|Jessica with her 2014 WiP award and receiving the 2015 Undergraduate of the Year Award|
Jessica Dowdy, who has just completed her third year of the BSc Construction Project Management won the 2014 Women in Property National Student Awards and received her award at a formal dinner in September last year. After winning the South East Regional Awards in June 2014, she successfully competed against 86 students nominated from 47 universities to become one of 11 regional finalists. During the regional heats the students present and are questioned on, a chosen piece of coursework, allowing them to discuss the discipline they are studying. The national finalists then go before a panel of industry specialists who challenge them on topical and industry issues.
In April this year, Jessica went on to scoop the prize for Construction Engineering and Design Undergraduate at the TARGETjobs 2015 Undergraduate of the Year Awards. This time, Jessica went through a series of online tests, interviews and assessment exercises to eventually emerge as the winner. Jessica's award was one of 12 presented during the finals and each award was sponsored by a top graduate recruiter, in this case it was Laing O’Rourke who chose Jessica as the winner of their category and awarded her an international internship with the firm.
I caught up with Jessica to find out a bit more about her background and what the future might hold (click on the blue links for more information)...
Why did you choose to go into construction?
My family have a business in construction and my dad has always developed properties we own and live in which has always interested me and made me want to follow in his footsteps. I used to watch home improvement shows as a child and have an interest in properties/developments I came across and from there my passion grew. I thoroughly enjoy the concept of having a career in an industry which is as innovative and challenging as this one.
Why did you choose to study at Oxford Brookes?
Whilst I enjoy studying, I’ve always found experience is incredibly important, particularly in the construction industry. Therefore, when deciding on which university to put first on my university application, it was the industrial placement element of the Oxford Brookes course that put this course ahead of the rest. Other factors included the good reviews I had read, league table ranking, campus facilities and the idea of living in the beautiful city of Oxford.
What was it like when you arrived and started the course?
Starting the course was made really easy and relaxed by having helpful and supportive staff and induction days where all the students on the course got to know each other. We were given clear information regarding course content and structure. It was clear from the offset how passionate and engaging the lecturers were, which made the whole learning process a lot more enjoyable. There is a great depth of knowledge within the Brookes teaching staff and the experience they share with you the students is invaluable. Having a good support system where students feel comfortable to approach staff with any course-related queries or problems they have is something the department does very well.
Looking back over your time at Brookes so far, what have been the highlights and challenges?
The last 3 years have all been a great experience, in terms of learning and meeting people on the course and within the industry. However, a specific highlight for me was receiving an email during the summer break between first and second year informing me I had won the ‘Best Student Award’ for my first year results. I had no idea this award even existed so it was a huge surprise but I was so pleased that my hard work had paid off. Other highlights include working together with my peers to produce high quality work and going to Amsterdam as part of the Integrative Project module, which was great fun!
The main challenge was my role as President of the OBUCS. Whilst the hard work paid off in the end and we managed to hold some great networking and social events, it was a real struggle to generate interest initially and to create a team with the same levels of commitment to help run the society. It also took time away from my studies but I wouldn’t change that as I learnt a lot during my time as president and met some great contacts along the way. Overall, I would describe my experience as challenging yet incredibly rewarding.
How has your year out in industry been? Do you think it offers students an advantage in the workplace?
Definitely, I am a strong believer that there is nothing more valuable in this industry than hands-on experience. I have loved my placement year, looking back now to when I started my knowledge has improved significantly. I have spent most of my placement in a site-based role which has enabled me to really develop an understanding of the actual construction progress on a day-to-day basis and gain an insight into the overall co-ordination and management of subcontractors to deliver a high quality project, whilst keeping on programme and within budget. Overall I have enhanced my knowledge and increased my skillset which I feel puts me in a far better position to complete my final year and begin work as a graduate.
How did it feel to win both the Women in Property and the Undergraduate of the Year awards? Why did you decide to enter?
Winning both of these awards was a huge shock but an absolute honour and by far my greatest achievements. For the Women in Property Award, I was nominated by the department based on my first year grades. With the Undergraduate of the Year Award, I actually entered myself after receiving an email from TARGETjobs about it and thinking I had nothing to lose (and a lot to gain it turns out!). I am so grateful to both organisations and the sponsors for providing these opportunities for personal growth for young students embarking on the start of our careers. I would advise other students who have the opportunity to enter a competition to do it because there is nothing to lose!
Bearing in mind your experience, what advice would you give to someone starting the course?
My advice would be to really enjoy your time and make the most of the opportunities along the way. There are so many different ways you can build on your portfolio over the next four years, gain knowledge and experience or meet contacts which will become invaluable. Most importantly, I would advise a good balance between social activities and working – it’s easy to get caught up in the university life but make sure you invest your time into your studies as well because you can’t go back. The next four years are crucial for you in terms of your career and Brookes are particularly good at giving students opportunities to network and enhance your personal skills – but it is up to you as an individual to make utilise them.
What have you got planned for the next 5 years, career-wise?
This is a tricky question! As a student nearing the end of my placement year, deciding on the next step in my career is something that crosses my mind on a daily basis. For the next year I will be focusing wholly on completing my degree, achieving the best grade I can. Following on from that, I will be looking to establish myself as a project manager whilst completing my APC. With an industry as diverse as the construction industry, it’s difficult to predict the future but I know the next five years will involve a lot of hard work, commitment and dedication on my pursuit towards a successful career within the industry.
For more information about our undergraduate courses, take a look at our website.