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Graduate Awards 2013 - future leaders step up

A record prize pot, supported by a record number of sponsors, was on offer at last week’s NCE Graduate Awards, where six finalists shared in the praise and rewards.

We are here to celebrate the achievements and enthusiasm of our graduate civil engineers, an audience of 200 industry leaders was told at NCE’s annual Graduate Awards lunch at the ICE last week.

Awards Secretary David Hayward said that graduate recruitment was up as much as 50% over last year and the prospects for young graduates were brighter than they had been since before the recession.

The upturn had coincided with a double record for the awards - 120 worldwide entries and 18 top company sponsors willing to encourage and reward our future industry leaders.

Overall winner, 24 year old Joe Smith from Bristol University, and now a geotechnical engineer with Arup, was handed a £1,500 cheque and a specially crafted trophy. He was also offered a package of opportunities including working with ICE president Geoff French promoting his aim of attracting young engineers, plus a 40 minute meeting with Construction Minister Michael Fallon.

Hayward outlined the history of the awards so far, from just six entries and two sponsors when they started 15 years ago. “They are now the most important and highly respected awards of their type in our industry,” he said.

Five other finalists shared in the £4,000 price pot and all were regarded as winners.



Joe Smith

Graduate civil engineer, Arup

1st class MEng Bristol University


“I already have my ideal job and I love it,” 24 year old Joe Smith told the judges. “My friends in other professions may be higher paid, but I’m living the dream.”

Well now we can add a little sparkle to his dream in awarding him NCE Graduate of the Year. 

From shirt-tailing his builder Dad around housing sites when aged just five - safely of course - there was never any other choice, says Smith.

At Bristol University he found the most enthusiastic lecturer taught geotechnical engineering and, in opting for this speciality, he now reckons he can combine the design office and construction site in equal measure.

Before graduating with a first class M Eng, he had won some eight academic awards and bursaries - including university and I.C.E. prizes for being top of his class of 100 in both his last two years. A Royal Academy of Engineering Advanced Leadership award brought with it a £5000 cheque which financed a two month mid-course trip to the States working on several large construction projects.

“Major infrastructure planning seems quicker and more efficient over there,” he claims.

But uni was not all about winning awards and Smith remains equally proud of never having missed his twice weekly chill-out activity; playing cricket for both his university- where he captained the first eleven for two years - and for his home club in distant Devon. This sport remains a passion and he is now a qualified professional cricket coach.

Smith continues his sensible work-life balance as a geotechnical engineer with Arup working on such iconic designs as London’s proposed £150 million Garden Footbridge across the Thames. At the same time he is attempting to convert £1500 into £10,000 for a Prince’s Trust charity.

He is a key player in a 10 strong group of fellow Arup graduates striving, through the trust’s ‘Million Makers’ challenge, to increase his £1500 starter fund six fold in just six months.

A money-raising run for 250 colleagues around Regents Park and, perhaps more dubiously, the promise of a sponsored showcase supplement in NCE, leave Smith and his mates on target so far.

Also well balanced were his comments on the High Speed 2 rail project that all candidates for this year’s award were asked to write about in their entry submissions. He was one of the very few in the 120 entries to seemingly sit on the fence over the worth of the project. “I believe it would be glib to reach a firm opinion on such a complex and difficult project in just the 600 words allowed,” he wrote.

But far from being marked down by the judges, his follow-on reasoning helped him reach the final interviews where he found an unexpected allie in one of the judges – HS2 Ltd chairman Doug Oakervee   

Smith argued that line capacity, rather than high speed or any cost- benefit economic analysis - which he thought of dubious value - were key factors in the debate.  To his surprise Oakervee supported this reasoning and Smith left the room sporting a broad smile and doubtless with bonus points on the HS2 chairman’s score sheet.

“Passionate about engineering,” summed up the judges. “He is articulate, confident and a good ambassador.”


Runner –up

Tom Bartley

Graduate civil engineer, Parsons Brinckerhoff

Engineering Doctorate, Bristol University  


A chance encounter with a squad of Ghurkha soldiers, building suspension footbridges across steep-sided remote Nepalese valleys, was enough to convince an 18 year old Tom, on his gap year, of a future career path. Forget the physics course he had just signed up for at Manchester University, this was changed, day one, to civil engineering.

“I was on a two day walk to isolated mountain villages to investigate how a charity back in Yorkshire could help them,” he recalls. “But it was the incredible value these bridges offered to communities cut-off for months every year, that opened my eyes to the amazing changes civil engineers could bring to people’s lives.”

At uni he immediately got stuck-in to student charity Engineers Without Borders. He became its president at Manchester and led a 15 strong team helping to establish water supplies and sanitation to an orphanage in Tanzania.

