Given the outbreak of the coronavirus, the Marina van Damme grant award ceremony took place online this year. The grant, awarded annually to talented female alumni, was established by Dr Marina van Damme. The grant enables female engineers to further develop and thus increase their career opportunities. Delta spoke with winner Lefki Loverdou after the ceremony.
Congratulations. What was going through your mind when they announced you the winner of the Marina van Damme grant?
“I was really happy since I honestly did not expect it. It’s the first award I have ever won. I also felt really privileged and so lucky during these challenging times.”
How does winning this grant help you in pursuing your career?
“I want to attend a two-year programme at the Centre of Excellence, part of the Erasmus School of Management in Rotterdam. I want to learn more about developing innovation in companies. Learning the methodologies will give me a toolkit that I can also use in my current job. But besides this, the programme also helps you nurture personality-based leadership skills. These are valuable qualities in any job because you have to interact with people, persuade them and take them with you. You don’t learn these skills at an engineering institute.
The grant allows me to cover some of the programme costs. I wouldn’t be able to take the course without the grant.”
When you finish the programme, how will you use these newly acquired skills in your current job?
“In a knowledge institute like Deltares I will get opportunities to help facilitate innovative projects. That would mean being aware of what is happening in the world around me and combining that knowledge with my technical expertise. I could scout the world to see what is happening and how Deltares can contribute.”
‘I spent my quarantine time wisely’
How did you find out about the grant and what made you apply?
“I briefly met one of the previous winners who posted something about the programme. Later, I got an email from the Civil Engineering & Geosciences alumni relations saying that applications for the grant were open. Since I already knew what the Marina van Damme grant was, I went ahead and applied. I actually applied in the second week of the Dutch lockdown, so you could say I spent my quarantine time wisely.”
Would you argue that the application and presentation being fully online made it harder or easier to apply?
“It has pros and cons. In real life, I would probably have invited more people, but being a zoom event, I was now kind of hesitant to spam my colleagues and friends. It would also have been more fun with some bites and drinks. However, I did feel much safer being in my own space at home. Being in my comfort zone made me more confident. If I would have had to give the presentation in real life, I guess I would have been shyer.”
Can you tell us a little bit more about your academic background?
“I earned a bachelor degree in Greece in civil engineering with a specialisation in hydraulic engineering. After I graduated, I wanted to be in the most innovative, knowledgeable and pioneering country in hydraulic engineering in the world. The Netherlands connected all the dots. I chose TU Delft because of its great reputation at my university in Greece and entered the Water Management master programme. The main reason I chose this programme was that I wanted to work at a big scale. I’m fascinated by large engineering projects because of their potential enormous social impact. I don’t want to dismiss other specialisations, but I really love civil engineering because of its scale. I was even fascinated with it when I was young, and I believe its social aspect is becoming more and more important these days. Just look at climate change – we need to protect ourselves better for the future that’s coming. This all comes together at Deltares. I’m literally at the source of know-how and innovation in my chosen field.”
‘I learned to speak your mind, and be more 'out-there'’
What is the most important lesson or skill you learned at TU Delft?
“For me, it was getting over my fear of exposure, and entering the race for the Marina van Damme grant shows how far I’ve come. A change of cultures can be quite challenging. I learned from my fellow Dutch students at TU Delft that you need to speak your mind, give presentations, and be more ‘out-there’.”
What is your five-year plan?
“My constant goal is to enjoy what I do. I want my eight hours to be nice, I want to enjoy them. I want to go home smiling and not drained. Besides that, I realise I need to develop in some areas such as my soft skills. That would be good for my career as well as good for my mental balance. I find it hard to think years ahead during these challenging times. I just want everyone to stay healthy. But career-wise, I would love to stay in the industry that I work in now. My priority is to always do something that is socially important. If I keep that in mind, I believe things will fall into place along the way.”
The jury praised your determination. Did you always have a clear vision of what you wanted?
“I think I have always been very determined and I worked hard to be a good student. In Greece, students do a lot of exams and I always wanted to do well and get one of the highest scores. I’m just a bit geeky I guess.”
What advice would you give students or young professionals struggling to find their career path?
“I don’t what to be cheesy, but just keep trying new things. I am still at the beginning of my career, but following my gut feeling somehow helped me. Don’t be afraid to change your plan along the way if something you chose to do doesn’t suit you completely. We are also shaped by new experiences and nothing is a waste of time.”
- Lefki Loverdou (22 May 1987, Athens, Greece) earned a Bachelor's and Master’s degree in Civil Engineering with a specialisation in Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens in 2011. She then pursued another master at TU Delft. She graduated from the Civil Engineering & Geosciences Water Management programme in 2013. After an internship at Veolia, she started her career as a design engineer at Allseas, then became a water specialist at BAM Infra and now works as an advisor on hydraulic engineering at Deltares.