Southern Cross University engineers are building a brave new world
Demand for the University’s engineering graduates has catapulted Northern Rivers’ talent across Australia and around the globe.
They bring with them a fresh perspective on construction and engineering – sustainable, renewable and innovative.
The Foundation Dean of Engineering is Professor Scott Smith who returned to Australia in 2013 to take up the lead role at Southern Cross after almost a decade working overseas.
He says the engineering degrees being taught at the Lismore campus are helping create professionals for the future. The engineering program also seeks to find workable solutions to real-life problems that engage with local industry and that have student input.
“One example of an industry engagement project is the incorporation of waste materials into concrete is a filler material in a bid to make concrete ‘greener’. In this case, we have teamed up with Lismore City Council to utilise the waste glass that they collect and crush. Using such locally sourced materials also lowers transportation costs and promotes sustainability right here in the Northern Rivers,” Professor Smith says.
Professor Smith’s research specifically focusses on the repair and rehabilitation of structures, how to make them last longer and support greater loads. During his decade working in Hong Kong he collaborated extensively with international researchers in countries such as the US, UK and China to develop new techniques.
“Southern Cross is on the cutting edge of engineering in Australia using an innovative electrical technique from a PhD researcher I am co-supervising, where we can send a pulse of electricity through part of a structure, and based on the electrical response we can actually measure the health of the structure and where there are signs of weakness and distress, particularly in buildings and bridges. The same technology can also be used for creating sustainable energy via energy harvesting and my colleagues at Southern Cross have several programs underway to develop this technology.”
With that sort of innovative thinking driving the Engineering program at Southern Cross University it is little wonder it boasts a 98 per cent employment rate for its graduates.
“Our engineering program has grown in reach and stature and we are incredibly proud of the very high employment rate of our first cohorts,” Professor Smith says.
“The regional location as well as the outstanding engineering testing facilities at Southern Cross University have attracted top academic talent and talented students to undertake locally relevant and globally impactful research.”
Home-grown civil engineers can be found working on infrastructure projects in the United Kingdom, Northern Territory and urban Australian cities, while local companies in Lismore, Casino and Lennox Head are also reaping the benefits of attracting the region’s passionate engineering leaders.
Woodburn local Corelle Forster is one of three Southern Cross University graduates working on the Ballina Highway Project, a major initiative in Northern NSW as part of the Pacific Highway upgrade.
“I get to work with planners and construction crews to build roads and bridge structures and it’s a very rewarding process to see the job from start to finish,” said Ms Forster, who previously worked an office job in Parkes before moving with her husband to Northern Rivers to study for a career change.
Civil Engineering graduate Dale Lindley landed a graduate position in Bournemouth, United Kingdom in estate apartment construction and civil design and lived his dream of working and travelling abroad. When the option arose to renew his working visa, the pull of the gorgeous Northern Rivers climate, proximity to family and friends, and a contract to work on the highway upgrade was enough to call Mr Lindley home.
“I’ve loved the Northern Rivers ever since I moved in 2013 to study engineering after finishing school in Port Macquarie, and I found Southern Cross to have such family vibe where I made some really good mates who banded together to get through the course,” Mr Lindley said.
“The University is so supportive and we became friends with our lecturers who helped us through the course and who knew us all by name. It’s great to see what everyone has achieved since then.”
The Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Civil Engineering is now in its seventh year and taught by world-class academics in the purpose-built facilities at Lismore campus. The first crop of mechanical engineers will graduate later this year. From 2020 Southern Cross University will offer undergraduate engineering degrees online for the first time, opening up opportunities for others in regional, rural and urban locations around the country and broad to join one of Australia’s top-rated young universities.
In 2018 Southern Cross become the first in Australia to introduce Coastal Systems Engineering as a stand-alone undergraduate degree, with innovative majors in Coastal Geochemistry, Coastal Zone Management and Infrastructure Design and Management, using world-leading modelling technology. Students studying this degree have access to the living laboratory that is Lismore: the river city is located at the centre of the most active floodplain outside the tropics in Australia.
In the latest Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) results the University received five-star ratings in 14 disciplines including, but not limited to, Civil Engineering, Resources and Extractive Metallurgy, Earth Sciences, Environmental Science and Management, Ecology and Forestry Sciences and performed at or above ‘world standard’ in 23 different areas of research.
“These ERA results together with the high-calibre of graduates working in their chosen fields shows how ground-breaking engineering research taught by expert academics translates into excellent outcomes for students across multiple disciplines,” Professor Smith says.
World-leading engineering doctoral research at Southern Cross is attracting many international researchers to the Northern Rivers. Along with harvesting energy from motion and developing smart piezoelectric materials for structural health monitoring, other examples include developing new solar energy techniques; and co-generation of renewable energy and nutrients from waste materials.
A living laboratory for research
With campuses situated on the doorstep of World Heritage rainforests, reefs, beaches, estuaries, rivers, mountains and national parks, Southern Cross University is the perfect living laboratory for learning and research.
Senior Engineering Lecturer and systems sustainability expert Dr Ken Doust says through pushing boundaries of engineering knowledge, the learnings from our own backyard in the Northern Rivers are having a significant global impact.
One example is confronting the reality of floods in the Northern Rivers, and using the learnings from such difficult circumstances to create a whole-system approach locally, with the knowledge coming out of Lismore benefiting communities worldwide.
Following the 2017 flooding events, Dr Doust travelled to the Netherlands and Denmark to explore strategies for managing coastal estuaries and river catchments. He assessed how natural systems were being used to slow the pace of rushing floodwaters with knowledge from the trip informing a ‘whole catchment approach’ to flood preparation.
“At its core, Southern Cross is for the community, firstly through supporting business livelihoods in the aftermath of the most recent floods with emergency accommodation, respite office space and facilitating community forums,” he said.
“Now modelling capabilities and innovative research at the University’s new flood research centre enables testing new ideas and approaches to flood preparation and management, alongside the scientific community and local Landcare groups, farmers, land holders and Indigenous expertise, in collaboration with international flood researchers.”