Joan Ko (BEnvEng(Hons) 2005, DipLang (Chinese) 2006) has dedicated her career to improving the sustainability of cities.
As a senior consultant with Melbourne firm, Arup, she works on projects that shape neighbourhoods and cities with the aim of making them better places to live in the long term.
“This year I worked with local councils in Melbourne’s north to help them understand what transport, social facilities, parks and utilities they have, and what they’ll need over the next 50 years,” Ms Ko said.
After completing a degree in environmental engineering at Monash, Ms Ko worked on water management and environmental risk assessment. A prestigious Gates Scholarship then took her to the University of Cambridge to do a Masters in Engineering for Sustainable Development. Her degree focused on climate change issues, just as climate change was gaining public attention in Australia.
“I worked in London for three years before returning to Melbourne where I’ve continued in sustainability policy, planning and strategy," Ms Ko said. "More and more, I’ve been looking at the finance and economic aspects of issues like water shortages, greenhouse gas emissions and access to jobs and services.
“I really enjoy being able to look at the big picture. It’s fascinating to make the connections across hard systems like roads and broadband, and soft systems like governance and culture. I like meeting new people and understanding their perspective of a problem."
Ms Ko credits her Monash engineering training with giving her a unique perspective in her work. When she was deciding on undergraduate courses she wanted a degree and a career that combined technical thinking with communication. Monash’s Bachelor of Environmental Engineering ticked all the boxes.
“It’s a fantastic degree that puts engineering in a strategic, ethical and multidisciplinary framework," Ms Ko said. "The people coming out of the course are good communicators, who are able to work in uncertainty.
“The most difficult part of my work is that it is usually long term. It’s about planning for new transport systems, culture change in organisations, or finding ways to retrofit millions of homes. Working on long term issues means that politics, lack of money, people being busy, all kinds of things get in the way.”
In 2013 Ms Ko was recognised for her success with a Monash Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award. Ms Ko can identify many highlights during her career so far.
“Last year I was the expert witness for a new planning policy in the City of Melbourne,” Ms Ko said. We put together the case that sustainability is important at the planning stage for buildings.
“It was the first time I had been called an ‘expert’—unexpected and gratifying recognition as a leader in an area I care about.”
Her advice to graduates interested in a similar career is to be open minded – there are ways to get involved with shaping a city, from policy making and consulting through to construction and local organisations.
“Start somewhere that will get you to meet different people and where you can learn new skills,” she said.
“Because there are so many niches, try not to commit to one too early. Do lots of different things in your first five or 10 years of work.
“I will consider my career a success if I can help make Melbourne, my home, a better and better place to live.”