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Problem solving and passion drive Student Award winner Sabrina Wong
Sabrina Wong is one of three winners of the ACE New Zealand Student Award for 2021. She is in her fourth year of a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) and Bachelor of Commerce conjoint degree at the University of Auckland, majoring in civil and environmental engineering, finance and commercial law. She talks to us about what drew her to engineering and the key takeaways from her internship at Aurecon.
Why did you choose to study engineering?
My passion for engineering has evolved in the past four years – I’ve found myself redefining the meaning of engineering time and time again. In high school I thrived in calculus and physics, so engineering was the apparent choice. When I got to university, I realised I was drawn to those engineering related subjects because I love problem solving.
But problem solving is only half of the equation for me – the other reason I’m drawn to engineering is because it’s at the forefront of improving people’s lives. Creating safer cycling lanes, greener buildings, cleaner water, and pushing the boundaries of optimisation – all as our population continues to expand. And as technology rapidly grows, people rapidly change to adapt. The ever-changing variable of humans is what drives my fascination and curiosity for the world.
Can you tell me about your internship at Aurecon?
Aurecon opened my eyes to the industry. It’s full of engineers who are willing to help you develop. At Aurecon, the biggest takeaways were the importance of health and safety, and the diversity of thought within the engineering industry. I learned to appreciate H&S to the extent that I would give my full attention to university lab inductions. Diversity of thought is an incredible notion, I never quite understood why we measured diversity by the colour of our skin, or by our gender. Diversifying the way we think redefined the meaning of diversity for me – it seriously makes so much more sense!
What are your career goals? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
People are my passion, so my goal is to improve the lives of others and engineering is the technical avenue. But I want to work with people more directly. In engineering school, I am the President of Project Wellbeing, a student-led wellbeing initiative. In the real world, I see myself working in engineering for a few years, moving onto management consulting, and then eventually start a not-for-profit organisation. An inspiration is Lisa King, the Kiwi-Asian female entrepreneur and founder of Eat My Lunch.
Can you tell us more about yourself outside of engineering?
My other love is management consulting. Again, it’s the problem solving, team focus and variety for me – the commerce equivalent of engineering. I am part of the University of Auckland Case Programme, through which I’ve learned the value of shared purpose, feedback and changing my working style to improve team performance. I have represented the university in competitions in Australia and have won a national case competition. However, the most rewarding aspect of the case programme is paying my learnings forward.
What would you say to anyone thinking about studying engineering?
If you are passionate about people, then engineering is a great choice! You can always just learn the maths and physics along the way.
What advice would you give to other students thinking about applying for the ACE New Zealand Student Award?
If you want to go for it, speak from your heart. You can’t fake a real story. Be professional but be vulnerable.