Jess’s determination to ‘give back’ to supportive community

Thursday, 11. January 24

For College alumni, Jess Ward, a recent sea change to Yeppoon means she can ‘give back’ to the community that has always welcomed her.

Jess, a Boarding student from 2009-2013, said she credited St Ursula’s College for fueling her passion to help others.

“Being part of the community and having a multitude of opportunities to give back was something that I absolutely loved,” said Jess.

“Involvement in the Interact Club, volunteering at Vinnies, Clean-Up Australia Day, Red Cross doorknock, Relay for Life, Christmas baking for the elderly; it was great to have so many ways to participate in the community.”

When not volunteering for co-curricular activities, Jess’s studies in Physics, Chemistry, Maths B and C, and Engineering Technology kept her busy during term time.

“A semi-regular funny occurrence at school would be when I had too many textbooks in my giant backpack and I would topple over backwards and get stuck like a turtle,” Jess said.

“It’s no surprise my Senior Jersey says ‘Awk-Ward’ on the back.

“I’ve heard the girls now have digital textbooks – a much better idea.

“My favourite teacher at St Ursula’s was my physics teacher, Mrs Cranny…in our Senior year, Mrs Cranny came back to us early from Maternity leave so that the three of us physics students could complete our Senior curriculum without needing distance education.

“I remember her writing physics equations on the board with one arm and holding her baby in the other.

“That moment really solidified in me the notion that women could do anything.”

As the first STU girl to undertake engineering technology in Years 11 and 12, Jess said the experience gave her confidence to pursue a career in the male-dominated field of engineering.

“I am most proud of putting forward a successful case for Urshies girls to study Engineering Technology,” said Jess.

“It was a shared class with St Brendan’s at the time, and I was the only female student; it was a bit of a culture shock but I’m proud of myself for sticking with it.”

Jess’s hard work and perseverance in ‘hitting the books’ saw her named Dux of the College in 2013, and recipient of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Engineering and Technology Award and the Australian Institute of Physics Excellence Award.

“It wasn’t all maths and science though,” says Jess.

“When I wasn’t asleep in a textbook, you could find me annoying all the Boarders with my bad guitar playing, or practising Puerto Rican dance routines for the West Side Story musical.”

After graduating from St Ursula’s College, Jess returned to her family in Brisbane for university studies.

After dabbling in economics, engineering, and architecture, she graduated from QUT with a Bachelor of Civil Engineering and relocated to Canberra to work for the Federal Government.

A position as a Graduate Officer in the Department of Defence saw her contribute to policies and guidelines for sustainable infrastructure and climate adaptation, before moving to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

Jess’s work in this department on national policy for climate resilience and adaptation included leading the development of the National Climate Adaptation and Resilience Strategy, which was taken to the United Nations and endorsed internationally.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Jess relocated to Sydney and worked remotely, describing it as a difficult time but a valuable experience.

“Whilst in New South Wales I had the opportunity to once again dabble in tertiary studies, starting a Masters of Secondary Teaching in design and technology,” said Jess.

“As soon as the Queensland borders re-opened, I returned to my family in Brisbane and continued to work remotely.

“Sadly, in Queensland there was no option to study design and technology teaching, so I tried my hand at urban design, whilst continuing my work in climate adaptation.

“This work involved designing the methodology for the National Climate Risk Assessment, which is now being delivered by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water in Canberra.”

After her move to Brisbane, Jess decided on a career change and took an entry level engineering role with the Queensland Government.

“I was worried about starting again but I wanted to try some hands-on engineering,” Jess said.

“Once again, I sadly had to discontinue my studies. This was disheartening but I strongly believe learning is never a waste of time.

“Learning new things teaches us about ourselves, helps us connect with others and open doors you never knew existed.

“My engineering role with the State Government was its own great learning experience, where I supported the delivery of a new satellite city of over 50,000 people at the Sunshine Coast.

“This role gave me the skills needed to take on my current role for Livingstone Shire Council as an Infrastructure Planning Engineer.

“I now find myself working in a team of engineers as the only female, once again.

“What I love most about my career path is that it is not a straight line. Sometimes I worry that it hasn’t been the most efficient path, but I have learned, experienced, and contributed to so much, which at the end of the day is what really matters to me.

“I am thoroughly enjoying the sea change and giving back to a community that has given me so much.”

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