College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Graduate Engineer of the Year Harnessing Engineering to Make a Difference

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Ms Naadira Ballim, a graduate of the School of Engineering and civil engineer at JG Afrika is the recipient of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) Graduate Engineer of the Year Award for 2020.

Ballim aspired to be an engineer with the hope of doing work that will make tangible improvements to people’s quality of life. A caring person, she was Head Peer Counsellor in Grade 12, and it was her passionate geography teacher who sparked a love of the subject, coupled with her love of mathematics, that inspired her to pursue studies in a field that combined these areas.

‘Engineering is in essence about helping people and giving back to the community,’ she said.

Ballim was also inspired by her father Mr Faisal Ballim, a long-time employee of UKZN’s Campus Management Services in Pietermaritzburg who undertook his own engineering and design projects and exposed his children to engineering shows and programmes. Her family’s penchant for outdoor adventures and holidays that included camping, hiking and travelling around South Africa motivated Ballim to seek a career where she could interact with her environment and different people, an opportunity afforded by the project-based nature of a career in civil engineering.

A bursary from JG Afrika enabled the Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School alumnus to pursue her degree in Civil Engineering at UKZN, and she undertook vacation work in the organisation’s water and geotechnical units. Ballim received three prizes in her final year: the Joint Structural Division of the SAICE and Institution of Structural Engineering Prize, the K Knight Prize for the Highest Academic Merit in Geotechnical Engineering, and the JR Daymond Prize for the Highest Academic Merit in Water and Environmental Engineering.

After graduating with her Civil Engineering degree cum laude in 2018, Ballim was employed as a graduate engineer at JG Afrika. She credits the firm for supporting and training her throughout her studies and final year project, and for providing a welcoming, professional environment. She is also the vice-chairperson of the SAICE Pietermaritzburg branch, where she focuses on visiting schools to promote careers in Engineering.

Her capability in undertaking ‘complex and innovative designs’, and aptitude for managing and mentoring fellow project team members, as well as her maturity and development as a graduate engineer, impressed her employers and the SAICE, garnering her the Graduate Engineer of the Year Award. Ballim is the first recipient of this new, national award.

‘Respected by her managers, colleagues and JG Afrika’s clients, she has a thorough understanding of technical and social project dynamics within the context of a design team and client interactions,’ read a statement from JG Afrika.

Ballim also paid tribute to UKZN’s Dr Elena Friedrich, Mrs Ooma Chetty and Dr Christina McLeod for their support in her journey to complete her degree, sharing credit for her award with them.

Spurred on by the award and supported by JG Afrika, Ballim enrolled for UKZN’s coursework Masters in Waste and Resources Management, and is excited about applying her experience and acquiring more skills to deal with waste, particularly water resources for environmental and social benefit. She is focusing on understanding the barriers to the implementation of waste management in municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal.

Passionate about seeing women succeed in engineering, Ballim encourages prospective engineers to not fear asking questions, to speak up, to look to strong female role models, and to care for themselves and their wellbeing.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied