designs for the Hall of Justice and the Financial Complex he used punch cards and very large computers. Back then they had to go to the UWI every time they needed to run an analysis for a building. We can do that now in half an hour. So our technology has greatly improved our efficiency and effectiveness but we have not eliminated the need for human expertise. Even the best engineering software requires a user who is competent and fully understands
the engineering involved.
Q: Do we have shareware of free software that children can use to break into the field?
A: Yes there are a few trial programmes that allow you to introduce children to engineering. For example, one
programme might model simple beams which can make simple bridges, to demonstrate how it vibrates or supports
the weight of a person. Knowing how many people a beam can support is useful for safety. Additionally, the
Institution of Structural Engineers is creating its own package to encourage students into the field.
Q: How did it feel to receive the award for Junior Engineer at the 2013 Awards for Excellence in Science and Technology?
A: I was quite surprised and humbled that I had received the award for Junior Engineer. I really appreciated the
recognition and it’s a powerful impetus to continue doing good work. So thank you.
Q: Do you have any advice for students thinking about studying Engineering?
A: Imagine your daily life, from the time you wake up to the time you fall asleep. Your quality of life is made better due to the contributions of engineers. From the house you live in, to the roads you drive or walk on, to that phone, tablet or computer you use. Our lives are inexplicably linked to engineers. This will be your contribution to society as an engineer.