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Student story

Chloe McKenzie

20 July 2023

Ngāi Tahu

'Working in a variety of roles allowed me to understand some of the broader aspects of engineering...'


(Ngāi Tahu)

Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in Civil Engineering

Chartered Professional Engineer, WSP Global, Houston, USA

Chloe believes she could not have picked a better time or place to study as a structural engineer than in post-earthquake Christchurch.

Born and bred in Bluff and educated at Southland Girls’ High School in Invercargill, Chloe was initially leaning towards a career in architecture, but the challenge of designing and building practical structures guided her towards engineering.

"I love the science, creativity and problem-solving involved," she says. "I’ve had a passion for structural engineering since Year 12 at high school. After I started the degree my interest only increased."

UC’s College of Engineering has long had a well-earned reputation nationally and internationally as a premier university to study the profession. Its students had the benefit of working in the "red zone" of Christchurch’s central business district, analysing, testing, and pulling apart structures damaged by the 2010/2011 earthquakes to see what went wrong and how to prevent it happening again.

"It was the most amazing time to study here," Chloe says. "I wouldn’t have liked to start a year earlier or a year later."

Chloe won a number of scholarships through various organisations, including one from the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre at UC, which took her to Stanford University to study as part of the First Nations’ Futures Program. The Program is an international alliance between Kamehameha Schools (Hawai'i), Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (Aotearoa New Zealand), Stanford University, and the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. Its partners share a common purpose of improving the well-being of their communities through developing leaders and stewarding their assets, including natural and cultural resources, in perpetuity.

Chloe also had a lot of involvement with UC’s Māori Development Team throughout her studies. "I have had a lot of support from the Team which has been great," she says. "I was involved with their mentoring and tutoring programme in my first few years and became a mentor myself."

In her final Professional year, Chloe was involved in redesigning two pedestrian bridges across the Avon River and was offered a graduate job by Opus International Consultants in its Bridge and Civil Structures Team.

Her work included completing bridge inspections, analysing existing bridges, planning strengthening works and repairs and designing new bridges.

"I really enjoyed how challenging my job was and I was learning at an accelerated rate. Working in a variety of roles on these projects allowed me to understand some of the broader aspects of engineering and to follow projects from initiation to completion."

One of Chloe’s highlights from her role at Opus was working on the Rakaia River Bridge – the longest bridge in New Zealand.

"We compared live data sourced from monitoring equipment with the computer models I developed. This helped us to develop a long-term monitoring programme for the bridge. It is the first time a project like this has been completed in New Zealand. For me, it involved learning computer modelling of bridges and a variety of hand calculations. It tested the knowledge I gained at university and its application in a practical situation."

After the Kaikōura earthquakes of 2016, Chloe had another opportunity to be a part of earthquake recovery work with Opus, which presented new challenges in immediate structural evaluations.

"I was heavily involved in the initial stages of the emergency response, managing and coordinating the inspections of the road bridges. I had to understand client expectations, keep information up-to-date, and ensure the safety of our team while collecting information promptly and efficiently (a lot of the inspections were completed with the use of helicopters until the road could be partially reinstated)."

Following this, Chloe was seconded to North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR), working with contractors on site and structural repair assessments. All of these experiences in the industry lead to her successfully becoming a Chartered Professional Engineer, and Member of Engineering New Zealand.

Now working with WSP Global, Chloe has made an exciting move to Houston, USA, and is currently working on a highway upgrade project that includes designing six new bridges.

"These bridges are a much larger scale than I am used to in New Zealand with one of the bridges being 310.9 m (1020 ft) long and 41.4 m (136 ft) wide.

"The foundational knowledge gained in New Zealand has been key in the speed that I have picked up the new design standards and computer software I am now using. I am very much looking forward to the new challenges that lie ahead of me."

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