Bartley became equally involved with the university’s RAG week, helping to raise £10,000 in just ten days with such mundane student challenges as sky diving, water zorbing and swimming with sharks. He soon got the fund-raising bug and, the following term, started an unusual mid-uni sabbatical spending a year as the full time RAG coordinator.

By the year’s end he could write a cheque for local charities valued at £330,000 - over double the previous annual record. 

But all this was far too much fun, even for a civils student and, on graduation, he moved to Bristol University to direct his considerable motivational skills towards serious construction research into Building Information Modelling.

Today, half way through a part-time four year Engineering Doctorate, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, with support from Parsons Brinckerhoff, 24 year old Bartley willingly labels himself a BIM boffin.

“For over 150 years, civil engineers have exchanged information using paper, or now computer, drawings,” he says. “This is very selfish as it tells you nothing about the essential story of the structure.”

“We must create a system that benefits the end user and this demands, in engineers, a major but vital change in their thinking,” he continues. “BIM is not an option it is a necessity.”

His cutting edge academic research is already turning into reality at employer Parsons Brinckerhoff where Bartley is rolling out his conclusions to all the company’s 2000 engineers. He runs BIM roadshows, writes the consultant’s BIM standards and is a key member of the company’s BIM leadership team.

Not surprisingly the judges summed him up as; “already a leading BIM expert, thoroughly engaging, inspiring and genuine.”


Third place

Neill Brauders

Graduate civil engineer, Mott MacDonald

2:1 MEng University College, Dublin

MSc Imperial College


“Water engineering is my passion,” Neill Brauders told the judges.

From being an eight year old helping to design a new drainage system for his Dad’s flooded garden to, next year, hoping to see his design of an interactive hydro power model centre stage at a Science Museum exhibition encouraging young engineers, he has grabbed every opportunity to develop his passion.

On the way he has had two papers published by World-leading water journals. Both were the result of university research, but could not have been on more diverse subjects.

‘The behaviour of Irish river banks’ was followed by ‘remote rainfall sensing techniques for Ecuador’s rainforests’.

His career so far has included two universities. At Dublin’s University College, the walls of his student flat boasted half a dozen certificates for prizes and awards. His favourite is for leading the team which created a simple but effective model demonstrating hydroelectricity.

It centred on a bucket, plastic tube and a light bulb. Brauders now has ideas to mass produce this miniature powerplant to circulate to schools, hopefully attracting youngsters towards engineering.

At Dublin he founded a now 400 strong civil engineering society because, he says; “they didn’t have one.”  He also captained and developed the kickboxing club - his other passion - turning it into Ireland’s largest martial arts organisation.

From Dublin, Brauders progressed to an MSc in Hydrology and Water Resource Engineering at Imperial College before joining Mott MacDonald’s water and environment division. Here he heads up the company’s modestly named ‘Young Professional’s Excellence Network’.

His role is to organise industry seminars, breakfast talks and away-weekends, all designed in inspire Motts 300 graduates in his division.

Now 26, he is the youngest member of the British Hydrological Society’s national committee - an achievement bettered only by being asked, a few months ago, to join the ICE’s Water Expert panel.  

Since his judges’ interview he has ‘enjoyed’ several weeks in sunny Cairo with a Motts team advising the country’s water resources department. And early next year he hopes to be relocated to Pakistan as a resident engineer on a major £100 million irrigation project.

“Confident, articulate and an excellent communicator,” said the judges “He grasps every opportunity.”


Highly commended

Amy Wright

Graduate civil engineer, Sir Robert McAlpine

1st Class MEng Nottingham University


Amy Wright, the only female engineer to make the final six and the only contractor.

“The thought of sitting at a desk all day fills me with fear,” says the 23 year old Sir Robert McAlpine graduate who has spent virtually all of her summertime and postgraduate training on construction sites. “For me it is vital to physically see things being built.”

The very basic living conditions of villagers in the African kingdom of Lesotho, which she saw when a school trip took her to visit an orphanage, left 17 year old Amy questioning her future. And a quote from that bearded TV botanist David Bellamy did the rest.

He had claimed that the World can only support one billion people, Wright told the judges. The fact that it is now supporting seven billion is due, in part, to the resilience of nature and, in part, to the work of civil engineers, Professor Bellamy had concluded.

Swapping an offered biology course at Nottingham University for civil engineering was, she says, her most sensible decision yet. Funded at uni by Sir Robert McAlpine, through an I.C.E. Quest scholarship, Wright immediately started checking out what she could do for such needy developing- world villagers.

“I had difficulty finding an existing project that matched my interests and skill set so I set one up myself,” she recalls. “A three week trip to Malawi, and over 50 interviews with locals, identified a village four hours from any other where an electricity supply could totally transform the lives of its 1000 inhabitants.

