How to hit the ground running

The Port of Townsville and the Breakwater Marina, Townsville.

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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

9 May 2023

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After finishing an apprenticeship in event management in Germany, Jessica Hespeler returned to Cairns to study a Bachelor of Environmental Science and Management at JCU. Jessica shares how working abroad has helped her to become a more successful student — and why it’s sometimes important to be knee-deep in the mud.

Jessica moved to Germany when she was eighteen years old, in order to reconnect with the German side of her family, and to start an apprenticeship in event management at a company that focused on environmentally responsible music events. “We organised festivals and concerts from a couple of hundred people all the way to 50,000,” Jessica says. “One of my bosses was involved in some of the biggest music festivals in Germany, such as Wacken, and I was travelling through Switzerland, Germany and Austria throughout the summer doing festivals and concerts.”

Even though, at first glance, event management does not appear to have much in common with environmental management, Jessica knows there is a connection: “Learning event management gave me time management skills and organisational skills, and, obviously, project management skills. I found that easily translatable into Environmental Science and Management.”

Managing events and the environment

Another factor the two professions have in common is the possibility to work in the field. “I enjoyed the fieldwork in event management. It was a nice mix of sixty percent field work and forty percent office work,” Jessica says. “But I wanted to serve a greater purpose, such as conserving our great biodiversity.”

A seminar about sustainability in event management was an eye-opener for her, Jessica says. “That really intrigued me to go down that path. I started looking into Environmental Management. As I'm from Cairns, I knew about JCU and their Environmental Science and Management programs.” The COVID-19 pandemic, finally, made it easy for Jessica to go back to Australia and start her new career, as all music festivals were cancelled during the pandemic.

Jessica Hespeler.
Music festival.
Left: Jessica Hespeler (Supplied: Jessica Hespeler). Right: people at a music festival.

Doing two placements instead of one

One of the things that Jessica especially wanted to get out of studying Environmental Management was to gain as much practical work experience as possible. Even though not mandatory, JCU encourages Environmental Science and Management students to undertake at least 130 hours of professional placement in one relevant, approved industry workplace or via an industry relevant project.

However, when Jessica was granted a scholarship with Hall Contracting in Townsville, from November until February this year, she decided to not count it as an ‘official’ placement experience and instead gain work experience with a different company later.

“Having two placements on my resume in the environmental industry is definitely beneficial. It also allows me to gain insight and exposure to diverse industries within my field of study. As I am uncertain which career path I would like to follow,” Jessica says.

“The degree of Environmental Science and Management opens up a range of job opportunities such as becoming a biosecurity officer, environmental consultant or a researcher, for instance.”

Hall Contracting Placement

Hall Contracting is involved in the Townsville Port channel upgrade project, and Jessica’s work was very hands-on. “We did a lot of PASS testing, which is Potential Acid Sulphate Soils testing,” she says.

“All the dredging material that they would bring up would have to get tested on site at the reclamation area. We would go out, knee deep in mud, and test the soil and later send the samples off to the lab. That was the main part of what I did there.”

Jessica also enjoyed being on the water. “We went together with consultants working for NGH Wild Environmental,” Jessica says. “I got to assist the team with environmental audits of the vessel and had the great fortune of practicing my megafauna spotting skills as a pod of dolphins passed by.”

Given that Jessica didn’t allow herself to go on holiday since she started studying at JCU, she decided that she wants to approach her ‘official’ Bachelor of Environmental Science and Management placement in a somewhat more relaxed way. “I only need to do 130 hours, but I am planning to do two days a week,” she says. As for now, she anticipates starting her second placement within the next few months.

Dolphins off the coast of Australia.

Looking into the future

Given that Jessica will be finished with her studies before the end of 2023, she is still very flexible in terms of her future career. “I was eyeing off working in the biosecurity area, government or even the Department of Fisheries,” she says.

“I liked doing GIS (Geographic Information System Mapping), and I know that the Yellow Crazy Ant Eradication Program does a lot of GIS mapping, for instance. TropWater – the Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research –  also works a lot with GIS. I would find it interesting to work in this field.”

Jessica thinks that her previous work experience in Germany and the two work placements in Townsville will be beneficial for her career. “I'd like to hit the ground running, and maybe later on do my Masters,” she says.

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