Amie Lenkowiec is a double Essex graduate, having studied both a BSc and MSc at Essex, and her career as an environmental consultant has taken her across the world. After volunteering her time to talk to current Essex students at a Women in STEM career event earlier this year, we knew we had to shine a light on her journey after Essex.
I studied a BSc in Marine and Freshwater Biology and then completed an MSc in Marine Biology. I lived at home in Chelmsford and commuted to campus most days in my cute little purple Nissan micra! I have lots of favourite memories including SO many late themed nights at Sub Zero and the SU and ridiculously early mornings and weekends at the lab with Michael Steinke completing research for my undergraduate dissertation. But, my favourite memories by far were made during the two months I spent diving and living on a remote island in Indonesia as part of a module for my undergraduate degree, and later for my Masters dissertation research.
I have worked in a number of different countries over the years, including Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey and Qatar, but I have spent the majority of my time in the UAE. My first professional role was as a marine scientist in Dubai in 2010 with a company that was about to be acquired by HDR, a global engineering and architecture firm which also specialises in environmental and construction services.
In that first role I was very much a ‘field grunt’ on a four-person team. I spent a lot of time diving, cleaning equipment and collecting samples – and I loved every minute of it. From there, I started managing field surveys ranging from coral monitoring, to turtle relocation and rehabilitation with a marine NGO. After that, I was hired to start a small environmental department for an offshore survey company, this was an incredibly hard role to ease into, but also very fascinating. In this position I established and led a whole department and was also responsible for leading and taking part in extensive 24/7 offshore environmental campaigns at the time. In hindsight, I can confidently say that this was one of the most challenging roles I’ve been in to date. Not because of the excessively long field work hours, but because I was one of a very few females in a highly male dominated industry (oil and gas). After a considerable amount of trial and error I realised that my “power” came from my confidence. There were days that I definitely had to “fake it till I made it” with my confidence levels, but there is a LOT of truth in the saying “if you just act confident, no one will question it”. Of course, I don’t mean on a technical knowledge level – faking that is a dangerous game, but with regards to how you hold yourself and interact with people – confidence is absolutely key.
After I was able to happily hand over a fully functioning environmental department, I returned to HDR, where I have now been for six years – two years of which acting as Regional Client Development Leader for the Gulf Arab States. I recently relocated to America and now work as the Wastewater Client Development Leader for the New York and New Jersey area. The experience that I gained during each step of my career journey has really helped me understand what it is that I enjoy and what it is that I want out of life.
It is my belief that unless you try something, you will never fully know if you love it or not. The rule stands for all things – food, music, relationships…. so it’s not any different for your career. I am the kind of person that will say “yes” to anything! This has served me well in my work life, as if I don’t know something, I will never say no to trying it or attempting to figure it out.
I initially started to become passionate about the marine environment when I tried scuba diving for the first time. While I had always been interested in nature, and loved animals, I hadn’t ever paid too much mind to what was in the sea. Since the first time I donned my mask and fins and had a try dive whilst on holiday in Turkey, I was utterly fascinated. I went to my local library and found all the books I could on the marine environment and Jacques Cousteau. Since then, the knowledge of what our oceans bring to humanity is what has kept me interested and passionate. Not only do we utilize the oceans for sustenance, education, enjoyment and tourism but the medicinal and technological knowledge that we have gained already, and will potentially learn, is truly phenomenal. It is this value of the oceans and nature in general that keeps me passionate.
I was drawn to environmental consultancy due to the huge diversity of the projects that consultants work on, and it is this fact that has kept me so fulfilled throughout my career. I have been involved in projects such as hydrodynamic modelling, groundwater surveying, fish and coral monitoring, construction EIAs and terrestrial ecology surveys to name but a few.
Progressing through environmental consultancy into the specific role I am in now, happened quite organically. I have always known that I am good at communication and relationship building, so for me it was a natural step to move from strictly project management into a more ‘client-facing’ role. I love the stomach-wrenching nerves before going in to present to a high-level client, followed by the sheer satisfaction if you nail that meeting! Some people couldn’t think of anything worse, but I really do love it.
I would say that my proudest moment so far is when I was nominated for an internal leadership programme within my company. One of my regional managers nominated me whilst I was working in Dubai, then the executive leadership team of my whole company reviewed and approved the nomination. The class itself was one of the best things I have done professionally. A close second ‘proud’ moment was when myself and one of my UAE colleagues presented at a company exhibition in Omaha, Nebraska to 800 peers and seniors. I truly didn’t know I could do it until I did it – I was wildly nervous the whole day, and then when I stepped on stage a weird calm came over me, it was like “well, I have no way out now!”
I take part in annual Skype interviews with MSc students at Essex and I always reiterate three things. First, say ‘yes’ and consistently offer to help – always be the first one to put your hand up and offer support to people because it really does make a difference. Second, stay enthusiastic by growing personally and improving your skills. If you’re not making progress in something every single day, then you’re going to lose enthusiasm very quickly. Third, work HARD. There is no one in this world who is truly successful and hasn’t worked hard for what they want.
There are two things that can make you successful: talent and skill. There may be people in your life who have more natural talent, and that’s just how it is sometimes. However, skill is something that can be built upon every day. You can develop inordinate amounts of skill just by consistently putting the effort in and working hard.