A year later, Wright had found 30 like-minded undergraduates, coordinated the design of a hydropower and solar panel electricity plant to power up hundreds of rechargeable batteries, had raised the £35,000 needed to fund it and had overseen two trips out to build it.

“We are now hoping to repeat the challenge and light up a second village,” she enthuses.

Graduating with a first class M Eng, her daily role with Sir Robert McAlpine is equally challenging. In charge of coordinating a range of work packages during the £19 million  improvement of one of the UK’s largest covered shopping centres in Newcastle, plus ensuring the 80,000 daily shoppers see little of the construction work is, she says; “demanding, rewarding and very hard work.

“But,” she concludes, “it is exactly why I became a civil engineer.”

“An inspiring ambassador for female engineers,” said the judges. “She is passionate about construction and highly employable.”


Highly commended

Philip Vautier

Graduate civil engineer, Atkins

2:1 MEng Imperial college


Asked why he chose civil engineering, Vautier spoke of challenging opportunities, working with talented multidisciplinary teams and a chance to develop a diverse, versatile skill set. Then he concluded thoughtfully; “the decision was a no-brainer”.

He traced his Eureka moment back to a TV documentary on Joseph Bazalgette’s Victorian sewers which he had watched when just a young teenager. It had left him fascinated at how much engineers can achieve for such a large proportion of the population.

At Imperial College Vautier was elected student representative for his civils course and, in hindsight, won a significant debate with his staff lecturers over coursework timing.

His year was the first to undertake radical, though welcome, changes to make the course more practical and industry orientated. The downside was that coursework increased and was rescheduled close to exam periods.

Successfully arguing for a lightened load, Vautier’s efforts live on today. Among other Imperial achievements he ranks highly his Royal Academy of Engineering Leadership award, followed later by an invitation to join the exclusive Executive Engineer’s programme.

Such accolades triggered his participation in half a dozen high level construction debates with the Parliamentary Engineering Group in the House of Lords. 

Vautier, like Smith, refused to let lectures get in the way of his favourite sport.  His was football and he too boasts never missing the twice weekly fixtures playing for Imperial.

On graduation he joined Atkins Major Projects division and now, aged 23, he is amazed at the level of responsibility he has already been given.

Co-ordinating all the utilities networks for a new terminal in a multi-billion pound Saudi Arabian airport  top the dozen or so major projects he has been involved with so far.

Away from his desk, Vautier is an Atkin’s ambassador organising training and networking events for his fellow graduates.

“A team player who is hungry to learn and a competent ambassador,” concluded the judges.


Highly commended

Ramin Akhyani

Graduate geotechnical engineer, Amey

2:2 MEng and MPhil Birmingham University


Enthusiastic, proactive involvement in regional graduate and student committees, for both the Institutions of Civil and Structural Engineers, has dominated Akhyani’s extra curricular interests since his first weeks at Birmingham University.  Workshops, seminars, conferences, competitions and graduate dinners. You name it; he has helped organize the lot.

“Dedication, dedication, dedication -that’s my message,” he told the judges.

Over the last six years he has held a host of roles with both committees. As part of the I.Struct.E’s young members panel, he has encouraged over 120 burgeoning engineers to join the Institution.

He organized a presidential visit to his uni, plus ran dozens of seminars and workshops. His idea of testing to destruction a model gantry crane, made of straw and cellotape, triggered widespread interest in the Structurals national Make & Break competition. Okhyani then ran this increasingly popular competition across the Midlands region for two years and is now a permanent judge.

Concentrating recently on the region’s I.C.E. committees, he is responsible for liaising with a range of other professional bodies and is a school’s ambassador talking, so far, to over 200 fourteen year olds.

On graduating, Okyhani stayed on at Birmingham to take a three year Master of Philosophy postgraduate degree, also in civil engineering.

Now with Amey, the 26 year old geotechnical engineer continues developing his organizational skills by running this year’s company graduates’ conference. Doubtless he scored brownie points with Amey bosses when he succeeded in halving budgeted expenditure on the two day event.

Based in the consultant’s highways and rail division, he has, over the last year, had increasing geotechnical involvement in over 15 projects. This has ranged from embankment inspections to taking a leading role in ground investigation planning and implementation on a major M42 widening scheme.

“An original thinker who displays a global perspective on engineering,” said the judges. “And someone who exudes genuine dedication to his chosen career.”


Awards sponsors

Graduate Awards 2013 - sponsors panel

The 2013 NCE Graduate Awards are sponsored by: Aecom, Amey, Arup, Atkins, Balfour Beatty, Black & Veatch, Heathrow, HS2, The Institution of Civil Engineers, Laing O’Rourke, Mace, Mott MacDonald, MWH,  Parsons Brinckerhoff, Ramboll, Thames Tideway Tunnel, Topcon  and Transport for London.



Graduate Awards 2013 - future leaders step up

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