Stuart Ross was not the only one honoured at NCE’s 2010 Graduate Awards. Runners-up Harriet Kirk and Ben Biggs, and highly commended finalists Phoebe Bointon, Ed Dablin and Henry Tayler also received prizes.
The two equally placed runners-up won £700 and three highly commended finalists each received £400.
“If you chopped me in half you’d probably find the word engineer printed all the way though me like astick of rock,” Harriet Kirk told the judges.
This vivid description of her enthusiasm and passion for civil engineering sums up her professional life so far.
Behind her already are the design, construction and fund raising for two life-changing footbridges in the remotest villages of Bolivia and Malawi. And also behind her are not one, but two, very different degrees.
Her Imperial College first class MEng was preceded, seven years earlier at the age of 20, by a history degree from London’s nearby University College.
“I enjoyed history but never found it offered me the inspiration and satisfying career that I yearned for,” she says. “At Imperial I absolutely loved civil engineering from day one.”
Giving up a well paid job at the age of 23, to return to university as an undergraduate, was – Kirk confesses – “very scary”. “But it was the best decision I have ever made,” she claims.
Imperial offered her the opportunity, in her first year, to design and help build a timber footbridge near an isolated Malawi village, previously cut-off from the rest of the country for much of the year. She also supervised the 30 strong local workforce. Caught by the bug, the following year, she repeated the experience with another equally vital larger steel truss footbridge high in the plains of Bolivia.
But this time she initiated, fund-raised and led the expedition from the start, donating towards it, half of a prestigious £10,000 construction award she had won at Imperial. She is currently searching for a similar project to offer the rest of the prize money to, so that today’s Imperial undergraduates can enjoy the “inspirational experience” she did.
Now a graduate civil engineer with Ramboll, Kirk; “really enjoys going to work. Every day offers a new challenge and the chance to make a difference to people’s lives,” she says.
“Passionate, articulate and very enthusiastic,” said the judges. “Someone who really will make a difference.”
- Graduate civil engineer Ramboll
- First class MEng Imperial College
Numerous 12-hour bus journeys along potholed dirt tracks, and over creaking timber bridges inseemingly constant danger of collapse.
This is how a then 18 year old Ben Biggs travelled around the remote interior of Guyana as he taught maths to local school children during a pre-university gap year. And it is a significant part of the reason he became a civil engineer.
“I knew then that I wanted to do something connected with construction,” he says. “The very basic infrastructure in Guyana showed me the value that civil engineers can contribute towards the quality of life in developing countries.”
Four years later, and by then in his final year at Warwick University, he had the opportunity, at a House of Commons reception, to reinforce that message. In front of several hundred MPs and industry bosses, he led a group of fellow undergraduates presenting cutting-edge design research into sustainable drainage systems.
“One day it will be me sitting across the table in your seats”
This highlight of his academic achievements followed ICE and industry awards for design and structural engineering, both won in competition with some 70 class mates. But he never forgot those South American bridges and, with a first class MEng under his belt, Biggs last year joined Aecom’s bridges division.
The current role of the now 24 year old is to carry out independent category three design checks on major bridge projects submitted to the consultant. And, of the half dozen passing across his desk so far, he is most proud of the design analysis on a complex, six span curved concrete box girder bridge being designed for the Saudi Arabian government.
“I am determined to become an influential and successful engineer,” he told the judges at the finalists’ interview. “One day it will be me sitting across the table in your seats.”
“Ben is a strong communicator,” said the judges. “Inspirational, resourceful and already a very confident young engineer.”
- Graduate civil engineer, Aecom
- First class MEng, Warwick University
If there was a prize for pure engineering enthusiasm, 23 year old Phoebe Bointon would be a strongcontender.
She positively oozed it, as she told the judges of her pioneering work in remote Mongolia where she is currently checking out the suitability of ageing offices, schools and factories for sustainable upgrades. And Mongolia is where she would be right now, if it hadn’t been for her employer Mott MacDonald which flew her back home for the finalist interviews and the awards lunch.
