Engineering Spirit Going Strong with Close-Knit Alumni Network
Alumni Derrick Leung, Clifford Phung and Amy Poon share how they experienced the HKUST engineering spirit and are working to pass it on by building a strong and supportive network.
At the first company Clifford PHUNG (1999 BEng in Civil and Structural Engineering) joined after he graduated from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), he met Derrick LEUNG (1994 MPhil in Civil and Structural Engineering). “When I learnt that he had also graduated from the same department, I felt an immediate kinship,” he says. It was an early experience of the power of alumni support. Later, the two men found themselves working together to rejuvenate the Civil and Environmental Engineering Alumni Association.
Derrick was admitted to the MPhil programme in the 1990s when HKUST was in its infancy. He still vividly remembers his first day at the university — September 28, 1991. “The centrepiece red sundial hadn’t been installed yet at the piazza,” he recalls. “At that time, quite a number of postgraduate students were studying part-time and came from the Mainland, and they were already at a senior level in their jobs.” Derrick says he maintained close ties with his classmates after graduation. Over the past two decades, many of them have become very prominent in their provinces on the Mainland.
“Around 2008, a few of us initiated the idea of linking up those senior mentors. Since 2010, we have organised an annual academic conference for postgraduate alumni in around 10 cities, including Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Beijing and Chengdu.” Derrick likens the experience to bearing fruit from seeds planted years ago. “Alumni were eager to reunite with their former teachers, and our faculty members have been very supportive.”
Laying a strong foundation
It is no wonder that Derrick was asked to help strengthen the HKUST Civil and Environmental Engineering Alumni Association (CEEAA), which included undergraduate alumni. Amused, Derrick says: “Luckily I had got to know undergraduate students when I worked as a graduate teaching assistant during my MPhil.”
Clifford was part of the first batch of CEEAA core members. “It was truly a turning point when Derrick took up the chairmanship at the department's 20th anniversary in 2011,” he says, recalling the frustration of running alumni affairs with a limited alumni base in the early days. Their efforts over the next five years paid off when over 600 alumni and friends celebrated the department’s 25th anniversary at a gala dinner.
In fact, Clifford’s bond with the University goes back to his childhood. “I grew up in Sai Kung and was exultant that I would be able to continue my bachelor study at HKUST in Clear Water Bay.” That lifelong fondness for the university has inspired his conviction that he has a mission to “help the youngsters here.”
In 2014, CEEAA launched the Civil Family Programme in which they lined up alumni who are in senior positions with fresh graduates in the same company. Besides networking, the programme also has a practical bent. They invite senior alumni to give career talks, arrange company visits, organize mock interviews and Chartered Professional Review (CPR) workshops to help prepare alumni for both job searching and professional assessments of The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE).
“To ensure we know the most updated criteria of the ICE/HKIE assessments, we maintain close ties with the institutions,” Clifford says. He emphasises that they understand that leisure activities won’t attract alumni “as civil engineering itself is a practical industry”.
Expanding the base
The reactivating of CEEAA and the Civil Family Programme means that there is a stronger support system for fresh graduates. Amy POON (2011 BEng in Civil and Environmental Engineering) says, “I definitely benefited greatly.” Having been an executive committee member of the students’ society, Amy joined the alumni association right after graduation and was mentored by Derrick.
“Since becoming a chartered engineer is extremely important, our alumni association arranged a series of workshops, and our papers for submission are reviewed in detail by mentors,” Amy says, adding that such detailed support from an alumni association is uncommon but invaluable. “When I started work, I realized how important the HKUST network is.” Amy now works for the Highways Department of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
While Amy gained a lot from the alumni network, she gives back by helping to recruit newcomers to the association. Adding current students to their mobile chatting group helps lay the foundation, she shares.
Being a bridge
“Our most effective role is acting as a bridge among alumni, the university and the industry,” says Derrick. He believes alumni associations working closely with the university maximizes the mutual benefits.
For example, HKUST opened the GREAT Smart Cities Center in May this year and now CEEAA is co-organising a conference on the theme for the Greater Bay Area at which industry participation is expected. “It is really important for the university to communicate closely with us about its vision and needs. This enables the alumni to know how we can contribute best and align with the university’s development.”
Building for the future
Derrick recalls that when he graduated, he didn’t have a similar network and support base. “Therefore, I hope to help our younger alumni to ‘win at the starting point’ and to establish themselves more quickly.”
Amy describes Civil and Environmental Engineering graduates as “hardworking, pragmatic and well received by employers”. Her words of advice for fresh graduates: “Be proactive. Networking well with alumni veterans will definitely help you to go further.”