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Opinion4th March 2019

Ark student stories: “University was a great experience, but a massive culture shock”

Nawid Daoud is a Graduate Structural Engineer at a global engineering design firm in Bristol. He’s currently shortlisted for the TARGETJob ‘Rising Star of the Year’ award.

But Nawid was once a student at Ark Burlington Danes Academy, joining in year 7 in 2006, just as Burlington Danes became the first ever Ark school. This National Careers Week, he speaks about his journey to becoming a successful engineer, and the teachers who helped him along the way.

I was always interested in working with buildings. Growing up in London you see inspiring architecture all around you. At first I wanted to be an architect, but I started to learn more about engineering watching programmes like ‘Megastructures’.

My teachers at Ark Burlington Danes were really supportive of my ambitions. My maths teacher, Mr Fairbairn, who I had for most of school right up to GCSE, had an engineering degree from Cambridge and managed to get me a two-week placement at the company he used to work for. Another teacher found me some work experience at Foster + Partners, the architecture firm.

It was a real adjustment to move from primary school to a big secondary like Ark Burlington Danes, especially as it was in the process of becoming an Ark school. It was interesting seeing how it changed as the years went on. The teachers went to a lot of lengths to make sure we were doing well. You realise, looking back, all those extra Saturday revision classes they ran for us – they were doing that in their own time. And when I couldn’t choose between taking music and design technology for GCSE, the music department ran an extra class after school because of the timetable clash, just for three of us. The teachers were really engaged, and it was a good school, with strong leadership.

And all the hard work paid off – I achieved three A* grades in my A Levels, and got a place at the University of Bristol to study Civil Engineering. Going to university was a great experience, but a massive culture shock, moving away from my family and leaving the west London bubble. Two of my good friends dropped out in the first year. Nobody in my immediate family had been to university before – that was the case for most of us at Ark Burlington Danes – and so there was no-one to prepare me for what it would be like.

At first, I second-guessed my choice and struggled to adjust to life away from home, with all the academia on top. But I stuck things out – it takes time to find new friendship groups and people that you can click with.

And now I’m working at AECOM, as a Graduate Structural Engineer. We design buildings such as universities, schools, and hospitals. I was recently nominated by my company as ‘Rising Star of the Year’ in the TARGETJob National Graduate Recruitment Awards 2019. It recognises recent graduates who have exceeded expectations, contributed to the success and culture of their organisation and demonstrated their ambition and potential for future success. I was lucky enough to be shortlisted, which means I get to go to a fancy award ceremony in April! I think my family is definitely very proud of me.

My company encourages us to take days to volunteer in our communities. I’m hoping to use one of my days to go back to Ark Burlington Danes and give a talk to students who are starting to think about their careers and the future. To any students currently thinking about a career in engineering, I would advise them to make sure they seriously consider all the options available to get into engineering. While doing a degree was right for me, at the time I didn’t know about all the other routes into the profession, such as apprenticeships. Now I’m in the industry, I have seen how lots of people get into engineering with degree apprenticeships. You just have to choose the path that works for you.