Faye Mendes-Underwood found a role that lets her pursue both her passions and her career.
Qualification: BE(Hons) in Civil Engineering
Role: Engineering Consultant at Beca
Faye Mendes-Underwood started her University of Auckland career at the Faculty of Science. She studied math, physics, chemistry, and bio. But after her first year, she discovered she’d like to put those skills to use as an engineer instead.
“I like being able to apply something and being able to see what you’ve done,” Mendes-Underwood said.
She spent the next few years studying hydrology, land surveying, and other engineering sciences. In her spare time, she was also an athlete. She played multiple sports at Auckland Girl's Grammar School, and continued to play these sports and other interfaculty sports at University of Auckland. “I played everything,” she says with a grin. In 2016, she was named University of Auckland’s Interfaculty Sportswoman of the Year.
She was also heavily involved in SPIES, South Pacific Indigenous Engineering Students. SPIES is a student-led association which was founded in 1993 to support Māori and Pasifika students in the Faculty of Engineering.
First, Mendes-Underwood was an education officer for Ngā Tauira Māori (NTM), the Māori students’ association. She ran haka practices, taught people songs, and did other things to create awareness of Māori culture. “We wanted to remind people: we’re here, this is our culture, we’re New Zealanders as well,” she said.
Later, she became president of SPIES. It was through SPIES that Mendes-Underwood got her first connection with Beca, the company she’d later work for. Beca’s an international engineering consultancy that’s headquartered in New Zealand and has a partnership with SPIES. The company mentors students to give them a sense of what it’s like to work in an engineering firm.
Through her Beca mentorship, Mendes-Underwood got a sense of how large-scale infrastructure projects come together. “Now, I work right next to the woman that mentored me,” Mendes-Underwood said. She currently works in Beca’s Development Infrastructure section, which assesses what buildings need before they’re built. This section designs infrastructure necessary to service subdivisions and land developments, like road and pipelines. Mendes-Underwood’s doing stormwater design to prevent Beca projects and sites from flooding.
She’d also like to continue doing some of the work she did at SPIES in Beca. She recently joined Te kakano He Totara, which is a new group within Beca that aims to bring Te Ao Maori / Matauranga Maori (The Maori world / Maori Knowledge) into the workplace and to normalise the use of Te Reo Maori. “Having a relationship with iwi is so important on a project,” Mendes-Underwood said.