Laura Miranda: letting your light shine

Starting in the engineering profession at only 19 years old, Laura Miranda says you don’t need to fit a certain mould to have a successful career in the construction industry.

Born in Colombia, Laura Miranda moved to Australia with aspirations of creating infrastructure that shapes people’s lives and today – as a civil design drafter at BG&E – she’s doing just that.

Miranda has long had an interest in STEM careers, sparked by her father’s career in the engineering field and her love of math and science. “My dad was a process engineer in the pharmaceutical industry and would always explain to me how careers like engineering or biomedical engineering were going to improve the healthcare system,” says Miranda.

“It wasn’t until I came to Australia that I realised I was passionate and curious about finding out how things work.”

Upon arrival in Australia, Miranda says she found that the infrastructure was very different to that in Colombia. She would point out to her brother – who was living in Australia at the time – the different highway, bridge and drainage systems.

“I picked up on the difference in intersections and pedestrian facilities,” says Miranda. “I hoped one day I could be part of creating those infrastructures back home, because they can change and improve people’s quality of life.”

Starting her associate degree in civil engineering at TAFE Queensland in 2016, Miranda soon found herself having to complete professional experience as part of her studies. Juggling part time work in the hospitality industry and full-time study, and with the help of her then colleague who was a former recruiter, she began putting together her CV. As luck would have it, Miranda ran into a recruiter at a soccer game who happened to know of an international construction firm looking for a draftsperson.

“I had no idea what company it was for, but I sent through my CV hoping to find out,” she says. “One week later I received a call from Arup asking me to join the company.”

“I hadn’t finished my degree and didn’t know what the industry was going to be like, but I knew I had an eagerness to learn and collaborate with people, so I accepted the position and never looked back.”

Miranda joined Arup in 2017, as a civil engineering technician, gaining experience delivering major projects such as the Caloundra Road to Sunshine Motorway project as part of the Bruce Highway Upgrade.

In the context of this project, Miranda’s focus was instrumental in the creation of the construction drawings. This venture marked her initial collaboration since becoming part of the Arup team. Reflecting on those early days, she recollects the humorously memorable experience of saving 12d outputs in her C drive, a mishap that, while hilarious in hindsight, initially left her feeling quite disappointed. This anecdote underscores the valuable lessons she gained during her journey, ones that have since become sources of laughter and growth. Miranda also worked on the Cross River Rail project where she worked directly with the client, Cross River Rail Delivery Authority.

“My role was to create the environmental impact plans, which involved making sure that the impact of the alignment wasn’t going to be harsh on the local environment and heritage,” she says. “These projects not only taught me the positive impact engineering can have on local communities, but they also gave me the opportunity to work with brilliant minds.”

“Being able to collaborate with different people who all see things in a different light is one aspect of engineering that I love.

“That’s why I strongly advocate for diversity in the industry – we need diversity of thought to create solutions that can truly help shape the cities of tomorrow.”

Miranda’s aspiration was to transition into a civil design role, allowing her to delve deeper into engineering fundamentals and enhance her drafting skills through a solid foundation of knowledge. In March 2021, she took a significant step by joining GHD as a civil designer, engaging with diverse teams including tailings dams, water dams, tunnels and geotechnics. This experience exposed her to the intricacies of the resources industry and provided her with the chance to work within a team led by a female leader, which ignited her sense of inspiration.

As the year progressed, Miranda’s professional journey took her to the Gold Coast. By the end of 2021, she had joined ADG Engineers, assuming the role of infrastructure designer. Within this capacity, she actively collaborated on significant infrastructure ventures, such as the Brisbane Metro Temporary Works project. Today, Miranda is a civil design drafter at BG&E, where she creates construction drawing packages and designs roads for the transport infrastructure sector in accordance with government standards.

“I help engineers translate their ideas into a tangible solution,” says Miranda. “I was recently the lead designer for the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangement (DRFA) program, which is a program aimed at restoring roads across Queensland that have been damaged by flooding and bushfire events.”

“We started by collecting information like photos of the current state of the road to then start proposing treatment, realignment or reconstruction solutions to enable people to drive safely on these roads again.

“It’s interesting to see the difference in the photos of the initial damaged road, to the photos once construction is complete and our designs have been brought to live – it’s a complete type of project where you get to appreciate everything that you’ve designed.”

As a member of the BG&E team, Miranda says she enjoys the culture and the people she gets to work with. Not only are they skilled technical engineers, but they also demonstrate a genuine concern for individuals, their personal passions and their professional aspirations, she explains.

Something Miranda has picked up on during her time in the construction industry is that it’s vital to have a voice. “I was a little shy at the start of my career, but am naturally an extrovert, so it felt out of character,” she says. “I was missing out on opportunities because I wasn’t embracing my strengths as an assertive, open and collaborative person.”

“When you feel like you don’t have as much of a say because you’re young or just starting out, I think it’s really important to speak up because it helps you learn.”

Miranda is now helping other young women and engineering professionals find their voice through her You don’t look like an Engineer podcast. In partnership with her former colleague Sohan Roopra, Miranda launched You don’t look like an Engineer in 2022 on the back of being an interviewee for the TAFE Queensland Podcast where she shared her international student journey.

“I saw the impact that the podcast platform had by simply sharing stories of real people,” she says. “Apart from having the commonality of both being in the engineering profession, Sohan and I are both passionate about gender equality and are both women of colour.”

“We wanted to create a platform to share our experience because the power of storytelling is incredible and so You don’t look like an Engineer was born.”

The pair purchased a microphone and started sharing their stories, recording the first episode ‘Busting myths about women in STEM’ in May last year. It was incredibly well received, says Miranda, and just one week later a recruitment agency reached out wanting to sponsor the podcast. In following episodes, Miranda and Roopra started interviewing other professionals in the construction industry, providing a space for them to share how they overcame difficult moments in their career as well as in their personal life.

“We’ve created a community and a space for people to share their stories, to inspire people, to create awareness – and that’s exactly what we were trying to achieve,” says Miranda.

As someone who struggled with subconsciously wanting to fit in at the start of her career, Laura Miranda is now letting her light shine and hopes to inspire others looking to enter the industry to do the same.

This article originally appeared on Inside Construction.

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