When completing university studies it’s not unusual to spend hours on end sitting at a desk - but this was not at all the case for Waikato engineering alumna Heidi Ruegg.
Heidi studied practical chemistry and mathematics as part of a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), then from 2019 to 2021 studied a Master of Engineering, with support from a Callaghan R&D Fellowship. Both programmes involved applied learning on campus and provided multiple opportunities for industry experience.
Throughout her five years of study, Heidi says a highlight was her work placement with Evonik Peroxide Ltd, a hydrogen peroxide manufacturing plant based in Morrinsville. There, she was able to draw parallels between industrial chemical engineering and theory-based engineering which helped her approach assignments with a practical perspective, accelerating the overall learning experience and highlighting the importance of gaining on-site knowledge.
“At Evonik I studied potential growth sources in the plant water supply to help identify the cause of build-up in demineralised water filters. I enjoyed my first experience in an industrial environment and developed good interdisciplinary communication skills through my experience of working with production staff,” she says.
“During my second work placement, I conducted laboratory testing to identify and measure reaction products in process waste streams of the plant. I really enjoyed this project as it enabled me to gain a better understanding of the chemical reactions happening in the process. I also had the chance to develop my troubleshooting skills.”
In 2019 Heidi travelled to Germany with Evonik to work in one of its laboratories for six weeks. “This was an incredible experience,” she says. “Aside from gaining industry experience in the field of specialty chemicals, I really enjoyed meeting people within Evonik’s global network and learning about the company’s innovative projects and processes. This experience was very motivating and interesting as a beginning engineer.”
With this experience under her belt, she was an asset to her team during the Engineering Design Show, where students apply what they have learnt during their degrees in an industry-specific design challenge.
Looking back on her time at the University of Waikato, Heidi is grateful to have gained the amount of hands-on experience she did, helping her to thrive in her current position working in a chemical park as a process engineer for Evonik Operations GmbH in Germany. She moved to Germany after her Masters and is enjoying working on a large variety of process optimisation topics with her team.
“Waikato offered me the unique opportunity to work in close contact with lecturers and tutors. I loved that lecturers treated you independently and put time and effort into your education. I formed great friendships with several staff and was always comfortable asking for help.
“Also, the university’s connection with industry partners has enabled me to work in an international company and travel with work on overseas assignments several times. These experiences have also helped me to develop a unique set of communication skills and a passion for global networking, which I have no doubt will help me well into the future.”