Internships providing a launch pad for professional employment

The SMEC Summer Internship gives one masters student from each discipline (Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning and Urban Design) an opportunity to work collaboratively on an innovative joint research project within SMEC, a global consultancy headquartered in Australia. SMEC is recognised for providing technical excellence and consultancy expertise in urban, infrastructure and management advisory projects around the world.

Olivia Bloch, a Master of Landscape Architecture student in the final year of her degree, participated in the internship alongside Momoka Kawauchi, a Master of Landscape Architecture alumni who completed the internship in 2018 and now works as an employee with SMEC.

We asked Olivia and Momoka to interview each other to better understand their experiences and how the internship furthers professional experience and career opportunities.

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Olivia during her SMEC internship in 2019 

Olivia Bloch: Can you tell me about your current professional position?
Momoka Kawauchi: I’m originally from Japan and I came to Australia to do the Master of Landscape Architecture (300 point course) at The Melbourne School of Design to lay the foundation for a career change. I completed the SMEC internship program during the summer holiday in 2018, one year before my graduation, and started working as an undergraduate landscape architect with SMEC later that year.

Momoka Kawauchi: What projects were you involved in during the internship? What contribution did these require from you?  
Olivia Bloch: Our main activity was developing a hypothetical project, which we saw from researching site locations all the way through to developing a full masterplan. We ended up redesigning a waste management site into a phytoremediating landscape with new commercial and residential developments. Throughout the process we all contributed ideas, presented our findings to our colleagues, then adjusted our work with feedback - so in some ways it was quite similar to the university process, but it was also great to get feedback coming from practicing professionals in different disciplines. The main contribution that stood out was being required to develop cross-disciplinary thinking and perspective.
We also got to do an out-of-office site visit so we could choose a site from a few potential locations, which was great fun. In class we are given a single site to work with, so it was interesting being able to value different prospects against each other first and be able to choose.

Olivia Bloch: How did you find the transition from University into the workplace? And in what ways did your SMEC internship position you to begin a professional career within the same organisation?
Momoka Kawauchi: It was an easy transition because the SMEC internship gave me experience with actual projects. Subjects at university like Landscape Practice and Landscape Detail Design were also helpful in making the transition from student to professional smoother as they give you experiences comparable to a professional environment.
The SMEC internship gave me connections and the confidence to transition into the professional setting and start my career. Learnings and experience gained from colleagues throughout the internship helped me better understand the various requirements of landscape architect roles.

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Momoka, now employed at SMEC, during her internship in 2018 

Momoka Kawauchi: Can you tell me how you translated your learnings from the classroom into professional practice with SMEC?
Olivia Bloch: There is definitely a translation required - at university there’s one person undertaking a complete design so our designs are hypothetical and some aspects are compressed due to time. This wouldn't happen at a multidisciplinary, collaborating firm. Our SMEC project was hypothetical too, but we approached it from a more realistic angle by considering construction logistics and budget efficiency. We got to work through the process of rezoning applications too which is incredibly important for landscape architects to have an understanding of. The best knowledge I brought from the classroom was being able to analyse a site, conceptualise and synthesise design ideas, and effectively communicate these both verbally and graphically.

Olivia Bloch: What have been the highlights of working with SMEC?
Momoka Kawauchi: Too many! But if I had to pick up the best, I would say it's the team culture. Team members are very productive and efficient, but they always take time to support new staff. Techniques and knowledge are important but I feel very lucky to start my career with such great role models.

Momoka Kawauchi: What were the benefits of working alongside professionals who had undertaken the same internship the year before?
Olivia Bloch: It was really useful to have others alongside us who had either just graduated from the same courses or were still studying while working at SMEC. I think it's important to be able to see a transitional pathway into your career and also for a firm to employ people with different ranges of experience. It's equally reassuring and inspiring! It was great to be able to get the perspectives of those who had already completed our degree too - how they transitioned out from the classroom and into the workplace.

Momoka Kawauchi: How did you get involved in the SMEC internship?
Olivia Bloch: I saw it advertised through the Melbourne University site and applied! A friend in my cohort had also done it last year, along with Momoka, and she recommended it.

To keep up with the latest news and updates concerning internships, visit the 'Internships and Vocational Placements' page.

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