F1 engineer says 'never give up on your dream'
University of Bradford graduate Stephanie Travers says failure is just a bend in the road
Formula 1 PETRONAS trackside fuel engineer (and University of Bradford graduate) Stephanie Travers was the first black woman to stand on the winner's podium in the sport’s 70-year history, when teammate Lewis Hamilton invited her to share his victory at last season's Styrian Grand Prix, Australia.
Earlier this month, while launching a commission into diversity in the sport, he dubbed Stephanie “a hero” for being an inspiration to millions around the world.
But while she may have realised her childhood dream of working in F1, her path to success has not been without its twists and turns.
Blessing in disguise
“I didn’t get the grades I hoped for at A-Level,” she revealed. “I was predicted to get AAB and ended up with three Cs. It only made me more determined to get a first at university.”
Her grades were also a deciding factor in her choosing to study chemical engineering - she graduated in 2016 with a first - at the University of Bradford, a decision she says she has no regrets about.
“In a way, me not getting the grades I wanted was a blessing in disguise, because it meant I didn’t go to my first choice of university. Bradford was my second choice. I lived in Surrey and all my friends were going to universities nearby, so for me, moving so far north was quite scary.
“What really helped was the welcome pack sent to me by Bradford; there was information about people staying on The Green [on campus accommodation], which encouraged me to start making friends. I met some lovely people even before I arrived at university, which made the transition a lot smoother.”
Never give up
Stephanie, who last year took part in an International Women in Engineering Day for the University, urged young people not to give up on their ambitions, even if they do not get the grades they expect.
She said: “What I would say to anyone who wants to pursue a career like F1 or even becoming an astronaut or something out of the ordinary, is just to keep your head down and work at it.
“There will be a lot of barriers along the way but don’t see them as the end of the road. See them as small mountains you must climb over to get where you want to be. You could get 1,000 ‘no’s but there will always be a ‘yes’ - so keep trying and do not lose hope.”
During his interview on the BBC about efforts to increase diversity in Formula 1, Lewis said: “Stephanie is a hero, she is absolutely amazing and... what she has had to overcome to be in our sport. Last year I got to be on the podium with her… she is the first black woman to be on the podium in 70 years of the sport.
“It is really encouraging [for] young girls to be following STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects. It opens up so many doors in terms of jobs in our industry - there are 40,000 jobs in F1 and currently only one per cent of those are [taken by people from] black backgrounds, so that’s what we need to change.”
To read more from Stephanie’s interview, scroll down.
Name: Stephanie Travers
History: Born in Zimbabwe, moved to the UK in 2004 to live in Worcester Park, Surrey
Job title: Trackside Fluid Engineer for PETRONAS, the title and technical partner of the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 team
Degree: BEng in Chemical Engineering
Year of graduation: 2016
You didn’t get the grades you wanted at A-level but how did you react?
It motivated me to push harder to come out with a 1st from university. It was a great experience at Bradford because the class sizes were not as large as other universities, and their open door policy meant they were always willing to help and support me in any way they could.
Were you apprehensive about moving so far north?
I didn’t think I would end up moving that far away from my family. I lived in Surrey and all my friends were going to universities nearby, so for me, moving so far north was quite scary. I really didn’t know anyone.
What really helped was the welcome pack sent to me by Bradford; there was information about people staying on The Green [on campus accommodation], which encouraged me to start making friends. I met some lovely people even before I arrived at university, which made that transition a lot smoother.”
What did you study?
I grew up watching Formula 1 and my father worked as an engineer - he had a workshop in Zimbabwe, so it was my dream to be an engineer and work in F1. I studied chemical engineering for three years at University and then did a year on placement, working at BASF, which I really enjoyed.
How do you feel about the issues surrounding diversity in the workplace?
I think it's important to have diversity in the workplace. When I was growing up and watching F1, Lewis was the closest representation of myself - that gave me the push to get into the sport.
I think great strides have been made in the last few years; F1 is improving, and I think in future it will be a lot better and it will help inspire younger generations who are going through school now to choose careers they might not necessarily have thought about.
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