What we say to strangers has the potential to influence their lives, and for Rebecca Marx CMEngNZ CPEng IntPE(NZ), a chance meeting on a flight 10 years ago has had a significant impact on her career.

“I do not know who he was,” says Rebecca Marx, who recently won the EEA 2018 Young Engineer of the Year Award. 

“But I was sitting next to an electrical engineer on a trip from Christchurch to Wellington during university, and he said if he could give me one piece of advice it would be to have gumption. To seize every opportunity that comes along." 

Rebecca took his advice. 

“I've benefited from so many exciting experiences just because I have gumption. When opportunities come up at work, I put my hand up. And if I am turned down, that’s fine, at least I asked. But if it is a yes, then there is a new, exciting opportunity and challenge.” 

Since graduating from the University of Canterbury, Rebecca’s been involved in a number of electric power transmission projects. After her first job at Beca as a graduate in 2009, she joined Mitton ElectroNet in 2014 and is now a Senior Engineer and Market Leader at their Auckland office. She also heads a segment of the Haywards transformer replacement project. 

“It’s an exciting and complicated project that involves every single discipline – primary, protection, secondary, structural, civil. I’m managing it and have a great team of engineers, including a fantastic young engineer who is designing the secondary systems portion. 

“The project is a great high-profile opportunity as Haywards substation is part of the high-voltage-direct-current (HVDC) inter-island link,” she says. 

“There are so many stages to the project and we need to liaise directly with the contractors quite regularly. Construction should start later this year, with the first transformer commissioned early 2019.” 

Rebecca says with engineering, there’s an opportunity to make a change in the world and improve processes. 

“I get to help improve the reliability of power throughout the country, I think that’s pretty exciting.” 

Other career highlights include being founding Chair of a young members' group of the International Council on Large Electric Systems and the liaison officer on the executive council of CIGRE, a forum for developing and sharing electrical power engineering knowledge. “It has a reputation for being a bit of an old man’s club,” she says, “but they welcomed me with open arms. It was an amazing experience just two years out from graduating.” 

Rebecca became Chair of CIGRE New Zealand, holding the position for four years. She says the networking opportunities have been invaluable.

I've benefited from so many exciting experiences just because I have gumption.

“I received a lot of support and I still keep in touch with most of the members. I spoke at a Women in CIGRE conference in China in 2015 and last year we hosted an international CIGRE conference in Auckland.” 

While Rebecca emanates enthusiasm for engineering, she believes additional work is needed to attract and retain more women. 

At her all-girls college, students weren’t told about engineering, she says. “I was the only girl from my year who went on to engineering, and that’s mainly because of Dad. He is a mechanical engineer, so that’s how I even knew it was a possibility.” As for her recent win, Rebecca was ecstatic. 

“It was again one of those moments where I had the gumption to give it a go. I received lots of comments about my acceptance speech, that I had managed to influence and excite lots of people in the room about engineering, encouraged them to keep following their dreams and challenge the norm.” 

As part of her win, in October she travelled to South Korea for the 2018 International Electrotechnical Commission’s IEC Young Professionals Workshop. 

Rebecca admits she gives a lot of thought to career progression. “I want to be the best that I can, keep pushing those barriers.” She recently opened Mitton ElectroNet’s new Auckland office, built her team and is strengthening client relationships. 

“I’m excited to see where that may lead – senior management perhaps – but I’m still keen to keep my technical abilities on board. I don’t know where it’s going to take me, but I know it’s going to be great.”