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Young alumni stories: The grad, the engineer and the sports star

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Enjoy multitasking? That’s nothing for Kassia Ralston, who was an international water polo player and Western Australian Institute of Sport scholarship athlete for the duration of her civil and construction engineering degree.

Credit: Arup.

Imagine training up to four hours a day, almost every day, for five years.

It’s a rigorous routine that many elite athletes face, but for Kassia Ralston – a former member of the Australian Junior and Senior Women’s Water Polo Team – it was in addition to 15–20 contact hours per week required by her civil and construction engineering degree, not to mention the many hours she spent studying.

“I trained up to three times a day. We were required to perform regular fitness testing that included gym testing for one-rep maximum weights and pool-based testing such as jump tests, aerobic swim sets, timed medicine ball holds and beep tests,” Ralston says.

Since she turned 16, Ralston has donned the green and gold bathers on many occasions at both junior and senior level.

Some of her highlights include playing for the Australian Junior Women’s Team in the 2012 FINA World Youth Water Polo Championships in Perth, the Australian B’94 Youth Girls Team in the 2012 Olympic Hopefuls Tournament in Dunaújváros, Hungary, and the Australian Senior Women’s Team in the 2014 Open Australian Women’s Water Polo Japan Tour.

Ralston also continued to play in the National Water Polo League as a member of the Fremantle Marlins for Melville Water Polo Club, which involved regular interstate travel and dedicated time to attend physiotherapy, rehabilitation and athletic education sessions.

“It felt like I was living a double life,” Ralston admits. “One time I had to travel to Tokyo for a two-week training camp while I was preparing for six engineering exams.”

Kassia Ralston at an indoor pool with her teammates at a training camp in Japan.

Kassia Ralston (pictured right) and her teammates at a training camp in Japan in late 2014.

Curtin’s Elite Athlete Program was critical in supporting her international and national endeavours by granting her assignment extensions, alternative examination arrangements and other flexible study options to ensure she could also pursue academic study.

“I am grateful for the support I received from the Elite Athlete Program and my lecturers. Curtin University’s civil and construction engineering course has a fantastic reputation in industry for offering students a balanced mix of engineering foundations, practical experience and most importantly engineering communication skills,” Ralston says.

“On graduation, I achieved a distinction average with upper second class honours and multiple graduate position offers from leading engineering companies, but the most special outcome of my education was that I was privileged to represent Australia in water polo at the same time.”

Perseverance and focus the key

While Ralston no longer plays water polo at an international level – though still at club level – the perseverance and focus she developed has translated over into her engineering career.

From 2016 to 2017, while still a student, Ralston became the Chairperson of the WA branch of Young Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA) and was a Young Representative on the IPWEA WA Executive Committee.

After graduating, she moved to Sydney, where she worked as a transport engineer for international civil engineering firm, AECOM, and became a member of the Australian Institute of Traffic Planning and Management NSW Young Professional Network. She worked on numerous exciting planning projects, including strategic modelling for the new, automated rapid transit system Sydney Metro project.

Now, the 24-year-old has returned to Perth, where she has begun working as a transport consultant for international engineering, design and project management firm, Arup, and also joined the Young Engineers Australia WA Committee.

“I believe there are so many complementary crossovers between performing as an elite athlete and [working] as a consultant engineer. For instance, both athletes and engineers work in teams towards a common goal,” Ralston explains.

“Athletes are also accustomed to putting months of preparation into teaming, strategy and execution. As part of the Australian water polo teams and squads, I was trained to maximise diverse skills and perspectives to execute and win – this is crucial to the success of engineering teams.”

With Ralston’s new office located in the Exchange Tower, boasting panoramic views over Elizabeth Quay and the Swan River, she can well and truly say that the hard work and sacrifice has paid off – for both sides of her double life.

“To all the female engineering students … please stick with engineering and see the course to the end: you are on a path towards a fantastic career. Set yourself up for success early by seeking out every opportunity to develop your career, such as applying for internships, networking with your student peers and keeping up-to-date with engineering industry news.

“I also think you should take the initiative to develop holistically while at university by getting involved in sports teams, industry events, clubs, committees and volunteering.”

This story is part of Curtin’s Young Alumni Stories series where we celebrate the achievements of Curtin graduates 35 and under. Learn more about the Young Alumni Program.

Graduate snapshot

Name: Kassia Ralston

Studied: Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) (Civil and Construction Engineering)

Graduated: 2016

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