Edinburgh Napier Civil Engineering alumni, Owen Cherrie, graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 2001 and has gone on to work his way up the industry ladder, having a hand in many multi-million pound projects along the way. Owen was promoted to Senior Project Manager at Robertson Construction in 2019 with a long list of career highlights, including the construction of the Water of Leith Walkway and the Queensferry Rail Bridge.
We caught up with Owen to find out how he viewed his time at Edinburgh Napier and to hear about his career in the construction industry since graduating.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m Owen Cherrie, I studied HND and BSc Civil Engineering at Edinburgh Napier between 1998-2001.
I left school in 1997 and at first, I was unsure of what career path I wanted to undertake. The majority of my family worked in the Oil & Gas industry and I applied for an apprenticeship with BP but did not pass the medical due to being colour blind. I then applied for an apprenticeship with Bison Concrete Products Ltd as a modern apprentice which gave me my first experiences of the construction industry working in a concrete manufacturing plant in 1997/1998.
Why did you choose to study at Edinburgh Napier University?
I chose to study at Edinburgh Napier University in 1998 following discussions with my parents that I wanted to do more with my life and despite not having the entry level qualifications I applied to Napier and had to attend an interview with one of the senior lecturers at the time, Mr John McNeil. During discussions with Mr McNeil, we agreed that I could join the HND Civil Engineering course and enrolled in September 1998. Following completion of the HND course and after receiving “distinction” and the HND class medal, I was asked to stay on for the third year of the BSc degree course and qualified in 2001.
What are the key skills you learned during your time at Edinburgh Napier University?
The key skill that I learned from my time at Napier was to apply myself and Mr McNeil’s message of “it’s not what you join with…it’s what you leave with” has never left me. During my career to date I have always rose to the challenges set and tried to overcome these successfully.
How would you sum up your student experience at Edinburgh Napier University?
During my three years at Edinburgh Napier, I stayed at home in my parents’ house and travelled into the city each day for my classes. However, I enjoyed my time in Edinburgh and at Merchiston campus and have fond memories of my lecturers and with my classmates. Friendships made during my time at Merchiston remain intact to this day.
Please explain how your career has developed since graduating?
Since graduating in 2001 my career has developed as follows:
I have progressed up the ladder in my career over the last 20 years to the role of senior project manager having been with my current employer Robertson Group for the last nine years 2012 – 2021. In 2015 I joined the Edinburgh Napier University mentoring programme so that I could give something back to the next level of graduates coming through the University and supported one student from the School of the Built Environment through his academic year 2015/2016.
Graduate site engineer – 2001 to 2002
Site engineer – 2002 to 2006
Senior site engineer – 2006 to 2008
Site Manager – 2008 to 2010
Construction Manager – 2010 to 2012
Project Manager – 2012 to 2019
Senior Project Manager – 2019 to present
Do you feel these skills and your degree has made a difference in your career? If so, how?
Gaining a degree qualification is the first milestone in any career and having the qualification demonstrates to an employer that you have achieved a level of professionalism and competence. Learning never stops and over the last 20 years I have increased my skills and knowledge attaining Chartership with the MCIOB in 2019.
Why did you want to get into the profession you’re in?
After leaving school and entering full time employment, I quickly realised that I was capable of so much more and after 18 months in employment as an apprentice draughtsman I began looking for opportunities to return to University to study civil engineering. Following year one at Napier I was sponsored by a civil engineering company who allowed me to continue my studies and work with them part time. Upon completion of my three year course, I entered full time employment with that company and my career has flourished over the last 20+ years.
What is the typical day like in the life of someone in your profession?
In my current role as a senior project manager my typical day is very busy and challenging from the outset. I deal with all manner of problems, technical questions, issues, and concerns raised by the project team and the workforce and have to communicate both up and down the line to junior and senior staff. My role requires me to compile project reports and present these as required on a weekly and monthly basis. Overall a very challenging and busy role but one that provides a rewarding career.
What impact does your profession have and what do you think your sector will look like in the future?
The construction industry provides a major impact on society in the UK and abroad providing infrastructure, roads, bridges, commercial buildings, offices, and residential accommodation that we take for granted each day whilst living and travelling in our daily lives. Sustainable construction is a feature that the sector strives for both now and for the future with modular offsite fabrication an emerging sector within the industry. Health and safety play a major part in this as we strive for higher standards within the industry.
