Meet Rika: Bachelor of Science and Master of Chemical Engineering graduate

After participating in the Kwong Lee Dow Young Scholar program in Year 11 and 12, Rika Eringa moved from a regional town in Victoria to start undergraduate study at Melbourne. Her student industry project led to an internship and graduate job offer with Carlton United Breweries and now she works as a Chemical Process Engineer at Tesla.

I went to high school in regional Victoria where I was one of just four students in my Year 12 class. I was lucky enough to have been a Kwong Lee Dow (KLD) Young Scholar, so I was invited to the University of Melbourne for a variety of challenging and interesting events. We got to stay in the residential colleges, and overall it gave me a lot of confidence that I would be well supported at Melbourne. We were told that approximately half of the KLD Young Scholars would end up at University of Melbourne, and that gave me confidence that if I moved from my small town to Melbourne that I would already have a few friends!

How did you choose your major?

The Melbourne curriculum meant that I could keep my options open in the first year or so.  I could choose between chemistry, chemical engineering, physics, mechanical engineering, or a few other options. As I studied and learned more about each major and engineering discipline, I figured that chemical engineering would be the best match for me, with a combination of chemistry, maths, and problem-solving skills used in full-scale real-world applications. This would give me options to work in so many different industries from food and beverage where I had an internship and graduate job opportunities, to biotech, manufacturing, mining, oil or gas and renewables – where I now find myself.

What industry experience did you gain during your degree?

For my Industry Project at Carlton United Brewery (CUB), I was able to research, understand, and provide protocol for implementing a new piece of onsite laboratory equipment – an alternative technology to improve the accuracy of one of the brewing processes. This was a good insight into the type of project a Sustaining Engineer might undertake in their role and helped me understand some of the challenges of trying to change a process that has been well established. It also highlighted the importance of respecting the operators who run the equipment that Chemical Engineers design. Learning to respect and listen to the operators was a very important less to learn very early in my career and I apply this knowledge every day in my current role.

The following summer I had a 10-week internship in the procurement department of CUB to research the company’s needs (types and volume) in a certain aspect of manufacturing and packaging, and lock in alternative vendors for future needs. The satisfaction of working on a real project that will impact the company, and the fact the company and my manager trusted me to do this job, was a great taste of a real job in the industry.

I feel that the familiarity and confidence that I gained during my internship helped me secure a graduate position with the same company.

What does a career in chemical engineering look like for you?

I am so delighted to be working at Tesla on our Battery Recycling program. Overall, it’s amazing to work at a company whose main mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to a sustainable future, and battery recycling is the key to reducing the dependency on mining - closing the loop on resources consumed by electric vehicles and renewable energy production, storage, and use. It feels great to be working on a project that is so strongly associated with sustainability.

As a Chemical Process Engineer in the Battery Recycling Research and Development group, within a given week I will spend some days commissioning and working on existing equipment, and other days working on designing future stages of the project. My Melbourne degree has been helpful in giving me a baseline knowledge of the types of unit operations available to us, finding technologies that might work, allowing me to know what to search for and what type of outcomes I might be able to expect. From my industry experience, I retain the respect for the operators and the importance of considering the workflow and logistics of the operations we design.

To design a particular part of the project, first our team collaborates and brainstorms the type of technology that might perform a particular function; then we research what’s available and find out how we can test it – whether we purchase a lab/pilot version of the equipment or find vendors to perform the test for us. I spend time analysing the results of test to determine whether this technology is suitable. When all the technologies are selected, we need to size the equipment and move onto further design. I felt very prepared for the entire design process after my chemical engineering education – I find myself drawing from all the subjects we studied, all the way from material and energy balances to process engineering and design project.

From skills learned in Engineering Management I was able to perform the full economic analysis of our project to justify funding for future work. This was incredibly rewarding – to know that I was able to calculate and predict the future of the project and ensure that we weren’t making an unsustainable decision in moving forward with the project.

Do you have any tips for current students?

My university experience was especially enriched thanks to the amazing clubs and societies at Melbourne. The social events were great places to meet like-minded students and formed the basis of many of my lasting friendships; I even met my spouse at a student club BBQ! In addition to that, I became involved with the Melbourne University Chemical Engineering Students Society (MUCESS), as they hosted social and industry-related events. As I enjoyed this club so much that I decided to get involved in running it, so in my final year of masters I successfully ran for President. In that role, I had to learn to lead the committee, organise events, and very importantly manage industry sponsor relationships.

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