Graduates from Atkins have taken the top two positions in the NCE Graduate of the Year Awards 2014.
The 2014 graduate of the year is Atkins water engineer Sophie McPhillips.
Structural engineer Camilla Nicholson, also from Atkins, came a close second, and Amey geotechnical engineer Monica Steele was placed third.
Mike Frazer (Amey), Richard Lebon (Mott MacDonald), and John Donaghy (Aecom) were highly commended by the judges and also received prizes.
The six finalists will share the £4,000 of prize money, and McPhillips will have the opportunity to meet with construction minister Nick Boles.
A record 130 entries were submitted, of which 28% were by women.
Ahead of the awards ceremony, the finalists were grilled for 30 minutes by a judging panel made up of 19 representatives from leading civil engineering organisations.
Atkins graduate water engineer McPhillips is currently representing charity Engineers Without Borders in Africa, where she is working with a non-governmental organisation to provide clean, safe water to 10,000 people in rural villages.
She flew in from The Gambia to attend the judging day, and the judges were impressed by McPhillps’ enthusiasm, technical knowledge and first class communication skills, scoring exceptionally high marks in all criteria.
The judges commented that she had a depth of understanding about the industry which was exceptional for her years, was a genuinely passionate individual – even humble at times – who answered questions posed by the judges very intelligently. They also commented that her presentation was inspiring and demonstrated real passion for how civil engineering can have a positive impact. “She was able to connect high level issues faced by society with very practical solutions,” commented one judge.
In her presentation, she described her reaction to discovering that many of the village hand water pumps she had visited in The Gambia had been poorly installed: “I vowed to fix it and to create a fair deal for the people living in poverty”.
Second-placed Camilla Nicholson was also described by judges as “inspiring” and “engaging” with considerable commercial awareness and showing genuine interest and ability in her day-to day-job. “On a clear trajectory for success,” as one judge commented, Nicholson presented the challenges faced by the industry with remarkable insight. The Imperial College London graduate’s passion for diversity – that engineers should “design for a population, not a demographic” – and ideas to include lectures on inspiring engineers to motivate undergraduates was extremely well received by the judges.
Third placed Monica Steele was described as passionate about civil engineering and sincere in her endeavour to “find solutions to global challenges.” Judges praised her determination for becoming a graduate civil engineer, having initially worked as an engineering technician. Her presentation was inspiring, clear, and concise and she answered questions constructively.
Amey graduate engineer Mike Frazer was described as an “irresistible communicator” with lots of ideas and lots of enthusiasm. Judges were impressed by his thoughts on how to both increase the profile of civil engineering and inspire the next generation of engineers by engaging with the public through social media and television.
Judges praised Mott Macdonald graduate engineer Richard Lebon’s presentation for demonstrating the importance of good communication and teamwork to deliver a project successfully. The panel also admired Lebon’s sense of “global responsibility” and passion for how UK engineering skills can improve the lives of those living in poverty around the world.
Aecom graduate engineer John Donaghy impressed judges with his passion for the way innovations in engineering design can bring about improvements to society and commended him for the progress he had made already to spread his ideas. Donaghy’s ideas for “human-centred design” and desire to empower communities to be involved with engineering solutions was well received by the judges.