Published: 12 October 2022

Surrey/ICE scholarship scheme transforms passion into success

Apply for the Surrey/ICE Scholarship scheme – one of the only degree scholarships delivered in partnership with the Institution of Civil Engineers – and you could follow in the footsteps of successful alumni like Vanessa Burton, now Assistant Engineer at Mott MacDonald.

Imagine leaving University with 18 months’ experience gained at a leading construction company under your belt. Many students on our Civil Engineering MEng/BEng (Hons) do just that as part of the Surrey/ICE Scholarship programme – as well as benefiting from a generous annual bursary and usually a graduate job role.

So what’s the process of applying for the Surrey/ICE Scholarship and what benefits could it bring you? We catch up with Vanessa (who now sits on the other side of the table as her company’s scholarship coordinator) – along with Dr Rick Woods of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and current Surrey/ICE scholar Joe Rushton who is sponsored by Mott MacDonald – to find out more.

How to apply

“Applying for a scholarship can be daunting,” says Vanessa. “My mum told me about the Surrey/ICE scholarship and my first thought was ‘that’s not for me’. But she convinced me I had nothing to lose.”

The application process is very simple. Once you’re submitted your UCAS form and been offered a place to study you can apply online and will be told by the end of March whether you’ve been selected for interview.

The interview process

The next step is an applicant day at ICE’s impressive headquarters in central London which, as Vanessa recalls, is a valuable experience in itself.

“I took part in a group task and was then interviewed by two engineers from industry,” she says. “For someone like me who didn’t have a family background in engineering, it was a very important day. I took my grandmother and friend along and it really gave them – as well as me – an insight into the profession I’d be joining.”

Dr Woods adds: “On the day you’ll not only meet lecturers and industry representatives but also students currently on the scholarship: people who are currently ‘getting the T-shirt’ and can tell you first hand what it’s all about.”

Joe says: “The applicant day was a great opportunity to meet my future fellow students. I thought the interview was fair, testing my knowledge and ambitions while understanding I was still a student. I had ample opportunities to ask questions I had about engineering and becoming an engineer.”

Who wins a scholarship?

The Surrey/ICE Scholarship was set up 20 years ago with the aim of finding bright students who are passionate about civil engineering, and enabling them to engage with an employer early on in their development.

As Advancing Race and Culture Network Chair at Mott MacDonald, Vanessa is keen to promote diversity in engineering, and believes the Surrey/ICE Scholarship has an important role to play. She explains: “One of the things I love about the scheme is that it’s not just grade dependent – for example I was a BEng rather than an MEng student. At the applicant day, you’ll find that there’s a real mixture of people and you get the chance to sell yourself and show what you have to offer.”

Having been accepted onto the scheme the next stage comes once you’re a student at Surrey when you’ll be invited to a ‘matching day’ – the equivalent of speed dating between students and companies looking to sponsor them!

Dr Woods says: “Students get the chance to talk to representatives from lots of different companies – both consultants and contractors – and we then pair them with a company that aligns with their areas of interest and aspirations. Companies are looking for people who will be a good fit in their organisation and are really motivated to make an impact in the civil sector.”

What the scholarship gives you

Students on the scholarship scheme benefit from a bursary of nearly £2,000 for every year of study and paid work experience during their summer vacations as well as their Professional Training placement year.

When it comes to your future career, the scholarship is invaluable: not only do students normally go on to a graduate role in their partner company, they will also have accumulated lots of experience which counts towards chartered status.

“Our scholars really hit the ground running when they graduate,” says Rick. “Right from their first summer placement they can begin the Initial Professional Development (IPD) process which involves demonstrating and documenting key skills – something many graduates can only start to do once they’ve left university.”

Life on placement

Joe, who is 10 months into his placement year at Mott MacDonald, says: “My placement has been very good. I’ve been able to move around multiple projects which has allowed me to gain more insight into the field than I would have had just from studying. I’ve also been able to see how the topics you learn are used in practice.”

Vanessa believes that the placement experience can be transformational. “By the time you come back from your year’s placement you’ll be so familiar with how to do calculations, how to write reports, how to apply your knowledge… because you will have been doing it.

“On my Professional Training placement I got to go on site visits and attended meetings with directors and was exposed to lots of different projects which probably wouldn’t happen in a typical graduate day-to-day role.

“But one of the most valuable things you learn is that you have a voice. I think this is a really important thing to realise early on: you can make a difference even as a student.”

Passport to your future

Becoming a Surrey/ICE scholar is a passport not only to work experience and a bursary, but also to a network of engineers at different levels who will support you in your future career.

Vanessa says: “When I started at Mott MacDonald I found that many colleagues in the years above me had all been part of the scholarship scheme.

“Now that I’m scholarship coordinator I see it from the other side. Companies like ours can always teach the technical skills, but having a passion for civil engineering is something you can’t teach. Getting to know potential scholars through the interview process and finding out what makes them tick – that’s what makes this scholarship very different from others.”


Find out more about the Surrey/ICE Scholarship scheme.

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