Dr Althea de Souza

Engineering Instructor

I am passionate about encouraging people from all backgrounds to consider a career in engineering and to increase the diversity within the engineering community.

What lead you to work for PETA?

I was at a school reunion in December 2018 when I was asked if I knew anyone who could provide short-term support for the BTEC maths unit at PETA. Since it was a temporary requirement and just half a day a week, I agreed to take it on myself, with the support of an existing PETA instructor. From that first moment, despite being absolutely terrified, I loved it.

I have always enjoyed explaining anything technical and have done bits and pieces of teaching and tutoring over the years, from helping my younger sister with maths homework to teaching on post-graduate engineering courses, talking with my young nephews about science and engineering and tutoring a local friend for her GCSE maths in recent years. As a result, when the contract for the maths unit was nearing the end, I asked about doing more and joined PETA on a permanent part-time basis from August 2019.

On the days I am not working for PETA, I work as an engineering consultant, focusing on engineering simulation, specifically computational fluid dynamics (CFD). The voluntary work I do for NAFEMS ensures the safe and effective use of industrial engineering simulation.

I am a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, a FEANI certified EurIng and a NAFEMS accredited PSE (professional simulation engineer). I obtained both my bachelor’s degree and a PhD in engineering from the University of Portsmouth.

What is your role at PETA and what drives you to do what you do?

I’m an instructor in the engineering training department, based at the PETA site in Havant. I mostly teach the classroom-based subjects at level 3, including maths, mechanical principles and engineering materials, as well as being involved in the project and associated units.

Within a few months of starting at PETA, I established a support network for female learners in engineering. For many of them, they are the only woman in their cohort and may also be the only women in their team at work. The informal lunchtime get-togethers are an opportunity to meet other women in engineering and see another female face. It also provides a safe place to discuss any issues they have encountered and discuss how best to manage them, such as finding PPE that fits properly.

I am also involved in the PETA engineering enrichment programme, to help learners engage with the wider engineering community, through visits to local companies and trade shows or by providing information on local engineering events, held by the engineering institutions. Engineering is so central to all our lives and everything we do, from the manufacture of the tarmac used for road surfaces, to the design of drinks machines to the processes and materials used in factories making medical ventilators.

What knowledge/experience do you draw upon for your role?

I draw upon 30 years of experience working as a mechanical engineer. I have worked for both large and small organisations in several different roles. For the last 10 years, I have run an engineering micro-consultancy, working with a wide variety of different industries on diverse applications. I bring this experience to my teaching, using real-world examples and applications to both engage learners and give them insight into the ways they may use the subjects covered.

My consultancy work involves computer simulation of fluid dynamics and how gases and liquids behave. Since they are often difficult to see directly, the simulations provide insight into their behaviour, but the meaning isn’t always intuitive, so I often have to explain the results. Explaining concepts and mechanical behaviours is something I really enjoy, and teaching is an extension of that.

As chairman of an international committee that works to ensure best practise in industrial computational fluid dynamics, I have been using video conferencing technologies for over 15 years and working with a geographically diverse group of people. This proved helpful in transitioning to online learning during the lockdown. I also regularly present at engineering conferences and chair technical discussion sessions, both of which have helped me develop skills that transfer well to teaching.

  I am involved in membership assessments for the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the NAFEMS Professional Simulation Engineer scheme, enabling me to develop assessment and interview skills.

How do you approach your role on a day-to-day basis? What skills are required?

I am relatively new to teaching so every day can still have new challenges. I am always keen to learn and share what I have learnt with both the learners and my colleagues. The ability to continuously learn and to use every learning opportunity is an essential skill for both engineers and teachers.

What are you passionate about outside of work?

Engineering obviously, but that probably counts as work. I am a keen amateur musician, playing the flute and piccolo (and occasionally percussion, marching snare drum and oboe) in a local military band, as well as some small groups.

I love dancing, having started learning ballroom and Latin dancing when I first met my husband. My garden is also a huge source of pleasure, interest – and work. I run regularly and used to enjoy doing the weekly parkrun. Finally, I have small nephews and the time I spend with them is exhausting but rewarding.

What are your personal values, and what is important to you?

Life is for living. None of us knows how long we have or what tomorrow will hold so every day should be relished. I have long believed that can only be achieved if work is enjoyable and engaging. It matters to me that I enjoy the teaching and that the learners in my classes also enjoy it. Honesty and openness are part of my core value system and I try to always remember to be kind.