Sarah Zhang is a passionate transport planner, with a background in civil engineering and international relations. Specialising in pedestrian planning, her project experience encompasses a number of industries such as infrastructure, transport, arts and culture, stadia, buildings, and has worked on a range of high profile public and private sector projects in Melbourne, Sydney and New York.
Sarah is also a passionate promoter of women in engineering. She is currently the Vice Chair of WIES and actively mentors junior engineers and female engineering students.
Outside of work, Sarah is an avid mountain climber and a fried chicken enthusiast.
Sarah was recently recognised by Engineers Australia as the 2017 Young Professional Engineer of the Year.
What is your current job title and function?
Senior transport and pedestrian planner at AECOM. I oversee the management and delivery of projects. Being a specialist in pedestrian planning allows me to work on a range of very exciting projects, looking at how pedestrian movement and interaction occurs.
Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
I was interested in maths and enjoyed the creativity and possibilities that came from designing. As a child, I was known to always take things apart and understand how things worked.
What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?
Every project is challenging, whether the challenge comes from learning a new technique or method of achieving the project outcome, or the challenge arises due to client management and expectations, or the challenge of living out of a suitcase for months on end (you will be very thankful for 24 hour or express laundry).
Moving to New York at 25 and learning to build my professional experience was a big challenge. But it was also extremely rewarding, personally and professionally. Professionally, I was given the opportunity to work on a range of renowned projects such as Museum of Modern Art, High Line, the Vessel, and Culture Shed.
Recently and locally, I have been challenged with my contribution to the Hyperloop competition and the planning for Sydney Metro.
What does winning the 2017 Young Professional Engineer of the Year Award mean to you?
Winning the 2017 Young Professional Engineer award is a huge honour. It’s great to see transport planning, a softer side of engineering, recognised. Being formally recognised for my contribution to society, through engineering, and creating a positive impact, is important to me.
Winning the award also means that I can gloat to my engineering friends that one doesn’t need to study physics past Year 9 to become a good engineer.
Why are you an Engineers Australia member?
Engineers Australia is an internationally recognised institution. Belonging to the institution is especially helpful for me, since my projects are often in different states or countries, being a member of Engineers Australia provides me credibility, and gives my clients assurance that I am skilled and capable of undertaking the project.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you like to have with you?
Books, timtams and a plane – so that I can leave the island to buy more timtams when I run out.
What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
Being an avid advocate for encouraging females to study engineering and stay in the industry, I see the current under-representation of women in engineering as a big issue. Supporting and maintaining a stronger female presence within the engineering industry will help futureproof the industry. Having diversity within the profession and industry will enable more creativity to occur, which leads to the generation of different solutions to problems.
If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpower to be?
Flying – travelling would be so, so much easier, and quicker.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Reading and eating. I try to read a new book a month, and limit my fried chicken intake to once per month.
Who is your hero?
I don’t have a specific hero. I recognise any individual who makes a positive impact as a hero.
What makes you laugh?
Everything and anything – my colleagues all know that I will laugh at everything and anything.