Now there are five, all civil engineers, all in the family

It was probably a bit of both nature and nurture that led Katrina Browne to graduate with a Bachelor of Civil and Environmental Engineering (with honours) this month, the third generation of civil engineers in the family to graduate from the University of Auckland.

The Browne family, including three (almost four) civil engineers. From left, Mary (Katrina's grandmother), Allen, Murray, Katrina, Nathan, and Robyn (Katrina's mother).

It has become something of a family tradition. Katrina’s father Allen graduated in the 1990s, her grandfather Murray in the 1950s (when the school was based at Ardmore), her uncle Graham graduated in the 1980s. Her younger brother, Nathan, is currently in his third year of his BE, also studying civil engineering.

“I do wonder about it,” says Katrina, of the nature versus nature question. “There are so many career options and my brother and I are very different personalities. But with five of us all in the same family – and we’re not a huge family – you do wonder what the likelihood is of us all ending up in the same area of expertise.”

“I do wonder if I subconsciously picked up on some of the things my Dad was often talking about, even if I wasn’t particularly interested in those things at the time.”

She recalls a family holiday to the US, and her father raising a “super complicated question” about how deep the piles has been dug into the bedrock, which suggests that “once you start thinking about things the way an engineer does you never really stop, even on holiday”.

She’s following in her father’s conversational footsteps. “Now I drive past cuts in the side of the road where you can see the earth and I tend to ‘nerd out’, and think about what geological class the material is, or note down areas on long windy drives where the slope faces aren’t looking very stable.”

It took Katrina a while to decide what she would do for a career, having taken a range of papers at school, including agriculture, history and geography as well as the maths and the sciences. “But after talking to my father and grandfather and doing more research on career options, as well as several holiday stints at the civil engineering company my dad worked for, I decided on engineering.”

with five of us all in the same family – and we’re not a huge family – you do wonder what the likelihood is of us all ending up in the same area of expertise.

Katrina Browne

She initially took papers in construction management, environmental engineering, geomechanics and transport, then had an interview for an internship with consultants, WSP Opus. She was booked for an interview with the transport, geotechnical and environmental teams but as it turned out only the geotechnical team leader was available.

“This led me to work with the geotechnical team for my first summer internship and I absolutely loved it, there’s just something about being able to combine design work with getting out on site and getting your hands dirty!”

What makes the role of the civil engineer today different to that of her grandfather’s day? Lots more women, she says.

“My grandfather didn’t have any females in his class and my Dad had around 10-15%.” (Her father’s 1995 class photo confirms that only ten in a class of 71 were women.)

A lot of the basic theory has been consistent between what she, her father and grandfather learned at university, she says, although the priorities have shifted.

“While technology and software developments are coming along quickly to make our lives easier, we’re now facing the issue of sustainable designs that will last longer and are able to withstand natural disasters. Adapting the engineering we know to meet the changes in technology and urbanisation, especially here in Auckland, is a priority for the industry.”

Allen Browne says why both children have gone into Engineering is a mystery.
“But it’s cool to have both the kids working through the buildings where I’ve spent a lot of time”.

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