7 mins read

Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years’ Time?

25 January 2023

Evelyn Sung’s five-year journey from WSP Graduate Engineer, to using technology to assist with environmentally friendly and community focused design.

Evelyn is a Transport Engineer in the Planning and Mobility (P&M) Team. After completing her degree in engineering and architecture, she started her career with WSP as a Graduate Engineer in the Roads, Aviation, and Civil (RAC) team. Realising that she wanted something more creative, and more closely linked to community outcomes, she was able to connect with mentors in other business groups, and transition into her current role in the P&M team, where she is currently working on NSW’s Zero Emissions Bus rollout. She is also interested in digital tools, and their application to urban design and planning, and is now studying computational design, which she hopes will help engineers and architects measure the human side of design, to bring a greater focus to how cities, towns and transport can create a better human experience.

Beginning a career at WSP

When she was first considering career choices, Evelyn’s school guidance counsellor suggested she could either go for something that she was passionate about, which at the age of 17/18 was most likely still a mystery or go into a field she knew she’d be really good at and home in on her existing skills – these happened to be in the field of maths and design.

Having grown up admiring the work of Santiago Calatrava, a renowned engineer and architect who was famous for his seemingly gravity defying designs, Evelyn decided she could do both. “I didn’t want to give up what I was good at or what I was passionate about, so I decided to study engineering and architecture. At the time, my university was offering a degree with this unique combination.” she says.

When a friend shared that a position was available at WSP, Evelyn knew she had to apply. “I had only just graduated from uni about two months before and I was happy just chilling and working in retail, but an opportunity presented itself and I had to grab it.”

“At the time I think the company had just become WSP from Parsons Brinckerhoff, so they were going through a period of transition, but if I was looking for a position in companies or firms now, WSP would definitely present the lively working culture I was after, and a company that reflects progressive values that align with my own… We do a lot of work on renewables and we try to solve issues relating to society and climate change which is particularly evident with the projects we do and the development of the Future Ready program.”

Projects, finding good mentors, and purpose

Starting off in the RAC team was challenging for Evelyn and it certainly had its ups and downs. “There were these crazy projects that I feel really privileged to have been part of as a young engineer, such as the WestConnex Tunnel. These are design projects, that is, they are delivered prior or during the construction process, so if you are someone who enjoys participating in or witnessing how your designs can immediately change a city, RAC could be the team for you.”

“It’s just getting exposure to so many people in different fields and how everyone works together to deliver on a project that is really eye-opening… I probably didn’t realise when I graduated that there are so many different types of engineers and an engineer can go down so many different paths. You can pretty much find them all at WSP.”

However, as Evelyn began to learn more about RAC and the other paths available at WSP, she realised that the RAC team wasn’t the right fit for her. She wanted to use her creativity more and make a more direct impact on community and environmental issues. Luckily, she had found mentors from other teams, who enabled her to understand her options better, and make the transition over to P&M.

“The three mentors I had at WSP were Damien Cutcliffe for all the technology side of things. Michael Tyrpenou, who was the Human Centred Design Lead at the time and a thought leader on topics such as accessibility for people with disability or safety for women and children in the cities, and then there was Brian Smith. He is in my team now, and worked for a long time in bus planning, and is someone who displays genuine care for the community and his work in servicing the public. I was very fortunate to be able to connect with these people even though I was not working adjacently to them day-to-day. Their roles represent an extension of my own values and helped me realise the types of impact I wish to make with my career.” Evelyn says.

“I don’t know if it’s like a millennial or young zoomer thing, but I definitely feel better knowing that I’m somewhat contributing to and solving some of the issues that are important to me. It’s one thing to feel anxiety about climate change and a lot of the inequalities and existential issues that we have and feel utterly helpless, but then if I’m able to help a little bit in tangible and meaningful ways it makes a big difference to my mental health and self-esteem.”

Transitioning to Planning & Mobility

In the Planning & Mobility team, Evelyn has been working on the Zero Emissions Bus (ZEB) rollout in NSW “You really have a lot of opportunity to enhance society, there’s a lot of talk about community and sustainability,” she says. “I am still very much that engineer architect, like I’m analytical, but also creative, so that part has not left me.”

According to Evelyn, working with such new technology still has its challenges.

“It was really intimidating, I didn’t know anything about the intricacies of bus operations or anything, and it was also coupled with an emerging and rapidly evolving field in zero-emission transport. I am sure the team also felt challenged, but with an attitude that we are going to do something great, it ended up being a really rewarding project.”

With Zero Emission Buses, the day to day can involve research and analysis to decide the best technology solutions, modelling to see how far the new buses can run, how they might be impacted by Australian conditions, and what’s possible to achieve in the short, medium, and long term. “It’s really a lot of problem solving,” Evelyn says. “There is creativity in painting and art or stuff like that, but there’s also creativity in finding solutions to these problems, and that was what was really fun. We’re also really supported by colleagues in the US and Canada and around the world who are ahead in their field, and we often get advice from them to then come up with solutions that we can confidently tailor to Australia.”

A new focus on digital

Throughout her time at WSP, Evelyn has been involved in WSP’s Pathways program (Soon to be renamed WSP Emerging Professionals Network), which is a platform for early career professionals to network and build their professionals skills through events, programs, and projects. One such event was a talk on Architecture in the age of Artificial Intelligence, which sparked Evelyn’s more recent interest in technology and its applications for human centred design.

“I think the new generation of engineers or architects are going to have to progressively update ourselves with new tools and new ways of doing things, and that also involves understanding data, knowing how to code and then deciphering new ways of interpreting things,” she says. “That’s not just WSP or engineers in general, I think the whole world is going to have to evolve in that direction.”

Evelyn has now begun a degree in Computational Design. “It’s kind of in the intersection of architecture and engineering and computational design or computer science,” she says. She can work it in with her full-time role, thanks to her very understanding team, and the option to work flexible hours and locations.

She hopes that Computational Design can change how we look at projects, to shift the focus toward a more social and human design philosophy. “It’s something that’s not really tangible and measurable, and therefore that sometimes doesn’t get a lot of focus on projects, so I’ve heard an outcome of this Computational Design course is a lot of the ways that we could really quantify and highlight things that might be important for the community.” she says.

Advice for Graduates

Of her time as a WSP graduate, Evelyn says it was the experience of having a large group of grads and young professional connections who she got to interact with often that helped her to feel supported.

For those who are at the start of their journey’s Evelyn says, “Give yourself a lot of time and patience to figure yourself out. I don’t think I really knew who I was at 17 when I was applying to university, and I am still unsure at 27 with a couple years of working experience under my belt. There is no shame in admitting that you are still figuring things out, but you owe it to yourself to commit to taking steps that feel authentic to you. Our society is also rapidly changing, take time to also pause and reflect on what the current world needs and recalibrate if required.”

“I think it was important for me to figure out what I value and how to engage with that at work. Ask yourself what actions you can take to make your relationship with your job more deliberate, and what you can change to make you feel more inhabited in your role.  I knew in the long term my efforts would be best directed to areas that I am passionate about and where I believe in the impact of the work that I am doing; that’s where you’re more likely to take initiative and be happy to contribute.”

She also recommends not being afraid to develop range before committing to an area to specialise, and to make connections with a diverse variety of people to gain different insights, perspectives, and friends.

Sometimes finding the right people that see you for you, and a supportive environment will be the encouragement and support you need on the journey ahead and give you the courage to take a leap of faith when the time comes.

Interested in applying for WSP’s Graduate Program? Visit our Graduate Page for more information.

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