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Sunshine Coast engineering alumna inspired by honours project and internship in the Pacific

For 2019 New Colombo Plan (NCP) Fiji Scholar, Naomi Joyce, her scholarship experience strengthened her passion for innovation, boosted her confidence in working in unfamiliar settings, and enabled her to gain invaluable work-ready skills.

Encouraged by her previous travels to Thailand and Vanuatu, Naomi was fascinated by diverse cultures and different ways of thinking.

She always wanted to undertake a semester abroad, to live and be immersed in another culture, but nowhere seemed right. That was, until she received an email from the University of Sunshine Coast (USC) about the NCP scholarship program. “I’ve always loved the Pacific but I had never thought of studying there until I heard about the NCP program,” says Bachelor of Civil Engineering student, Naomi Joyce.

Group of people in a field
The engineering students from USP farewelling Naomi at the Engineering Sports Day.

Engineering honours project in Fiji

In 2019, she studied at the University of the South Pacific, Fiji. She undertook her engineering honours project in the Pacific and she gained a unique perspective on engineering. “For my final year project, I had the opportunity to conduct a tidal energy feasibility study for an island in Fiji and design an array of tidal energy turbines for the location,” Naomi explains.

Engineering without borders internship in Vanuatu

During her scholarship, she also gained invaluable knowledge during an internship with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) in Vanuatu. As an intern, Naomi supported EWB and the Ministry of Health in Vanuatu to develop national sanitation guidelines for rural areas and was involved in developing drawings for several toilet designs.

“I spent a week with a team from the Vanuatu Ministry of Health in Malekula testing some of the toilet designs and also trained some Ministry of Health staff to use 3D computer modelling programs to develop future drawings,” Naomi says.

Her honours project and internship experience helped develop her skills and confidence to enter the workforce, and this was highly complemented by the strong connections she made in Fiji and Vanuatu.

Aunty Guenola and Naomi
Naomi with her friend and mentor ‘Aunty Guenola’ in Malekula, Vanuatu.

Cultural engagement with the Pacific

Naomi cites the cultural engagement as the highlight of her NCP experience. “You definitely develop more meaningful connections with people by working and studying in a place, rather than simply travelling,” she explains. 

Her strong in-country connections were crucial to gaining a deeper understanding of Fiji and Vanuatu. “The Pacific is all about family. Everything is interconnected, and everything that an individual does, they do in the context of their family group and community,” Naomi explains.

Her experience also enabled her to recognise the shared interests between the Pacific Island nations and Australia. “I love that the title of Australia’s current partnership with Fiji is ‘Vuvale’ – family. As Pacific nations, we have a shared ‘home’ that links us together and many common interests,” she says.

Reflections and future plans

Reflecting on her time in the Pacific, Naomi regards her NCP experience as transformative. “This was probably the most intense personal development time in my life. I had to learn to adapt, to face some significant challenges and to question my worldview and preconceived ideas. I am definitely not the same as when I left Australia,” Naomi says.

Her studies in Fiji and internship in Vanuatu sparked a determination to continue to develop her skills and pursue similar opportunities in the future. Having returned home in July 2019, Naomi continued her tidal energy research in partnership with the University of the South Pacific at USC.

Naomi has now finished her final semester of study and has accepted a graduate Civil Engineer position with Arup. Over the next five years, she aspires to develop her engineering skills, continue to participate in engineering research and development, and further deepen her engagement with the Pacific.

Group of players in a stadium
Naomi’s hockey team in Fiji – The Ventures.
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