La Trobe University student Niraj Maskey was fully prepared to have his feet under a desk and writing a thesis for much of 2019 - his final year of studies to complete a combined Civil Engineering and Finance degree.
Instead, he has been testing load limits for historic bridges, fabricating new spares using 3D printing and crunching the numbers on lithium battery replacement for thousands of irrigation gates across northern Victoria.
“What I’ve been doing since December is using what I have learned at university,” Niraj says.
“Like study it’s classed as course work but basically I'm with other engineers doing real engineering – it’s been an amazing opportunity.”
Niraj, the son of Nepalese migrants, was born and raised in Shepparton where he graduated from high school at Notre Dame Secondary College. Now 22, he is in his fifth year of post-secondary engineering studies at Bendigo.
With significant years of specialist education he was eligible for La Trobe’s Work Integrated Learning (WIL) program; an 800-hour commitment to put his learning to work for the benefit of a qualified organisation and his future career prospects.
Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW), the nation’s largest rural water authority with $5 billion in irrigation assets, is fulfilling the employer role for Niraj’s WIL program. This includes providing scholarship funding, meaningful project work, day-to-day management and benefitting from the expertise and eagerness of a near-fully qualified graduate engineer.
The only thing Niraj lacked was the work experience to complement his La Trobe studies and that is the purpose of the WIL program.
“So I was really grateful for the opportunity to work for GMW’s electrical and mechanical department and the mentorship the staff there provided me,” Niraj said.
“I grew up in the Goulburn Valley but I had no idea how many assets GMW owns and maintains.”
Niraj’s last six months has included work on historic irrigation assets – like ensuring safety standards and load limits on aging River Murray infrastructure – to the high-tech, like 3D parts production and SCADA control system management. He has also conducted important research to assist colleagues working on maintenance and construction projects.
“I’ve been able to regularly work in the field and apply my learning,” he said. “The Connections Project is the new generation of infrastructure but a lot of the old structures are well made – we just need to make sure they keep on functioning well for our farmers.
”I’ve also learned that we need to do this work as efficiently as possible to save money wherever we can,” Niraj said.
“It’s not like solving a problem on paper at uni – here you are considering the real-world aspects of every job, like ‘Who are the people we need to do this, what are the resources we need and do we have the necessary inventory?’ “
Niraj will return to his studies in August after spending this year with GMW. While unsure of where his engineering career will take him, he expects water management will play a part.
“Working at GMW gives you a sense of how important – how crucial – water is to the region, and how direct a relationship we all have with it.”
For information on the Work Integrated Learning program, contact the Engineering WIL Team on 9479 5763 or email engineering.WIL@latrobe.edu.au