Pete’s Urban Planning Degrees at the University of New England

Pete’s Urban Planning Degrees at the University of New England

What was it like living in Armidale?

“I realised that Armidale had everything I needed pretty early on. It has all the shops and the bars and the movies plus it’s surrounded by beautiful national parks. Armidale is big enough to have everything, but small enough to still care. You get a sense of community which I haven’t yet felt anywhere else, everyone has each other’s backs. Some great families that care about the community and really will do anything to move Armidale forward and I was so fortunate to get exposed to that through the rugby club. I naively thought that was everywhere, but having moved around plenty since uni, it’s clear this is unique.”

How do you describe yourself academically?

“Next question! I would probably describe myself in terms of my academic performance, I was pretty ‘well-rounded’. I equally contributed to college life as I did for sports, leadership and academics. I guess to a certain extent, I really embraced the group learning but I wouldn’t necessarily say I was academically self-focussed. I think in a place like UNE and Armidale, I was able to live a life quite balanced, and that’s what I got out of the experience. Suffice to say, it’s so much more than just the academic side of getting a degree!  

“My dad, he’s retired now but he said to me that when he would interview people, he wanted to know really how they could relate to people and what motivates them and not their academic marks. These are often called ‘softer’ skills, but really they are some of the hardest to learn. I’m the first to put my hand up and say I made a bunch of mistakes when at UNE, but through those I learnt the importance of relating to a wide variety of people whether it’s in their professional life or socially. UNE set a great foundation for my life and work overseas. One of the guys who was at the college next to me was from Papua New Guinea and a guy in my course was  from Fiji not to mention great exchange students from all over the world. It was amazing to meet all these people from all over the globe in regional NSW. The world kind of comes to you at UNE.”

Your Achievements 

“It’s difficult to talk about individual achievements when really felt through friends, college and sports networks it was really a collective effort. Suffice to say though that if you are prepared to put in the hard yards, things will come your way.”

How did you get your first job?

“I needed to complete a 12-week work experience for my degree and I was lucky enough that the consultancy I did that with offered me a graduate position. After doing that for 4 years I took a break and travelled the world for a year which eventually led me to the Philippines.”

Can you tell me about your overseas volunteer work in the Philippines?

“I was in a program called Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AVID) in the Philippines, helping the informal settlement communities (or slums). It was full-on, sure, but I loved the experience. Resettlement in Metro Manila is a complex challenge with strong emotive, political, social and economic implications. As a Human Settlements Planning Officer, my duties involved assisting informal settlers into permanent, safe and affordable housing away from danger zones that are prone to flash flooding from Typhoons and storm events via Policy formulation and recommendations. 

“This assignment involved many visits to informal settlements, both for consultation and training sessions. These were truly eye-opening experiences and have completely changed my view of the world we live in. If I’m honest, initially when I first visited communities all I saw were dilapidated shacks, poor living conditions and waste pollution. By the end of my assignment, 10 months later, when I visited all I saw were smiling children, vendors, families and good people stuck in difficult situations.  There is such a sense of community in these areas. Complete strangers, who have nothing by ‘western’ standards, will invite you into their homes and give you whatever food they have – this is a humbling experience. People are happy and there is a real lesson in that. During my assignment, sure I was sick in hospital and even robbed, but none of these challenges came remotely close to those faced by informal settlers in Metro Manila. Truly inspirational stories from people who are resilient, determined and passionate for the future of their families and communities.

“Professionally that experience changed everything for me. I went from dealing with land development in property development in Canberra to then working in such a contrasting environment in the Philippines. It was fascinating. When I came back, I viewed the world differently and it opened up the international development and aid world. The experience I had volunteering and travelling in the Philippines, greatly contributed to my decision to undertake a Master’s degree.”

How is your job now?

“I’m currently the Manager of International Development for a consultancy based in Canberra Australia. The company I worked for is quite broad, but basically, we work with other governments in the Pacific in the International Aid sector. Personally, I’ve been very fortunate to work in PNG, Vanuatu and Timor-Leste including an extended stint as an urban planner and everything from project management to hands-on, delivering infrastructure, assessing infrastructure to the environmental social impacts of that area. I am responsible for the management of a broad range of international projects for clients, sure, but my main job is people management in which I draw on skills I learnt from UNE every day.”

Can you list 5 things that you love about UNE?

The flexibility that UNE offers.  Without flexibility, my Master’s degree would have been nearly impossible. I was happy that I was able to choose what I wanted to study and that it would be applicable in my career.

Availability of the lecturers is a close second.  When I was doing my undergrad, the class sizes weren’t that big and there was a great deal of access to lecturers. I mean I was able to pick up a phone and talk to my supervisors about anything!

Practicality.  UNE teaches you ‘how’ to think not necessarily ‘what’ to think. They prepare you for the working world.

Community.  UNE produces well-rounded individuals. It’s not all about academics, it’s about being a member of a community and whatever that sort of community is for an individual. For me, it was a sport like playing rugby. It was college life and all of that coming together as one. It’s about being holistic and I feel like I left a different person. I graduated as a wiser person.

Rural city life.  Finally, the regional aspect of UNE provided such a great experience for me. Since you’re not in a big city, you do hang out with your peers more instead of just coming to classes and leaving as soon as they’re over. You can ‘create your own fun’ which hones leadership skills and there are so many extracurricular things that help us grow. Those are the qualities I need for the rest of my life.

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