“At school I had no idea what a civil engineer did until a neighbour of my parents allowed me to crawl all over the nearby Tamar Bridge during a repair contract,” she recalls. “Then I realised that no other career could offer such tangible, satisfying and challenging opportunities.”
“No other career could offer such tangible, satisfying and challenging opportunities.”
She just had time to help her father design a sustainable home, and leave her folks selling some of the electricity it generated back to the National Grid, before she rushed off to Cambridge University to earn herself a first class MEng. She also won several ICE academic awards and scaled a few vertical cliff faces as president of the university’s mountaineering club, before joining Motts and being posted to Mongolia.
Sustainability remained her buzz word as Bointon, the only civil engineer on the team and often single handed, travelled the country advising dozens of Mongolian contractors how to upgrade 60 year old Russian built structures ranging from electricity substations to slum community heating systems.
“They wanted someone with several years’ international experience,” she says. “But other contenders didn’t seem to relish the staple diet of boiled sheep and noodles, so I got the job.”
“This fabulous opportunity is showing me how engineers have globally transferable skills and the strong influence they can exert on remote communities” she adds.
The judges summed her up as: “Effervescent, passionate and highly articulate.”
- Graduate civil engineer, Mott MacDonald
- First class MEng Cambridge University
Ed Dablin willingly admits to being an engineering geek and a technophile.
He enthusiastically organises stag-style weekends for his male colleagues, not to Amsterdam or Dublin, but in Newcastle and Milau, central France, just to admire their bridges. He has built a low voltage computer, which uses a third less energy for its size than conventional models, and he persuaded his mother to cover the family home with solar panels.
But there is nothing geekish about Dablin’s achievements at Manchester University.
As secretary for the civil engineering society, he spearheaded its resurrection from just 30 members to over 200, and helped raise an average £5,000 funding every year through organising engineering careers fairs.
In between winning a string of awards for academic excellence and for structural design, he competed in a 60km race from Keswick to Barrow in the Lake District, not once but twice. “My personal best is 8 hours, 45 minutes” he boasts.
A first class MEng in civil and structural engineering helped secure the 23 year old graduate employment with Aecom, where one of his initial achievements was to persuade five fellow engineers to run the annual Keswick to Barrow race with him. But this time he helped raise over £1,000 for charity.
While resting between multi-marathons, Dablin has worked on the design, assessment or inspection of some 15 bridges. His proudest design to date is the innovative repair solution on a weakened, 100 year old road bridge which involved the use of structural polystyrene blocks to infill redundant spans.
Future achievements will include, he asserts, helping to come up with engineering solutions to climate change, and building his own eco-friendly home.
The judges described him as a very committed engineer, with strong technical ability and not afraid to get his feet wet.
- Graduate civil engineer, Aecom
- First class MEng Manchester University
Henry Tayler is clearly a young man who revels, not in getting his feet wet, but his hands dirty.
He dismantles and rebuilds jeeps and motorbikes; has City & Guilds qualifications in chain sawing and driving tractors and diggers.
Plus he has a first class MEng from Oxford University.
At Oxford, Tayler served as chairman of the university’s joint consultative committee, representing the views of over 600 fellow students from the entire engineering faculty.
It was Tayler’s design work on the foundations of a prestigious national museum building in Doha, for the Qatar government, that caught the eye of the all-engineering judging panel.
It seems the fresh 23 year old graduate had dared to question the “value engineering” quality of the architect’s suggestion for a key retaining wall that surrounded imported sand dunes.
He noticed that the lower section of this curved and stepped concrete wall would always be underwater, so could be replaced with a much simpler, less ornate support.
“My argument was taken right to the top and the architects changed their minds, saving substantial time and cost,” he proudly told the judges. “I never imagined I could be given the opportunity to take on such responsibility so early in my career.”
“Very bright and a good technical engineer,” said the judges. “He exhibits a refreshingly challenging approach to design work.”
- Graduate geotechnical engineer, Arup
- First class MEng Oxford University