Do you have any highlights of studying at Edinburgh Napier University?
I was awarded two class medals in my time at Napier for both my HND course and my BSc course and received the award of “with distinction” in both courses. I am extremely proud of both achievements and both class medals remain on display at home.
Any career tips/advice for recent graduates?
To try your best at all times, keep asking questions and show a willingness to both learn and be proactive with your continuing development following graduation.
Third year student, Sophie Pugh, talks about her experience on Edinburgh Napier University's Civil Engineering course.
“I always had an interest in engineering from a young age and even though I was told I wasn’t very good at Maths and that I should consider a different path, I didn’t let that stop me.”
I’m originally from Shetland that is probably my interesting fact part. I chose Edinburgh Napier because of its strong career focus within the course, and I also love the city. I am 20 and I had a bit of civil engineering experience at school before I came to university, which helped me know that this was the right course for me. I always had an interest in engineering from a young age and even though I was told I wasn’t very good at Maths and that I should consider a different path, I didn’t let that stop me. I continued to pursue my ambition and I am now in my third year studying Civil Engineering and absolutely loving my course.
“When applying, Edinburgh Napier was my first choice. When I looked at what Napier had to offer I knew this was the University for me”
When applying, Edinburgh Napier was my first choice. When I looked at what Napier had to offer I knew this was the University for me and the course available was the route I wanted to go down professionally. I believed this university fits in with my character and who I am as a person.
Some of the modules on this course are taken off-site, which gives you the hands-on experience so it was nice to put the theory work into practice and really helps you prepare for the industry stage after you’ve graduated. Third year, involves a lot of labs and practical’s and throughout the year there are a lot of opportunities to go on site visits with the Civil Engineering Society and Create Scotland. In my Second Year I went to the Queensferry crossing when it was being built in the Education Centre and then Torness Power Station as well. Having things like that can help spur you on and it inspires you to keep working hard and reminds you of why you’re here and what you’re working towards.
“The practical side of things definitely helps and if you can see something in a lab or a site visit it can help reaffirm what you’re learning.”
The university has good lecturers, the library has good resources available and even being able to do the library search at home really helps. I’m also quite lucky that everyone in my year gets along and everyone has integrated well and we can work together and be able to ask each other questions. The practical side of things definitely helps and if you can see something in a lab or a site visit it can help reaffirm what you’re learning. We’ve also had industry guest speakers who are relevant to our modules which is another key part of our studies. Having people from the industry really allows us to reflect and learn, not just on what we’ve created but also from a professional standpoint as well.
The biggest challenge for me was balancing university with other aspects of my life. Making sure you had enough money, while working a part-time job with university was a challenge. Knowing someone from the university, whether it be staff or other students are there for you if need it really helps along with support from friends. I think Napier is really good for that and you feel more connected to everyone in your class due to class-size. For me it was quite a challenge moving from a small island to a big city.
I’m involved at the moment with Generation 200 which is run by ICE (Institution of Civil Engineers). They’re planning on making this the year for young people They’re trying to get more young people into Engineering and I’m hoping to get more opportunities at helping out in this area.
“Having that belief in myself and my own abilities made it happen and has allowed me to get where I want to be.”
The biggest thing for me is being able to give back now but actually to remind people of keeping the motivation and get to where you want to if you believe in yourself. In high school a lot of teachers told me that I wasn’t going to make it due to me not being as good at Maths as I am with other subjects but I really, really wanted to do this. Maths wasn’t my strong point but after a lot of work and positivity it has paid off and having that belief in myself and my own abilities made it happen and has allowed me to get where I want to be.
Ross decided to change institutions after discovering what Edinburgh Napier had to offer.
What made you decide to study Civil Engineering?
I discovered early on that I had an interest in how things were built, and I knew I wanted to study something in engineering. When the time came to choose a course, I noticed that Civil Engineering offered a broad array of disciplines, which meant I could go on to specialise in an
aspect of Civil Engineering such as transportation once I had gained the necessary skill
What made you choose Edinburgh Napier?
