Forging a career in STEM: how an engineering degree helped alumna soar

13 March 2020
From chemical engineer to general manager
Engineering alumna Alana Newbrook went from studying chemical and biomolecular engineering at Sydney, to a role as general manager of a global firm. But her career journey hasn’t always been straightforward.
Alana with friends at her graduation.

Alana, far right, with her fellow chemical engineering alumni at her graduation.

Alana Newbrook’s role as a general manager at a consulting firm might not at first appear to be the traditional role an engineering graduate would take on. But it’s a path that’s becoming increasingly common, as engineering and project management roles begin to cross industry lines.

“I don’t know what you would classify as traditional these days, but I like to think of my career path as one that has offered me the best challenges and allowed me to grow,” says Alana.

Alana studied chemical engineering at the University of Sydney, graduating in 2004 with fond memories of her time here.

“University was a great experience both for learning and meeting lifelong friends. Graduating in the Great Hall was certainly a highlight!”

She took with her a set of key technical skills that would inform her career in STEM, as well as project management and risk assessment capabilities.

“My engineering degree has been the solid foundation for me to explore a multitude of different experiences; from small jobs, mega projects, design, construction, commercial, financial and legal aspects. It ensured I had a core set of skills to fall back on, and opened any door I have wanted to walk through.”

After graduation, Alana took up a position with Caltex, and from there moved to a role in a small petrochemical consulting company. It was here she got a taste for project management on a large scale, inspiring her to undergo further study by way of an MBA.

Now, as the general manager at WSP, a management and consultancy services firm, Alana leads a team of over 200 people in providing technical advice to clients in the public and private sectors.

Alana Newbrook

Alana Newbrook

“I oversee a large team who help clients to plan, finance, deliver and maintain some of Australia’s biggest infrastructure," says Alana, having recently re-joined WSP having previously worked there early in her career.

"Looking ahead at an uncertain future means WSP is committed to being future-ready.” 

In taking on the role as general manager of WSP’s Advisory Team, Alana utilises her engineering expertise to provide clients with strategic and technical advice.

“Our team partner with clients through the infrastructure lifecycle, solving challenges around strategy, policy, planning, investment decision making, performance, governance and asset management,” she adds.

Alana’s achievements are made more significant by the fact that she has forged a career across industries that have historically been male-dominated. Far from seeing this as a barrier, Alana attributes part of her success to being a ‘minority’.

“It’s actually a positive point of difference. It’s given me exposure to all sorts of experiences and allowed me to be a different voice at the table,” she says.

Being mentored by then Dean Judy Raper also had a positive impact on Alana.

“I was very fortunate to do my thesis under the tutelage of Judy Raper, who was a great female role model. She helped me early on in my career by giving me guidance around how to apply my technical skills to real world problems.”

She hopes her own experience will drive other young women to consider studying engineering.

“I’d love to help women choose this career path in any way,” she says. “Engineering can lead you anywhere you want to go in life and is a core foundation skill for the future of work.”

Even now, years after leaving the University, Alana credits her chemical engineering degree with giving her the knowledge that built a successful career in STEM and business.

“As a person it gave me the confidence to know I can achieve whatever I set out to do. Everything I’ve been fortunate enough to do stemmed from my time doing chemical engineering at Sydney.”

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