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Young Challengers

Over 170 industry leaders braved snow-hit London to celebrate the best of Britain’s young engineers at NCE’s annual Graduate Awards earlier this month.

“The quality of our near record 120 entrants was exceptionally high this year and it was very tough choosing just six finalists,” judges chairman and NCE editor Antony Oliver told the audience at the awards lunch. “But it is vital, especially with the current challenges facing our industry, that we recognise and reward civil engineering’s brightest new talent – our profession’s future leaders.”

Directors from all 14 of the award’s sponsors had judged the entries, from engineers who graduated last year, before interviewing the top six. They were looking for all-round academic and engineering skills, with a strong emphasis on enthusiasm, initiative and leadership potential.

Overall Graduate of the Year, Arup’s Stuart Ross, received a cheque for £1,500 and a specially crafted trophy. The judges described him as “focused, driven and accomplished”.


Stuart Ross

An academic whizzkid now fast developing his technical skills to become an all-round civil engineer, is how you could sum up our NCE Graduate of the Year Stuart Ross.

He won over 20 academic and ICE awards during his five years at Dundee University plus, of course, a first class MEng.

Structural design, geotechnical and ICE competition prizes; awards for maths, academic excellence and distinguished contribution to university life. These, and lots more certificates crowd the walls of his Glasgow flat.

His proudest award, he says, was won for being top of his 70-strong civils class for each of his five years at uni. Yet his most interesting university achievement must be his research into the structural and material properties of the human eye.

“Modelling the eye’s cornea, to see how it behaves under loading, could lead to more accurate pressure tests for glaucoma,” Ross explains. “The cornea performs structurally a bit like a masonry arch bridge and, to me, is pure civil engineering.”

“Our engineering skills can have important applications in biomechanics, leading to a greater understanding of how our bodies react to stresses and strains,” enthuses the 24 year old Arup graduate.

“We should challenge the perception of what civil engineering is all about and not get stuck in traditional roles. We have the skills to solve a whole range of human problems, including major medical challenges.”

His research was considered so important that the university allowed him to carry out tests on real human eye samples imported from Italy. And the results were considered so cutting-edge that he had a paper published in a leading medical journal.

“We should challenge the perception of what civil engineering is all about”

Stuart Ross

At Arup, Ross has been involved in numerous design projects, ranging from rail station upgrades to wind turbine bases. His immediate target is to become chartered as soon as practical, so his hope is to shave six months off the standard training programme to achieve it within two years from now.

Our graduate superstar does, however, find time outside academia to train as an ICE schools ambassador, talking so far to over 150 school children. And his extensive involvement with local ICE activities include being elected as Scotland’s representative on the Institution’s graduate and student network committee.

Ross hopes to use the recognition his award will bring to further the cause of today’s graduates. “We are a vital part of the industry but are undervalued, with so much of our potential not being tapped,” he says. “Graduates should be given more responsibility and, if presented with new ideas, we are much more likely to run with them than are more experienced engineers.”

“The long-term challenges facing our industry are even more important to today’s graduates, as it will fall on us to solve them,” he points out. “We must lobby the ICE and industry to ensure that this recession does not lead to a skills gap. We must be around to face those industry challenges.”

Despite such an extensive academic CV, Ross does admit to a few challenges with his current work/life balance. “My girlfriend insists that I do no engineering related activities on at least one day in the week,” he concedes. But he is less willing to reveal how often he complies.

“Focused, driven, accomplished – a young man with a plan,” is how the judges summed up our winner.

  • Graduate civil engineer, Arup
  • First class MEng Dundee University

At the awards presentation lunch, held in the ICE’s Great Hall, over 170 industry leaders applauded as six of the construction’s industry’s brightest new graduates won prizes.

The 2010 NCE Graduate Awards are sponsored by: Aecom, Amey, Arup, Atkins, BAA, Balfour Beatty, Capita Symonds, The Institution of Civil Engineers, Mott MacDonald, MWH, Parsons Brinckerhoff, URS Scott Wilson, Transport for London and WSP Group

President’s comments

“The NCE Graduate Awards have gained a very high reputation in our industry,” ICE President Peter Hansford told the audience. “It is pleasing and reassuring to see so many companies here willing to support graduates and these awards.”

“This is an exciting time to be starting out on a career in civil engineering,” he said. “There is a growing acceptance in society of the value of our infrastructure and a recognition that our health and prosperity depend on it.”

“But the fact that infrastructure is changing, with an urgent need to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions starting to make radical changes to the way our industry operates,” he continued. “Less carbon does though not mean less construction. It means creating different forms of infrastructure using different methods and materials.”

“In these challenging economic times, companies are understandably finding recruitment decisions more difficult and around 12% of last year’s civil engineering graduates are still without a job,” Hansford acknowledged. “But we must learn from previous recessions and not lose your generation of engineers.”

“The graduate engineers here today represent the future of our profession,” he said. “It is for the engineers of today to deliver value to society by encouraging and inspiring the engineers of tomorrow.”

“The ICE is working closely with industry to find ways to secure the supply of engineers we need for the future. Industry in turn must continue to recruit and develop them. That future really does depend on us.”

  • Peter Hansford, ICE President

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