Civil Engineering BE(Hons) graduate Kevin Liu is now a structural engineer at Mitchell Vranjes.
Qualification: BE(Hons) in Civil Engineering
Role: Structural engineer at Mitchell Vranjes
Kevin Liu had some idea that he was interested in buildings after his first year at the University of Auckland in 2016. He was good a maths, physics and logic, a good foundation for a successful career, but which path would lead to the career that was right for him?
What type of engineer can I be?
Kevin was 15 years old when his family moved to Auckland. He remembers looking out over the city skyline and thinking for the first time how amazing the built environment could be. He, like many students, didn’t know for sure how to turn his passion into work opportunities.
The Faculty of Engineering knows what an important decision it is choosing a specialisation. Toward the end of each year, first year (Part I) students are invited to nominate their preferred engineering specialisation for the remainder of their undergraduate study (Part II). Students consider their individual strengths and interests, and are placed according to minimum requirements, academic record, and the number of spaces available per specialisation. The University holds a number of events for first year engineering students to help make that decision, including industry specialisation evenings with working engineers, as well as drop-in sessions where students can speak to academics and other students in the department about where their study can lead them.
It was during these information sessions that structural engineering began to resonate with Kevin.
Summer research scholarship
Between years two and three, Kevin was invited to do a Summer Research Scholarship, which entails ten weeks of paid experience with a university researcher. Summer Research Scholarships are a great way to enhance your career opportunities by working with leading researchers.
Kevin worked with Dr Colin Whittaker, who teaches fluid mechanics, and hydraulic and coastal engineering. In addition to research, he took on a special role with Dr Whitaker, helping develop a curriculum for next year’s Civil 230 Fluid Mechanics course. As a third year, Kevin became one of Dr Whitaker’s tutors, helping him with labs. By the end of his third year, Kevin was motivated and ready to take on an internship.
Connecting with employers
In the first semester of his third year, Kevin attended The CDES STEM Career Expo. The two-day expo puts students in direct contact with employers from a diverse range of disciplines who are actively looking for University of Auckland students for internships and employment.
It was there that Kevin met a guest speaker from structural engineering firm Mitchell Vranjes. He was inspired by their holistic, in-house designs that turn engineering theory into functional art.
“Back then, year three, that was what I understood to be a structural engineer,” Kevin remembers. “I started the conversation with them at the expo. Later on I sent my information to them and they called me back for interviews.”
Kevin started interning for Mitchell Vranjes at their Grafton office in the second semester of his third year. He came in part time for study breaks, then again full time for the summer.
That summer was the best experience I’d ever had, being mentored by the design engineers here. They know you’re a student and that there are lots of things you don’t know how to do. They did a great job of explaining things and making sure you understand the fundamentals; how they wanted things to be done and what to look out for while you’re doing it.
During the internship, the firm asked him to come back full time after he completed his final year honours project.
“People in the office were very helpful with my final year project and electives,” Kevin says. “They were all happy to share what they did in the past and which papers would be helpful for a structural engineer in the future.”
Transition to work
After a year of working as a structural engineer, Kevin is directly involved with projects end-to-end. He’s currently working on the seismic strengthening of a 1960s building in order to turn the upper storey into a recording studio. He helped research the historic building drawings, investigate the site and come up with a solution that is up to current building standards.
“Now the building is going to construction, and as a design engineer I’ll also be in charge of the site supervision,” Kevin says. “This is my first building, and I’ve learnt so much going to site, seeing all these things that were previously on a piece of paper and that are now starting to get built. It’s just really exciting.”