Destined to be a Chemical Engineer

Jun 22, 2023   Written by Claire Bogle

Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day.

Amaka Waturuocha, R&D Senior Consultant, KBC

When it came to leaving High School Amaka Waturuocha, R&D Senior Consultant at KBC (A Yokogawa Company), wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. She was good at a lot of things but couldn’t decide on her career path, so she took an online career aptitude test. Amaka remembers, “I liked problem solving, Maths, Chemistry and Physics, and the test concluded that I would be a great chemical engineer.” This coupled with being inspired by Mary Jackson, the first black female engineer at NASA, led Amaka to apply for a Chemical Engineering course at university.

For Amaka, the Chemical Engineering degree was spot on. “Its versatility meant that as a Chemical Engineer I could work in almost any industry, and I would use my skills to solve problems,” said Amaka.

Following her post-graduate PhD based on delayed coking, Amaka started her career as an R&D engineer in a pilot plant facility at a university. Here she had the opportunity to really understand the fundamentals of various refinery processes, push the boundaries through innovative solutions, as well as bring solutions to current challenges that these processes or technologies face. “The experience was excellent because I was learning, innovating and improving testing solutions on a smaller scale,” recalls Amaka. “But my hope had always been to get to a place where those tools were being used in industry.”

After several years, Amaka pivoted her career direction from an academic applied researcher to an industry solutions provider. She took the opportunity at KBC as a software developer responsible for the delayed coking and furnaces software. “I felt like my R&D background in heavy oil upgrading would strengthen the solution that KBC provided to the refining industry,” explains Amaka. “It was also an opportunity for me to learn a lot of new things.”

Amaka’s role at KBC is to develop and improve the delayed coker and refinery furnaces software and provide a solution for problems and issues the industry and clients face. “After working on something for a while, I really enjoy seeing it in the hands of a client and seeing that product solve their problems or bring value to them,” said Amaka.

Her biggest career challenge has been around making the leap for a new opportunity and not letting the fear of the unknown hold her back. She likes to remind herself of the person who inspired her, Mary Jackson. “She was brave when it was unusual to be brave and she pushed boundaries. I have the skills, so if she can do it, I can do it! You don’t get anywhere if you don’t push yourself outside your comfort zone and believe in yourself,” Amaka says.

A good support network is important to Amaka, and she recommends female engineers to have a strong community of women around them that they either look up to or keep them challenged. Amaka is part of the Women’s Engineering Network group at KBC. She adds, “It’s been valuable listening to like-minded women share their experiences, challenges and goals in a positive environment”. Amaka is also part of the Society of Women Engineers.