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Jessica is the Construction, Engineering & Design Undergraduate of the Year 2015 with Laing O'Rourke! She never thought that she'd win let alone be planning a two month trip to Australia!

The process began for me when I visited the TARGETjobs stall at a careers fair during my first year of university. Over the next couple of years I received weekly emails of job opportunities in my sector, including industrial and summer placements. While these were always interesting to read, I was not in the position where I could utilise these opportunities as I already had placements arranged. However, receiving emails with the words ‘Undergraduate of the Year Awards’ in the subject line did draw my attention. As I read through the emails and information provided, I thought this was a great opportunity and was highly impressed by what I had read about previous winners. Whilst reaching the final never even crossed my mind at this stage, I had been through a similar process for a slightly different award the year before which had gone a lot better than expected. Therefore, after careful consideration and discussions with various peers, I decided to enter into the competition, with the opinion that it was likely to be an invaluable experience and I had nothing to lose. Little did I know; I had a lot to gain!

The application stages were nearing the end when I chose to apply, so I had little time to fill in my personal details and answer the award-specific questions from the sponsor, Laing O’Rourke. Admittedly, I was so pre-occupied at work that I would have missed the completion deadline had I not received a call from one of the TARGETjobs events team reminding me to finish my application, so thank you for that! The questions were thought provoking and challenging to answer within the word limit; yet they allowed me to express my views on two topics which I am very interested in so I enjoyed completing them. By contrast, I found the online tests really difficult and thought there was no chance I would be continuing to the next stage!

A couple of weeks later I received an email informing me that I had been invited to the assessment day with Laing O’Rourke at one of their offices. Nervous yet excited, I travelled up towards Nottinghamshire for what was a challenging but thoroughly enjoyable day. It was great to share experiences with the other candidates and to meet the assessors, some of which had been in a similar position to all of us not so long ago. We were even fortunate enough to gain an insight into the very technical and innovative engineering techniques through a factory tour of the Explore Industrial Park, where the off-site manufacturing takes place. Regardless of the next stages of the competition, I felt very grateful for the experience and it was wonderful to meet so many talented people; both assessors and fellow students.

Following on from this, the ten finalists received an email inviting them to the Grand Final in Canary Wharf; this was a shock to say the least! Receiving the invitation through the post and discovering that Fiona Bruce would be presenting was the icing on the cake as I have been inspired by her work over the last few years. The day itself was wonderful. Sitting in a room surrounded by so many talented, ambitious and hard-working finalists was extremely motivational; not to mention the attendees from sponsor companies who have all achieved great success in their careers. It was a great networking opportunity and very inspiring, particularly as a woman hearing Fiona’s speech and watching a high number of females collecting the top prize! Hearing my name called out as the winner of my category was totally unexpected, particularly as I was the only non-engineer, so thought I would be completely ruled-out! Sharing the stage and receiving an award from Fiona was surreal and didn’t sink in for quite some time, in fact I still don’t think it has! The other candidates were fantastic and I would like to congratulate them all and wish them every success in their careers.

Now that the competition is over, planning for my journey to Australia to complete a 2-month placement with Laing O’Rourke is just beginning! I cannot wait to get out there and I will make sure I keep you posted along the way.

Thank you to TARGETjobs, Laing O’Rourke and everyone else involved in the process. My advice to those of you, who may be reading this and are in a position to apply for the awards, would be to ‘go for it!’ There is absolutely nothing to lose and you may end up surprising yourself just like I did. Good luck!

We catch up with Jessica Dowdy who won the 2015 Construction, Engineering and Design Undergraduate of the year Award.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since I first found out about the Undergraduate of the Year awards and what a year it has been! Now that I’ve got emails regarding this year’s awards hitting my inbox, it’s bringing back memories of how this incredible experience started.

As I was already in the process of completing my year in industry, most of the emails I received from TARGETjobs were interesting to read yet no longer relevant for me. However, seeing a couple of emails with the words ‘Undergraduate of the Year Awards’ in the subject line quickly grabbed my attention. After reading through the entry criteria online and gaining more of an insight into how the competition worked, I realised this was too good an opportunity to miss so entered myself right away. The previous year I had been entered into a competition for a different award so I knew how beneficial this process would be for networking and for developing my own interpersonal skills. This competition involved filling in personal information and answering questions by the sponsor, Laing O’Rourke which is then followed by a series of online tests. Personally, I didn’t feel the tests had gone well at all so I pushed it all to the back of my mind as I highly doubted I would be progressing any further. As you can imagine, it took me by great surprise when I received the email informing me that I had passed this round and was invited to partake in an assessment day – I was ecstatic! The assessment day was such a great experience, not only was it an opportunity to develop my interview techniques and network with other students but we were also fortunate enough to gain an insight into the very technical and innovative engineering techniques through a factory tour of the Explore Industrial Park, where the off-site manufacturing takes place. The other candidates were highly impressive and extremely talented which made the day even more enjoyable.

The talent I was amongst during this assessment was of such a high standard, I couldn’t believe it when I discovered I had made the final 10! Receiving the invitation through the post and learning that Fiona Bruce would be presenting was the icing on the cake as I have been inspired by her work over the last few years. The day itself was wonderful. Sitting in a room surrounded by so many gifted, ambitious and hard-working finalists was extremely motivational; not to mention the attendees from sponsor companies who have all achieved great success in their careers. It was a great networking opportunity and very inspiring, particularly as a female – hearing Fiona’s speech and watching a high number of females collecting the top prize! Hearing my name called out as the winner of my category was totally unexpected and so surreal. It wasn’t until the later stages of the evening when other candidates mentioned it that I realised I would now be given the opportunity to complete an international summer placement with Laing O’Rourke in Australia. I had never thought I would actually win therefore this had not even crossed my mind – I couldn’t quite believe it!

Shortly after the excitement of the awards (and once it had finally sunk in!), I began planning my trip. During the summer I flew over to the land down under for 7 weeks where I worked at LORAC’s Sydney office on a rail infrastructure project located within Sydney Suburbs. The experience was invaluable, allowing me to enhance my knowledge substantially within my sector whilst meeting hugely inspirational people and developing my own personal skills through the process. Everyone at LORAC was extremely welcoming and made me feel like part of the team, allowing me to have my own responsibilities and tasks from the get-go. Hopefully one day in the future I will have the opportunity to return on a more permanent basis, but for now the focus is to complete my degree and continue building for my career through maximising every opportunity that comes my way to ensure I am continuously learning and improving my portfolio to make sure I stand out from the crowd.

I would encourage anyone in the position I was in last year would be to apply for the award relevant to you because there is nothing to lose but so much to gain – and to enjoy the process while you are doing so!

Thank you again to TARGETjobs and Laing O’Rourke for the fantastic opportunity and for a well organised and thoroughly enjoyable experience.