Building Bridges Overseas

Dr Olivia receiving the 2018 Community Contribution and Achievement Award under GJ Gardner, Women Creating Change. On her right is her husband, Pedram Mirza.
In Paris, Dr Olivia uses drones to do her forensics work.
Dr Olivia uses her free time to give talks in schools to encourage female participation in STEM education.
Dr Olivia and her team testing new and sustainable material to strengthen the Sydney Harbour Bridge. (From left) Matt Hennessey, Andrew Talos, Zac White and Dr Olivia.
Dr Olivia inspecting bridges in Belgium.

It is intriguing to know that there is always someone working behind every thing. It is like there are billions of jobs, for billions of things. And with an absent of just one, things will not work out as it is.
Recently, New Sarawak Tribune had gotten in contact with a Kuchingite living in Australia. Making Malaysia proud with her job as a forensic engineer, Dr Olivia Mirza Chee’s job includes travelling around, fixing bridges.

“I am currently working on strengthening the Sydney Harbour Bridge using more environmental friendly, sustainable and light-weight material. One of the quality that I have is I always dare myself to change the existing technology and creating new standards to designs,” she said.
The iron lady had just visited Europe in September for two and a half months to inspect all the problematic bridges in Europe. “I inspected bridges in London and Birmingham UK, Paris, Concale and St. Malo in France, Brussels in Belgium, Luxembourg, Amsterdam in Netherlands, Hannover, Berlin and Munich in Germany,” Dr OIivia shared.

She also disclosed that in Europe, she had used advanced technologies including Drone and Ultra-sonic investigation to study bridge failures.

Finding the lady a lot more interesting, New Sarawak Tribune had contacted her via e-mail for further investigations regarding her job as an engineer :

Introduce yourself.
My name is Olivia Mirza (Chee – Maiden surname), I am 45 years old. I am Chinese Malaysian. I studied in St. Paul Primary School and SMK Batu Lintang in Kuching. After that I moved to KL to pursue my studies in Engineering at the Federal Institute of Technology. I worked as a Design Engineer at Perunding Sentral for two years. I was not satisfied with my position and I wanted to do more exciting things like maybe change the engineering world. So I decided to continue my advanced diploma in Prime College. With my work experience, I studied hard, got straight As and won a full scholarship to go to the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia. In 200, I was one of the sixteen Golden Jubliee Scholarship holders at University of New South Wales around the world. I graduated in Bachelor of Civil and Environmental degree (Honours) in 2002. I worked as a structural engineer for 10 years before pursuing the academic career. I decided to do PhD in Engineering. I worked for Leighton Contractors, Australia Consulting Engineers, Cardno Group and Senior Lecturer at Western Sydney University.

Why did you choose to be an engineer?
I love mathematics and problem solving subjects. When I was young, I often helped my dad (Francis Xavier Chee) to build furnitures around the house. When I was young, whenever I passed through a construction site (buildings and bridges), I was always fascinated by the works. My mum (Mary Chew) was the one who encouraged me to study engineering. After years, I asked my mum why she ask me to consider engineering. Her answer? “When you were growing up, I saw how hands-on and a problem solver you are in daily life, and I knew you are suited to be an engineer.”

Talk about your engineering journey
I was employed by Leighton Contractors for two years as a student engineer when I was studying in UNSW. At this time I was involved in the [then new] M7 Project. After graduating with Honours I worked for 3 years as a Structural Engineer for Australian Consulting Engineers designing medium to high-rise building in Australia. After that I joined an international company known as Cardno Group. I started to work on international big projects for five years.

Some of the award winning projects I was involved in are One Shelley Street, King Street Wharf, Sydney where the external structural support system supported by diagrid for sustainable purposes. I was the lead structural engineer for the diagrid.

The building was awarded a six star Green Star “World Leader” rating and the highest environmental building rating achievable in Australia. I was also involved with Tower 5 of the New York World Trade Center. My expertise in fire engineering was recognised. Another award winning project was Commerzbank Headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany.

