You may remember Dr Daniella Abreu
from our previous interview with her. Since then she has had a busy life – starting a new company, becoming a resident lecturer at City University London and a director of the Master’s program in Construction Management – so we decided to catch up with her.
Not that long ago she finished her PhD in civil engineering, and now Daniella is herself a lecturer in sustainability for construction at City, and a visiting lecturer at the University of Birmingham.
When she was at university for her first degree, she didn't have Google. “Life as a student was very, very different from now,” she says.
“Saying that, I believe the core subjects of most engineering courses are still the same, and the key outcome is still to help students to learn how to think analytically and find solutions to problems in a structured way.”
She admits technology, software and building materials have changed rapidly – but says core engineering subjects like structures, hydraulics and geotechnics haven’t changed much over the years.
“My aim at the university is to help students and lecturers to understand how to embed sustainability into every aspect of their work, and every project they work [on] as engineers,” Daniella says.
Her work has taken her all around the globe, developing various projects. “The best thing about working in different countries is the opportunity to learn from the best in each place. After travelling a lot for work you find yourself starting to think differently,” she says.
“Suddenly you catch yourself thinking: 'Hmmm, how would the Americans approach this? I wonder if the Swedish have better solutions for that?’.”
She continues: “A good example of this was to learn that in the desert in Chile they build roads using almost no water. Because of the lack of water there, they improved the process so much that now they almost don't need water. Isn't that fantastic.
"This is one in many examples of excellent practices that are still isolated around the world, and you can really only learn about it if you go there.”
Often being the only woman on a team has taught her that in a professional environment, gender stereotypes do not exist.
“My experience is: if you don't see any difference between ‘you’ and ‘them’, they look at you as an equal,” Daniella explains.
She combined her knowledge of the industry and founded Sustainpolis Developments, a Belgium based Company that aims at forming partnerships for international projects within the sustainability’s framework, where "Civil Engineering/Construction" is only one of the fields of expertise. She has always wanted to run her own business. “Last year, many things came together to almost push me to do it,” says Daniella.
“At the moment, the concept of the company is still very much under development and in the meantime, I’m mostly concentrating on selecting work, projects and partnerships that align with me and my core values, my family and my plans for the future.”
She adds: “The plans are to grow organically – Sustainopolis is not a start-up to be sold in two years’ time. The idea is to have a family business that is built on top of solid foundations [and] good projects.”