Meet Jessie

Name: Jessie Press-Williams

Age: 25

From: USA but also lived in the UK, Zambia and Kenya

Job: Design Engineer at Burn, leading the product development for stoves that use alternative fuels such as kerosene, LPG and electricity.

How did you end up working at Burn Engineering?

Another MIT alumni was a fellow at Burn and they mentioned that there was an opportunity to actually use engineering skills every day.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Most of them. I studied Arabic in the holidays and was inspired to travel. I got a State Department scholarship and spent a month in Morocco. I think my favourite subject was probably physics though.

What languages do you speak?

English, French, Arabic, Swahili and Nyanja. I loved learning Swahili; the cultural nuances even at beginner level are fantastic.

What alternative career might you have pursued?

I would have been a linguist or a travel blogger.

What is your favourite place?

I have another top three. Morocco, the first place I lived abroad. Indonesia, my first experience of solo travel – I had an internship through MIT to look at micro-industry developing tofu and tempe. Namibia, the best tourist vacation with stunning landscapes.

What is your favourite food?

Is coffee a food???

Who has been inspirational in your choice to become an engineer?

Definitely my science teachers, particularly physics, and there were lots of great extra curricular activities. I actually co-founded a science club which entered into national competitions. We called it BACON – Best All-round Club Of Nerds. We won some NASA competitions and were runners up in the Super Space Adventure. For fun we created a trough full of oobleck and ran across it! Our science club led to the school getting extra funding and new equipment for the lab. We even spent spring break one year at CERN.

There are some other people who have really inspired me:

Amy Smith, founder of D-Lab at MIT, she pioneered projects that showed how engineering and international development can coexist. D-Lab was where I became myself and it was amazing that the undergraduate intake is 50% women. An article, teaching engineering to women specifically mentions D-lab.

Susan Murcott, also at D-lab, built a factory in Ghana which makes ceramic water filtration components.

Then there’s Esther Duflo; she pioneered randomised controlled trials to determine the impact in social interventions and helped develop measures for cost effectiveness. This helps to ensure that the projects with the highest value are undertaken rather than just assuming that doing something is better than nothing. Esther is a Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT.

“I actually co-founded a science club which entered into national competitions. We won some NASA competitions and were runners up in the Super Space Adventure. Our science club led to the school getting extra funding and new equipment for the lab. We even spent spring break one year at CERN.”

What’s your coolest achievement?

I’m a nerd.

The thing I’m most proud of in recent years is that I ran the Kilimanjaro half marathon. I never even considered doing anything like that before and I was so nervous. I just spent a lot of time around runners and it just happened. The Kilimanjaro half marathon is amazing. It’s early morning so you get beautiful views and it’s a good time of year for running. If you aren’t fussed about your time then you can stop and take photos. No, I’m not going to tell you my time, but I had fun, made friends and took photos along the way. I’ve signed up for the Victoria Falls half marathon now which goes from Zimbabwe across the bridge into Zambia and around the falls before heading back to Victoria Falls

What is your favourite colour?

Blue – any kind, from light blue to royal blue. Always has been, always will.

What is your favourite animal?

I can narrow it down to top three. Cheetah – fast land mammal. Dolphin – because of their culture and language. Komodo dragon – just the craziest animal.

What are your hobbies?

I used to love playing ultimate frisbee – it’s great because no-one grows up playing it like with other sports, so it’s a level playing field when you start playing as a young adult, where you can join a group and become good at it. There are a variety of skills needed and it’s a decent mixed sport.

I love reading. One of my favourite authors is Steven King. I’ve not read all his books but I’m starting to ration them out because he won’t last forever! I also like Sci-fi and history books; from school it never occured to me that history could be interesting to me, but history books really bring it to life.

I like reading books about International Development and I can recommend these to anyone who might have an interest in the field:

Factfulness: Ten things we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think by Hans Rosling.

Poor Economics by Esther Duflo, it’s a book that’s meant for everyone, not just economists.

Mountains beyond Mountains by Tracey Kidder, a true story about the life of Dr Paul Farmer in Haiti.

Burn manufacturing

BURN develops affordable, energy-efficient, life-saving stoves.