I completed the first three years of my engineering degree at another university, and by this point I had realised transportation was the area I wanted to specialise in. However, there were limited 4th and 5th year options available at that institution which would enable me to focus on this specific area. I was aware that Edinburgh Napier offered a Civil and Transportation degree, which mirrors the Civil Engineering programme until 5th year when you can then choose between some really interesting modules. I decided then that I wanted to transfer to Napier and finish my degree there.
How was the course application process?
Transferring from another university meant my application process was a little different. I began by making an enquiry to the course leader during the Summer of 2020, who’s details were made available online. Based on my previous results, he confirmed that I would be accepted to start in September and that I needed to apply through clearing on UCAS.
I received an unconditional offer 10 days later. Overall, it was a really straightforward and easy process.
How did you find the teaching on the course?
When I started in 2020, most classes were still online and I didn’t get the chance to meet any of my classmates until restrictions had relaxed. Whilst this was very different to the face to face teaching I had been used to, I thought the lecturers adapted well and provided an excellent amount of material. In some ways I prefer to watch a pre-recorded lecturer as you can pause it/rewind at your own pace if you miss something. Group work was sometimes challenging given the fact I was new and couldn’t meet up in person, but this has given me excellent examples for future job interviews.
What were the facilities like?
The Merchiston campus where I’m based has got excellent IT facilities, and from my experience I was always able to get a space. I used the computers to do computer aided design (CAD) drawings for my degree coursework, which I would not have been able to do on my less powerful laptop. I also used the library to take out books on module reading lists and for my dissertation research. Being able to request a book online and have it waiting there for you to collect a few days later is great and saves you a lot of time hunting for it.
What kind of support were you offered?
I received support throughout my course, but a highlight came from the support of my dissertation supervisor, Jonathan Cowie. He helped to guide my research and always provided timely and thorough feedback along the way.
Describe a moment where something clicked into place for you on the course
As part of my dissertation module, I had to present the findings of the project at an academic conference that was attended by lecturers and former graduates. Previously, I’d never been too confident as a public speaker, but I was passionate about the subject of my presentation. After a lot of practice and determination, everything began to click, and I was able to confidently deliver the presentation as well as answer questions from the audience.
What do you hope to do after your studies?
I wish to pursue a career in Transport Planning which is quite different from traditional engineering. However, I’m confident that my dissertation, group projects and the modules during the last year of the course have given me skills and experience needed for this role. I am fortunate to have received multiple offers for graduate jobs, which has allowed me to choose one which best fits my career interests and working location.
What has been the highlight of your studies?
Recently, our class went on a site visit to the new office and leisure complex at Haymarket in Edinburgh which is currently under construction. It was fantastic to get some exclusive insight into a large and challenging project, which also happened to be the first site visit I had undertaken as part of my degree and not something I got the chance to experience at my previous institution.
What would you tell someone who was thinking about studying your course?
If you are from a civil engineering background but wanting to specialise in anything transport related, then I would definitely take a look at transferring or starting your journey at Edinburgh Napier. The modules offered in 5th year are unique and really valuable for anyone looking to pursue a career as a traffic/transport engineer or transport planner.
Annie is a Civil Engineering Student that fell in love with Edinburgh and chose to study with Edinburgh Napier.
I had a look at all the different cities, but Edinburgh was the one that drew me in the most.
I was interested in maths and physics, so that drew me to Engineering. I then did a lot of research and found out about the high student satisfaction rate at Edinburgh Napier for Civil Engineering and that really drew me to the course. I went to a couple of Open Days which showed me about the different disciplines of Engineering. Civil seemed like the most interesting because a lot of good can be done through projects like going to Africa and building bridges that connect rural communities with doctors. It also gives you the opportunity to travel and work while seeing the world.
We’ve had many industry professionals come in and speak to us which was amazing.
It gave us a good idea of what to expect when we finish the course as well as a lot of experience and lessons. My honours project supervisor is also an industry professional at the Centre for Offsite Construction. These sort of connections have allowed me to gain the opportunity to be paid while writing my dissertation and it will also be used by this company to further their own research. At Edinburgh Napier University I have also become involved with the Built Environment Society. I am the treasurer, which is a role that has enabled me to gain the confidence and the connections to communicate with these industry professionals on a regular basis.
