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Grad tidings

Working lives Graduate Awards

As entries are sought for NCE's 2004 Graduate Awards, last year's winner will this month blow her £1,000 prize on a honeymoon.

It has been an eventful year for current NCE Graduate Award winner Karen O' Keeffe.

A personal invitation from construction minister Nigel Griffiths to brief him on her views on the future role of the Institution of Civil Engineers; a full page devoted to her in a Guardian careers supplement; elected as one of only two graduate members on ICE Council and an embarrassing volume of praise from employer, TPS Consult.

'My total surprise at winning the award was matched only by the amazing recognition I received from my company, ' says the 24-year-old Newcastle University graduate, proudly displaying a bulging file of press cuttings initiated by the TPS marketing team. 'I had no idea of the high profile and prestige with which the award is regarded by our industry.'

O' Keeffe's 'passion for civil engineering' - an attribute highlighted by last year's judges - continues unabated as she now heads up numerous TPS surveys and feasibility studies for major airport client BAA. Designing standing areas for jumbo jets and pavement condition surveys at Gatwick, have been followed by analysis of the need for more office and car parking space at Southampton airport.

She has more long haul flight plans for the future, though. After becoming chartered in a couple of years she hopes to go overseas to offer her skills in developing countries. 'I think that is one of the most important things a civil engineer can do, ' says O' Keeffe.

'We have the skills to make a real difference in such countries.

Sinking a water borehole is not expensive but can benefit thousands of people.'

Her love of civil engineering began on a school trip to Newcastle University's civils department, when a laboratory test to destruction of concrete bridge sections showed her 'the scale and excitement such a career could offer.

'And winning through to the shortlist of the Graduate Awards was pretty exciting too, ' she recalls, admitting that meeting the senior industry judges at the ICE was 'rather scary'.

'But it proved invaluable experience in confidence building, which I have tried to carry forward to the workplace.'

Her £1,000 top prize was to be blown on an adventure holiday with boyfriend Andrew. But boyfriend is now fiancée and the cash is being spent on a four week honeymoon in East Africa after her wedding later this month.

Anyone who graduated last year with a civils degree is eligible to enter the Awards Scheme now under way. We can guarantee it will be a valuable experience, although we cannot promise a wedding as the end result.

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