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University can’t teach you everything – with recent graduate Sheryl Wong
ACE New Zealand 2018 Student Award winner Sheryl Wong discusses her leap from university to the professional industry and what it meant to win the Student Award.
YOU'VE SPENT A YEAR IN THE WORKFORCE SINCE STUDYING – HOW HAS THE TRANSITION GONE?
After completing my Bachelor of Civil Engineering, I took up a graduate engineer role with Holmes Consulting in Wellington. My role as a structural engineer involves the assessment of existing buildings and the development of new designs. When I think back to my school days, it almost seems inevitable that engineering would play a significant role in my life. During high school, I leant towards mathematics or science, but this was combined with a creative streak, and I was often found in the fashion department! I spent some time considering architecture or fashion design, but engineering won out due to in its balance of theory and practical construction aspects.
My first steps in the work environment were a little daunting. University is quite a similar setting to high school where you are in a classroom and learning is structured. Jumping into work can be completely different! Your university studies provide you with the basic theory and principals, but in reality, so much of the learning happens on the job. I have had massive support from everyone at Holmes Consulting, and that helped me quickly settle into the working environment.
TELL US HOW YOU CAME ABOUT APPLYING FOR THE STUDENT AWARD…
During my final year at the University of Canterbury, I wrote a report on my practical work experience as part of my Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree. When handing in the report, I spotted a pamphlet highlighting the benefits of entering the ACE New Zealand awards. I was keen on having my report entered and was grateful that it was one of the few chosen by our tutors for entry into the 2018 awards.
My report focussed on the professional internship at Holmes Consulting I had undertaken as part of my degree. It covered the projects I worked on, relation to my engineering studies, and general commentary on how the project teams and office functioned. As most graduates will realise, actually writing the report can turn out to be a long process when balanced with university coursework! However, once you've made time to complete it, entering it in the awards was a natural extension to this process.
I derived immense value from becoming an ACE New Zealand student award winner. For me, one of the most valuable parts of the awards process was being able to attend the annual conference and awards dinner. This allowed me to experience an industry conference, hear some inspiring speakers, network with people in the industry, meet the other awards finalists, and celebrate some fantastic engineering projects!
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THE INDUSTRY?
One of the most enjoyable aspects of working as an engineer is being involved in some amazing projects and seeing your designs come to life. Wellington is a great little city with some incredible buildings requiring innovation and creative thinking. Being able to discover how some of them were constructed and then looking at strengthening and improving them is a fantastic experience.
WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED IN YOUR WORKING CAREER TO DATE?
I think one of the major challenges for graduate engineers is coming to terms with the constant learning required. You quickly realise that university has not taught you everything! It can be easy to feel that you don't know enough, but in fact, every other graduate is at the same stage.
Building on this, there is no lack of industry support for learning at the start of your career. We are lucky as graduate engineers to have such a wide range of seminars and networking events that we can attend. These involve presentations by industry experts and are a valuable way of increasing knowledge. Holmes Consulting also supports our development through a programme called Holmes University which includes weekly readings and input from a technical director. These sessions cover a broad range of topics and often discuss real project examples.
As I said earlier, winning the ACE New Zealand student award in 2018 was a great kick start to my career as an engineer. If you are graduating from university with an engineering degree, I urge you to seriously consider putting your report forward for consideration for the awards. For me, the whole process proved to be an invaluable experience.
HOW DO YOU GET TO WORK?
I'm an avid cyclist. I got into cycling when I was studying in Christchurch, which was the perfect city for it. It's all flat! I was a little intimidated by the idea of cycling in Wellington because of the wind and the hills, but I now cycle most days and love it. I'll bike around the Wellington bays - sometimes with great difficulty because of the wind, but the view makes up for it.
Cycleways are slowly starting to pop up all over the city, and I'm finding motorists are becoming more aware of cyclists.
When the weather is too bad, I'll take the bus. I never need to wait long as I live near a bus hub, so buses come every five minutes or so.
TELL US SOMETHING INTERESTING ABOUT YOURSELF...
I love to dance! I have danced since the age of three and currently take adult ballet, jazz and contemporary classes.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT WELLINGTON?
I'm a lifetime Wellingtonian. I was sad when the central library closed last year, but I've been impressed by the pop-up libraries and facilities that have been introduced to keep libraries accessible. Arapaki on Manners Street is a gorgeous community hub!