I’ve currently got an internship thanks to Edinburgh Napier University.
Studying at Edinburgh Napier has given me the connections to get an internship with the Centre for Offsite Construction. The internship has given me the confidence and the belief that I will have a career after university. My placement in the industry also gave me the idea for my honours project, which is to compare home-grown timber vs imported timber. So it’s safe to say that studying at Edinburgh Napier University has opened a lot of doors for me.
A highlight for me at Edinburgh Napier was seeing the concrete slump test being done in a laboratory.
I had previously seen this slump test when I was 16 on a building site. So when I came to Edinburgh Napier University and saw a concrete slump test being used for the first time in a lab, it was really interesting to find out what they were actually doing and what the reasons behind it were.
My plan is to travel after I’ve graduated in civil engineering, the course at Edinburgh Napier is accredited, which allows me to get a head start in becoming chartered.
The entire course of Civil Engineering doesn’t just equip you to become a civil engineer, it equips you to enter into a lot of other fields as well. The lecturers at Edinburgh Napier University are always there to support you too, and even if it’s just for a little chat about what you’re doing and how you’re getting on, they want to hear it.
Stefan explains how Civil Engineering allowed him to find what he loved doing.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Stefan, I'm 28 and studying MEng Civil Engineering & Transport in my 5th year. Due to mental health, college was a real challenge that I took pride in overcoming. I am in a much better place now, and I'm incredibly grateful to everyone who I’ve met along my journey. After completing my HNC, I took a 3 year gap out of studying. In this time, I had a good look at what career choice I really wanted. Already knowing engineering was my interest, I felt that Civil Engineering was the correct path for me. Being such a well-known profession, my research on the subject is what made me choose Civil engineering.
What made you choose Edinburgh Napier?
I had a choice between studying at Edinburgh Napier or Heriot-Watt, but for me, the high student satisfaction rate at ENU stood above the rest. Reading through the university's social media accounts and learning about their different societies was also a major factor, and when I went to the open days I felt welcomed instantly.
Has your course given you any practical opportunities out-with standard teaching?
The course has provided me with many opportunities and connections. Meeting not just students, but many people inside the industry as well. I've also had the opportunity while studying to experience the chance to go on-site visits and have professional presentations on a regular basis.
What's your highlights of studying at Edinburgh Napier University?
A highlight for me is just how broad the Civil Engineering course really is. By studying a handful of different subjects, it allowed me to find what I loved and where I’d see myself in the future. In 3rd year I was studying a Railway Engineering module with Mark Taylor, and he provided us with coursework that focused on ‘Python’, which is a program for coding. I had never done coding before, so I took on the challenge to learn myself. It was something I thoroughly enjoyed and taught me some essential skills which I can take into the industry and will benefit me in the future.
How have you found the facilities? How have you used them?
I found the facilities to be neat and well sized. The labs and classrooms in particular are a great size for people to engage with lecturers and getting involved in class activities. The libraries are also the perfect quiet space to remain as productive as possible.
What challenges have you faced?
Meeting new people at university was a scary experience since I was slightly older, but after settling into the course I began to feel more comfortable. Socialising ended up becoming one of my main attributes after this, which resulted in my appointment to the position of the president at the Edinburgh Napier Built Environment Society (ENBES).
How did you find the teaching on your course?
The lecturers put in a great effort and have outside the box ideas to keep everyone involved and interesting. This involves talks from people inside the industry, site visits and lab work.
What do you hope to go on to after your studies?
I’d love to help out the university and come back to engage with students to give them the best experience they can have. I’ve been in the situation of being quiet and shy, but later become a student ambassador.
What advice would you give to anyone considering a Civil Engineering course?
To understand that Civil engineering is such a broad subject, so it's totally okay to begin your studies here without knowing exactly what you want to do in the future. For example, I knew I wanted to study and work in engineering, but the course provides a wide range of modules from fluid mechanics, railway, structural, transport and environmental engineering. I had an interest in timber engineering, but realised it was not for me and refocused on transport and railway engineering instead. I know now that this is the career I want to follow, but I didn't discover this until 4th year. Therefore, I would say that patience and an open mind is key to success.