A young architecture student who represented Heriot-Watt University in The Solar Decathlon at Dubai Expo, graduates today (Monday, 20 June).
Jairis Alvarez Trujillo receives her Masters in Architectural Engineering with Distinction as part of Heriot-Watt's Summer Graduation programme running this week in Edinburgh.
The 28-year-old, who was born in Panama, chose Heriot-Watt as her university as it was the best university to study engineering. She applied and got accepted in 2017; however due to visa issues she was not able to attend that year.
Jairis said: “The university helped me so much during that period, and they secured me a place to start in 2018 which was great.
“In Panama I studied Architecture which was great because it gave me the foundation to understand how buildings work; however, it was not enough. I wanted to understand the services, engineering, and sustainable solutions; therefore, I decided to take another degree.
“I believe I made the best decision by choosing Heriot Watt University because I had an amazing experience from the very beginning when I was not even a student until the end.”
During her time at University, Jairis got involved in Team ESTEEM – Heriot-Watt's official entrant into the Solar Decathlon Middle East 2020 competition.
Heriot-Watt was one of the 10 universities from across the globe– and the only Scottish and UK University that have been taking part.
They had to build and operate a grid-connected, solar powered house.
Jairis said: “As soon as I saw the project, I thought that it was an opportunity to have an extracurricular activity and learn more about engineering as well as to network with students and professors in both Dubai and Edinburgh campus.
“During the competition, my main role was head of marketing and communications which meant I had to be in constant contact with all stakeholders and as a secondary role I help with renders and drawings. We managed to be featured in more than 75 articles from all over the world and created education content which can be found in our YouTube page. I encourage the university to continue participating in competitions such as SDME because it can improve the learning experience of students.”
Jairis says she has had many highlights at Heriot-Watt including being part of Dubai Expo to showcase the ESTEEM house.
She explains: “The EXPO Dubai was very educational and inspiring because I had the opportunity to learn about new emerging technologies, innovation ideas, sustainable practices and more important the culture and traditional from several countries. I had the opportunity to visit the Pavilion from my country; Panama, and I was glad that people from all over the world had the opportunity to learn what we eat, how we dress and our history. The UK Pavilion was inspiring because the concept was to write a word which then will be transform to a sentence and send to space.”
Jairis credits her tutor Professor Alex MacLaren for getting involved in the project and her fellow Team ESTEEM students for making her time at university memorable.
She says: “Back home we don't have a tutor that looks after you; therefore, having Alex was wonderful because she was a great mentor. Secondly, the support I received from some of my professors, they were available to help and answer questions.
“Being part of Team ESTEEM I was able to put in practice everything, I have learnt from my courses into the house project. This university project also made me improve my leadership, management, design and work in team skills. Our Team won the third place in the communication contest in Dubai which was a great achievement, and we won the best social media presence at the HW Union Awards.
“I had the opportunity to network with several university staff during the SDME project, and they supported us in every stage of the competition. Currently, I am the EGIS student ambassador, and I can do the two things I like the most Architectural Engineering and Content Creation.”
Only recently Jairis has been shortlisted for Engineering student of the year 2022.
She says: “I feel so proud to be shortlisted for Engineering student of the year 2022 and I was not expecting this nomination. In addition to that, I also feel honour that I can show one more time how Heriot Watt University students are conquering the engineering industry, and even more important how women in engineering and STEM careers are shinning and being an example of effort for the upcoming generations. “
Associate Professor Alex MacLaren speaks highly of Jairis. She says: “I've been lucky enough to be Jairis' personal tutor as well as Director of Studies for her programme and her colleague at Team ESTEEM. Jairis joined us in 2018, direct to year 2, and immediately made an impression. She was engaged, enthusiastic and in every way a great team-player in the year, proactive in classes and a great spokesperson for her class. The style of UK education was new to her, and she took a while to become comfortable with what the academic assessment system was looking for: but it has been a source of great pride to watch her grades improve significantly year-on-year as she found her stride.
“Jairis took on a major role with Team ESTEEM, the Solar Decathlon team, volunteering to take on Marketing, Media and Communications lead. She held this role for a number of years, developing a huge team working with her, and demonstrating excellent delegation, motivational and leadership skills. Her team was successful in winning awards in the main competition and also from third parties. Ultimately, the elements Jairis managed ended up being the most successful parts of the Team ESTEEM experience, and so much of this is down to her insight, dedication and brilliance.
"Jairis has been shortlisted for the Engineering Talent Awards ‘Engineering Student of the Year', a massive individual achievements and richly well-deserved. Her enthusiasm and communications skills and second-to-none; and her skill and passion for engineering, academic excellence, and drive to succeed, make her an extraordinary graduate. I look forward to seeing where her career develops next.”
After graduating Jairis plans to help encourage girls in Latin America to take careers in STEM and be a good example to the girls in her country.
“At the moment my plans after graduations are first to take a break for few months after I have been studying for 10 years, and then finding a job in my industry. However, my biggest plan is to create an online presence to encourage girls in Latin America to take careers in STEM because there is still a lack of education on that matter.
“For example, I waited 6 years to study engineering because I thought I was not good enough and we don't have support groups in which girls can ask questions about careers opportunities. I would like to be an example to all girls in my country, that in few years are going to choose their careers, so I want to support them as well. Moreover, to show them that it is okay to be afraid but that should not stop you to follow your dreams. I believe that a career in STEM opens your mind to new horizons.”
Graduation ceremonies are being held at Heriot-Watt University between Friday 17th June and Friday, 24th June marking the academic achievement of students from the School of Social Sciences, the School of Engineering & Physical Sciences, the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure & Society, the School of Textiles & Design, and the School of Mathematical & Computer Sciences.