Matthew Cokeham

Why did you choose to study Civil Engineering with Construction Management?

I was always keen on design technology throughout school, which developed whilst studying A-levels, along with my enthusiasm for Mathematics and Physics. I remember it being daunting deciding which university course to study; I knew I didn't want to study a pure Mathematics degree and I wanted to combine my passions. This naturally lead to an engineering degree and I was excited by the thought of applying my mathematical skills at the same time as utilising my flare for design, within the exciting and fast paced construction industry. The few reservations I had regarding the course were diminished by the fact that the skills developed in a civil engineering degree are also a great gateway into many varied employment sectors outside of construction and engineering, making it a great degree to form the basis of many different and varied careers.

Why did you choose to study at Leeds?

Home to a large number of students, Leeds is one of the most exciting cities to study in. Ranging from impressively varied student nightlife, to great shopping facilities, Leeds as a city, boasts a wealth of great experiences to offer students of all interests. This is accentuated by the impressive list of student clubs and societies that the University Union offers, no matter what your interests may be, there is a society to suit. I was aware of the University’s great reputation as a whole, which extends to the School of Civil Engineering who lead the industry in many research areas. With all this in mind and with friends already in Leeds, it was my first choice.

What was it like studying overseas?

The highlight of my degree was most definitely spending my third year studying abroad at the University of Alberta, Canada. This was an incredibly rewarding experience and I would certainly recommend studying abroad to any student. The opportunity to be fully immersed within another culture and way of life, as more than just a traveller is a rare one and I have numerous unforgettable experiences and memories from my year abroad. 

Modules studied were similar to those available at Leeds in terms of curriculum content; however, they varied in how they were delivered. This meant I had to be adaptable and as a result I developed many key skills during my year abroad which are very attractive to potential employers are they are directly transferable to situations that I will find myself in during my future career.

I was not only keen to involve myself academically, but also keen to experience living within a new community and to become involved within the universities extracurricular activities. I joined the university outdoors club and went on many weekend trips; including hiking in the Rocky Mountains and building igloos to sleep in overnight; it was cold in Alberta and the winter temperature dropped below -40 degrees Celsius!

Competition to design sustainable low cost housing in Nkombo, Rwanda
After spending three months volunteering on charity construction projects in Kenya and Tanzania whilst taking a ‘gap year’ prior to furthering my studies, I developed an interest for engineering in developing countries. During my second year studying at Leeds I was able to build upon this knowledge by studying and specialising on the subject. This provided me with the skills to enter a design competition held by the charity, Rwanda Aid which was advertised through the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE). The brief was to design a house for a remote region of Rwanda, with focuses on environmental sustainability and cost, whilst paying particular attention to structural efficiency as the region experiences earthquakes. I am proud to say that I won the student category of this national competition and as a result I was rewarded with an all expenses paid trip to supervise house building in Rwanda. This was an incredible experience, which I am certain has improved my employment prospects and I owe it all to the range of skills developed whilst studying Civil Engineering at Leeds University.

What activities are you involved in outside of your studies? 

During my time in Leeds I have made many great friends, which I know will extend far beyond graduating from the university. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Leeds and I have been involved with the university mountaineering society as well as being on the lacrosse team. During my final year I became involved with the Leeds Raising and Giving organisation to raise money for many different charities. Basically, Leeds has a huge amount to offer, no matter what your interests may be.

What are your plans after graduation?

After working for a civil engineering design consultancy during summer holidays whilst studying at Leeds I was confident that a career within construction was for me. I have a graduate position due to begin the September following graduation with a firm who specialise in construction management. I am excited to start this job, especially as I will be based in central London, surrounded by many major construction projects.

Do you have any advice for prospective students?

Studying Civil Engineering has been thoroughly enjoyable and very rewarding. It is a demanding course, however strong support is offered by the department to ensure you settle in well. Whilst the learning curve may be steep, this support, along with dedication to the course will ensure you reach your full potential. A degree in Civil Engineering offers key skills that are applicable to many different industries, not just construction.

The whole experience at Leeds has benefited me immensely, not only personally, but professionally. Entering into a career such as engineering, where there are employment opportunities all over the world I believe that studying abroad will help me to compete for these international jobs.