To those who knew Samuel Popoola as an inquisitive child, it will be no surprise he grew up to be an engineer.
Now working for ESB, as a youngster in Nigeria his three favourite things were making buildings out of sand, construction equipment, and asking questions.
The 27-year-old was born in Kaduna State, in Northern Nigeria in 1995 but at the age of five his family fled the outbreak of violence there, moving to Akwa Ibom State, on the Atlantic Ocean in the south of the country.
“I was the only child at that stage - now I have three sisters – and it was a big deal for my parents to move but they had to prioritise safety,” he says.
It was in his new home that he developed his interest in engineering. “In the early 2000s Nigeria was not the way it is now. We didn’t have all the luxuries and my biggest toy was sand. We would wait for the rain and then get out and play in the sand, building sandcastles, cars and houses and making them nice,” he explains.
His other favourite pursuits came about because of his father’s job as an administrator in a construction company.
“I always followed my father to the office because I loved to see all the trucks and trailers. It was exciting to me. Whenever the engineers came into the office I would ask them, what is this equipment for? What does that machine do?” he laughs.
His father’s colleagues encouraged him, answering his questions and fostering his interest. His father’s boss lent him engineering books, so he could find out more.
For his formal secondary education, he went to an academic military school, which he credits with providing him with key strengths such as discipline and adaptability.
“It was a really good experience for me and part of my success story today. It helped me to learn to survive and adapt to different styles of environment,” he explains.
When he was 18 he moved to Malaysia to study Civil Engineering at SEGi University, a dual degree programme run in conjunction with the University of Greenwich in the UK. He completed his degree in 2018. “Malaysia was nice and helped me to experience different cultures,” he says.
His father’s boss was an alumnus of Trinity College Dublin, and it was he who suggested Samuel undertake his post graduate training there, so he moved to Ireland to study for a masters’ degree in structural and geotechnical engineering.
The first time he encountered ESB was when he flew into Dublin Airport to commence his studies here. “I was confused pushing my bags through the airport and ended up in Terminal Two. I remember seeing the ESB International building and it looked interesting to me, so I noted it and wrote it down. During my masters an advertisement for ESB’s graduate programme popped up on my Instagram, so I applied, got called for an interview, and got the job,” he says.
Power to the people
Today he is part of the team working on ESB’s FlexGen project which is delivering three new gas fired power plants in Dublin, to help support generation capacity. “It is serious work supporting security of energy supply in Ireland, to help the grid,” says Samuel, who believes all his educational experiences to date have helped to inform his approaches to his work.
He speaks several languages, for example. As well as English Samuel has conversational French. His tribal language is Yoruba, and he speaks Hausa, from his time in the north of Nigeria. He also speaks a bit of Bahasa Melayu, learned during his years in Malaysia. He says his multi-lingual abilities help with team building.
“It helps to find common ground, to build relationships with people. For example, I had a lot of Indian friends in Malaysia and I learned about their food and culture. ESB is a multicultural organisation with many Indian and Chinese people. It is by having conversations that you understand other people’s culture and relate to them better and that brings more cohesion to a project,” he explains.
ESB’s graduate programme has played a significant part in his education too, particularly in relation to climate change.
“It has been a real learning experience to see ESB’s focus on the future. It looks not just at the present but at getting Ireland to net zero (carbon emissions) by 2040. ESB is a major driver towards this change, and I feel that if I do go home in 20 years I could in some way bring ESB with me and make a difference in Africa.”
In life, making a change for the better, in a practical way, is important to him, a value passed to him by his parents.
While his father is now the boss of the construction company, his mother sadly passed away in 2016. “She taught me compassion and selflessness and the ability to love everyone around you. She also taught me the importance of giving back to the community,” he recalls.
It’s a legacy that informs how he approaches work today because for him, engineering is all about improving lives.
“Making a difference is one of the things I love about working for ESB. In engineering and science education, what everyone wants to do is create value for the people,” he says.
He likens it to a road construction project he helped his father’s construction company with by way of example.
“To bring that road into existence we had to clear trees and pave it. Even today every time I travel that road I smile because we constructed something functional, a piece of the country’s infrastructure. It is something to be proud of,” he says.
“Similarly, with ESB, electricity is a resource, a fundamental part of Ireland’s infrastructure that no one can do without, so we are always thinking about consumers, that is the passion.”
ESB’s sponsorship programmes also appeal to him, particularly ESB Science Blast, which is a free, non-competitive educational programme for primary schools that involves a whole class investigating the science behind a simple question and showcasing their work at one of three national events.
He well remembers the fun of working on group projects at school that required the class to build bridges out of chopsticks and broomsticks. Such endeavours can spark a lifelong interest. “I think of how many skills and problem-solving solutions we worked on together as a team, every time I cross a bridge,” he smiles.
If ESB Science Blast had been around when he was at school, he knows exactly what questions he would have had his class find an answer to: “I’d have said, ‘look at this building, look at this wall, what is holding it up and how is it supported?’”
ESB Science Blast encourages teachers and parents to foster a love of science, technology, engineering, and maths in primary school children. The showcase events, which run from 27th February to 2nd March at the RDS, Dublin, is often a first step towards a career in these sectors. To find out more log on to esbscienceblast.com