Water resources engineer Brittany Coff develops innovative solutions to benefit the environment, communities and industries.
“I am so thankful to have found a career in engineering which I am so passionate about, and for the interesting work I’ve been involved in both in Australia and abroad,” she told create.
Coff, a senior water resources and strategy consultant at Adelaide’s Jacobs Group, said that receiving Engineers Australia’s Young Professional Engineer of the Year award is a huge honour, and a recognition of the amazing opportunities she has had in her career to date.
“[The award] really demonstrated to me how the engineering community respects diversity, varied career paths, and the opportunities available to balance an engineering career with a busy family.
“I feel so fortunate for all the support I have received from colleagues, friends and family along the way.”
A lifelong passion
As a kid, Coff always enjoyed problem solving — and there’s few greater issues affecting Australia than water scarcity and climate change.
“I remember being very passionate about my primary school science and geography projects on constructed wetlands, stormwater quality issues and rainwater tanks, however, I didn’t realise until much later on — after I was already studying engineering at university — that these are some of the things that water and environmental engineers focus on,” she said.
“I feel fortunate to be able to continue my early passions through my career.”
So far, that career has allowed her to work across projects in the private, government and not-for-profit sectors. It has also taken her to the United Kingdom, where she completed a Master of Engineering for Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge.
“I received a scholarship to Cambridge which enabled me to take a break from my working life and spend a year learning and immersing myself in my passions of water resources, sustainability and humanitarian engineering,” she said.
“I have always been the most motivated when I can step back from my work and see how it will benefit the community, the environment, and future generations,” she said.
Reflecting on her achievements to date, Coff said that she already has a number of highlights, including working for a non-profit engineering consultancy focused on evaluating water and sanitation projects in developing contexts after Cambridge.
“I got to work with water engineers from a range of countries such as Zambia, Ethiopia, Nepal and Haiti, to help them plan and complete evaluations of their water and sanitation projects.”
Coff said that working with people from such diverse backgrounds and facing different water challenges was a profound experience.
“I’ve also had some real highlights since returning to Australia, where I’ve enjoyed working on strategic and advisory projects throughout the Murray Darling Basin,” she said.
“The challenges to do with balancing the needs of the environment, communities and industries alongside water scarcity and climate change have made for very interesting projects in this space.”
Coff said that she hopes to continue inspiring the next generation of engineers to tackle and solve water and sustainability issues.
“I want to continue being part of the solution to water resourcing problems around the world, focusing on both protecting the water that our natural places depend upon, and ensuring people have access to safe and secure water,” she said.
“As climate change, water variability and scarcity become increasingly serious global issues, I believe there is huge potential to apply what we’ve learned in Australia to tackle emerging challenges elsewhere, and vice versa.
“I’d like to be part of sharing knowledge and understanding from different places and contexts to come up with sustainable solutions, where they are needed.”
Coff said that her advice to other young water engineers is simple: always follow your passions, and surround yourself with people who are also passionate about what they do.
“Don’t be concerned if you don’t have a clear vision or a linear path that you want your career to take, but to embrace the meanderings as those are sometimes the experiences we learn the most from,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to speak up, even if you feel like the least experienced person in a room. You probably have something to say that’s worth sharing.”
Engineers Australia’s judges said that Coff is a great example of a passionate young engineer who not only has academic achievements to her credit but also practical success in dealing with sustainability of our planet’s water resources.
“In her projects she actively demonstrates strong community connection with national and international experience,” the panel said.
“Using her research knowledge, Brittany has developed unique models and frameworks to evaluate critical drivers while considering environmental aspects, resource users, public needs and political requirements.
“She proactively promotes the profession via various committees and training programs covering a broad range of individuals from high school students to professional mentoring roles.”
Read the full list of the Engineer of the Year 2021 winners on our awards website.
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