University can only prepare you for so much - with Githmi Amarasekera

Civil engineering student Githmi Amarasekera is a 2020 ACE New Zealand Student Award winner. We caught up with her to see how her study and career is progressing and why she chose to work as an engineer.  

Githmi Amarasekera

You interned at WSP, tell us about the internship 

I worked in the roading team at WSP in Auckland. Coming in as a student is a little intimidating. University can only prepare you for so much. On-the-job experience is invaluable. When I was asked to prepare my first Fatal Crash Report, I was a little nervous as I hadn't written anything like that before. The team at WSP provided me with some great feedback on my initial draft and gave me the confidence to keep going. They threw a lot of report writing my way, which helped me hone a style of writing.  

I remember being a little nervous to ask questions too in meetings, but I soon realised that no question is a 'silly question', so I was quickly able to join in on discussions and feel like I could get my point across. Plus everyone was so welcoming and understood that I was still a student.  

WSP gives you a buddy while interning. My buddy was a real inspiration to me. She was confident and knew her stuff. Plus she knew all the ins and outs of the building and working at a big firm like WSP. I learnt a lot from her.  

One of the best bits about the role was getting out from behind the desk and being in the community. I really enjoy talking and meeting people. That's probably one of the benefits of working for such a large firm; there's always someone interesting to talk to! 

Why did you choose to study engineering?  

I'd known since Year Seven that I wanted to be an engineer. My Dad's an engineer so he'd always encouraged me into the profession. He didn't push me at all, both my parents supported whatever path I chose. I'd always been good at maths in high school, plus I LOVED it, so it seemed natural that I'd follow my Dad's footsteps and choose engineering as a career. I look up to my Dad, he always had good things to say about engineering, so it was a no-brainer.  

Initially, I thought I wanted to get into the environmental side. But when we studied transportation at uni, I fell in love with it. I soon realised that was what I was passionate about!  

I chose to study in Auckland, over Canterbury, because of the better weather, but also because it's easier to get home to Wellington, and a friend was studying at Auckland at the time and loved it.  

Githmi and a friend in Bali

What are your career aspirations?  

Oh, gosh, good question! In five or ten years time, I see myself working probably still in roading as I love it so much. I do enjoy the people side of the industry too, so potentially in a management-type role. It will depend on how the next few years go!  

You're in your final year of study. What will you do once you've finished?  

I've been lucky enough to get a full-time role with WSP in the roading team. Based in Wellington too, which is awesome because I grew up in Wellington, so I'll be able to go home and live with Mum and Dad for a bit to get myself settled back into Wellington life.

Tell us more about yourself outside of engineering? 

My family is from Sri Lanka. We travelled there as a family two years ago, we try and go as often as we can, which isn't a reality at the moment, of course! When I was little, I used to do Sri Lankan drumming and dancing, but these days I don't do that 

I have just started to learn how to embroid. I made my friend's embroidered bags which they seem to like. I also tried my hand at painting - I painted a canvas and stitched over the top of it.  

Githmi's embroidery 

What would you say to anyone thinking about studying engineering?  

I'd say to anyone thinking about getting into engineering to make sure it's really what you want to do, and that you're passionate about it. I know that probably goes without saying, but engineering is hard unless you love it.  

What would you say to other students thinking about applying for the ACE New Zealand Student Award?  

Go for it! Just do it. It really helped me to have confidence in myself, especially my writing ability. The feedback you get from your tutor on your submission is worth its weight in gold. Plus the prize money is great! I plan on saving it for Summer.  

Connect with Githmi on LinkedIn

Next steps  

Githmi will be awarded the Student Award at the ACE Awards. Details about the awards to come.