The German was trying to improve the building to a 10 stars green rating building. I was assigned as the lead engineer for that project. I am also involved in a Pro Bono project for the Tsunami Ache Disaster in 2005. I helped the community to rebuilt their village and I was there for nine months. After five years of working with international projects, I got bored, so I decided to pursue a PhD. I completed my PhD in 2009. Then, I became a Senior Lecturer and Forensic Engineer looking at rehabilitation and strengthening of bridges around the world.  
The difficulties of being an engineer.

I remembered my first site visit for my first ever big project. I was so excited to be at site. Little did I know one day, my bum was the topic of discussion at site. When I came to know this, during our lunch break, I decided to stand up and said, “I always wanted to be popular, but I never thought my popularity increased due to my bum.”

I continued to said, “If you want to know about my bum, come and talk to me, I can explain to you in detail.” They stop for 5 seconds and started laughing and I broke the ice. Ever since, I was known as the bum lady. This is how I handle sticky situations and turn it to light hearted jokes. At sites, sometimes I would face difficult builders who think that a women’s place is to be at home. I always handle these stereotypical guys with dignity and integrity.

Memorable moments
The structure I designed in Sydney was voted as a 10-star rated Green Building in the world and the opening of New York World Trade Tower. I also volunteered for CSIRO Education in Australia to encourage children from young age to learn Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) education. I also volunteered in a lot of STEM activity to encourage female students to do STEM course in university.

I am currently mentoring 20 young women ranging from eight to 40 years old, school kids, young engineers to Mediate engineers. It is very satisfying for me when I see the number in Women in Engineering increased.  

Awards
Throughout her career, Dr Olivia Mirza Chee has won numerous Australian and international awards, which includes:
2018 Regional and Achievement Award under GJ Gardner Women Creating Change Award 2017 Winner of the Prime Minsters Prize for Science Award for Sydney Harbour Bridge 2017 Best Paper Award at the 4th International Conference on Advanced Steel Structures, November 09-10, 2017  Singapore, Theme: Exploring Innovative Steel Structural Designs for advanced constructions Internationally) 2017 Best Presenter Award at the 4th International Conference on Advanced Steel Structures, November 09-10, 2017 Singapore, Theme: Exploring Innovative Steel Structural Designs for advanced constructions Internationally)

2014 Best Paper Award at the 3rd World Construction Symposium for Sustainability (Internationally)
2013 UWS Industry Partnership Award with VSL
2012 UWS Industry Partnership Award with RailCorp
2009 ARC Postdoctoral Research Fellow
2008 Nominated for the Young Engineering Award for Engineers Australia
2006 BlueScope Lysaght with ARC Linkage (University of New South Wales and University of Western Sydney)
2000 Golden Jubilee Scholar (University of New South Wales)

Future plans, especially in Malaysia
In most society including Malaysia, even in developed countries, the notion that women are only deemed fit to take up profession related to nurturing still persists. However, I strongly believe that careers should be based on merits rather than gender.

I plan to help not only to change the perception of the Malaysian society on women in engineering but also indirectly help to increase the number of women engineers. I am going to give a talk to encourage women into engineering in Mid-January 2019 at the University of Malaya.

I am also in discussion with University of Malaysia Sarawak and UNITEN to present and encourage women in engineering. I will visit universities to talk about my experiences and my life as an Engineer to give them an insight about engineering.

As my last word, I would not be this successful without my husband Pedram Mirza. He is my shoulder to rely on and has always been there for me. He is also my driver to site when I travel. He was the one who supported me in my PhD.

This is my slogan in life : Nothing is IMPOSSIBLE, What usually is considered as IMPOSSIBLE are simply engineering problems, Believe in yourself and be confident in what you do, Then I’M POSSIBLE.

For those who are looking to reach out to Dr Olivia can do so via e-mail at  O.Mirza@westernsydney.edu.au.