Engineering/commerce graduate awarded 2018 Robert Hope Memorial Prize for leadership, contribution to community

Jessica Kiekebosch-Fitt is a firm believer in the importance of learning outside the classroom.

In her five years at the University of Wollongong, her degree has taken her from Indonesia to Africa, from working on research projects in the streets of Jakarta to building a classroom in Rwanda.

These opportunities have been integral to forming Jessica’s view of the world and providing her with unforgettable moments.

“Any time I have had the chance to go overseas has been a highlight for me,” she said. “To be able to connect, understand, better empathise with people from all walks of life is such a valuable experience.”

Jessica was yesterday (Tuesday 12 December) awarded the Robert Hope Memorial Prize, UOW’s most prestigious honour for students.

The medal celebrates the life and contribution of the University’s founding Chancellor, Robert Hope. It is awarded to a student who demonstrates exceptional academic performance, outstanding leadership, and a significant contribution to the University or wider community.

Being named the winner of the 2018 prize was an honour for Jessica. Recipients receive the Robert Hope Medal and $7,000, as well as $3,000 donated to a charity or community organisation of their choice.

“It was a real surprise,” she said. “It actually took a while to sink in. When you’ve worked hard, you don’t always give yourself that acknowledgement, so it’s a real thrill.”

Jessica, who graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering, majoring in Civil Engineering, and a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in Supply Chain Commerce, has been an active member of the University community since she began her double degree.

At the heart of it has been her passion for social justice. Jessica said she is particularly interested in how her business and engineering skills can complement each other to make a difference in the world.

Her passport has been essential throughout the course of her degree.

In 2015, she was part of a team of researchers and students from UOW who spent a month in Jakarta as part of the PetaJakarta project, which used Twitter to map real-time flood responses in the Indonesian megacity.

She has spent a month in India, where she was involved in a social business focused on bringing low-cost English education to rural communities through 40K Globe.

She was also based in Timor-Leste, again for a month, where she contributed to the research and development of a social business relating to water infrastructure.

But Jessica’s proudest moment came earlier this year, when she led a team of UOW engineering students working on a humanitarian engineering project in Rwanda.

Over the space of 13 months, Jessica coordinated the fundraising and design of a school classroom in a small community, raising more than $12,000. She completed a 44km marathon to raise money and awareness for the project.

Along with the UOW Humanitarian Engineering team, she then spent two weeks on the ground in Rwanda, building the classroom and being immersed in the local community.

“I’ve loved having the opportunity to extend myself and contribute to others. I think people don’t appreciate the hardships that others still face in different parts of the world,” Jessica said. “It’s a huge world out there.

“Rwanda was such a challenging experience but so rewarding. We are privileged in so many ways, and every time I go away, it provides me with a greater sense of perspective. We are lucky to live in Australia and even luckier to live in Wollongong.”

In her time at UOW, Jessica also managed to squeeze in an exchange semester in Boulder, Colorado, as well as countless hours volunteering for the Cancer Council and Move Your Mind.

It is clear that Jessica is a leader, which was exemplified when she was named as one of Australia’s Top 100 Future Leaders in 2017 by GradConnect.

Going forward, she is hoping to use her leadership skills, and her business and engineering acumen, to make a difference in the world.

“Business can be such a great force for social justice. I would like to be in a position where I am combining those soft skills, leadership and communication, with the hard skills, such as analytics and critical thinking to help solve a problem.

“I’m really interested in how we use business to create social, economic and environmental solutions to the complex problems facing the world.”

Words by India Glyde. Originally published on UOW Newsroom.