Civil and environmental engineering – making a difference

David Dalgado, 23, is in the final year of a degree in civil and environmental engineering at Imperial College London. He decided to pursue a career in civil engineering to try to make a difference in developing countries.

One of the major problems facing them is sanitation and water supply problems – through civil engineering you can really help to change things in this area.

Year in Industry scheme

After finishing my A-levels, I chose to take part in the Year in Industry scheme run by the Royal Academy of Engineering. This consisted of a year working for a global, multi-disciplinary engineering firm. It was really good. I got exposure to some huge projects, as well as getting a project to call my own. It was the first time that I was ever given responsibility in a job, which made me enthusiastic about getting started with my degree.

QUEST scholarship

Straight after I took the gap year I applied for a QUEST scholarship, to help fund the degree I was starting in civil and environmental engineering at Imperial College. QUEST provided me with a grant which has allowed me to stay quite independent of companies throughout my studies. I’ve been able to move around quite a lot during my summer holidays, whereas otherwise I would have had to take a sponsorship from a company and work for that company every summer. Instead I have been able to do different things with my holidays.

Work experience

Between my second and third year I went to El Salvador to work in a rural community. In 2001, the country suffered a massive earthquake. The community I went to had lost 49 out of 50 houses and they had all been living in temporary shacks for five years. I was part of a group of engineering students from Imperial College who went out there to construct new seismically resistant, low-cost housing. We did everything from redesigns and calculations to steel fixing, so it was really practical work. When we left, there were 13 new houses. The experience was incredible. I saw how I was able to apply my civil engineering knowledge to make a difference.

The future

I will be graduating this year and have already accepted a job building huge water reservoirs. The job will be UK-based, but as none of the reservoirs are being built in the UK, I should be able to travel within the first few years.

What I like most about working in civil engineering is that you are really able to see your achievements. For example, when you design a reservoir you actually can see it being built! Also, if I am able to get water to 50 villages who otherwise would have no access to it, that is making a huge difference and all the hard work will then be worth it.

  • For more information on QUEST scholarships and the Institute of Civil Engineers, visit www.ice.org.uk
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