Alexandra Dakin: Digital Transformation Consultant, Arup

Posted: 13 June 2022

Alex Dakin is a Box Hill alumna (2016) who completed her undergraduate and master’s studies in Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College, London. She is now working as a Digital Transformation Consultant at Arup and supports the company with digital change.

Alex talks passionately about her “obsession for all things Round Square”. She talks about the impact of attending student conferences, how the personal growth she experienced continues to support her personal and professional decisions, and how she strives to affect positive change in the lives of others.

The first Round Square conference Alex attended was hosted by St Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, Florida in 2013. Alex connected strongly with a presentation from two founders of Free the Children (now known as WE Charity). She began supporting Craig and Marc Kielburger’s work when she returned to the UK through presentations and advocacy initiatives. For Alex, the experiences she had in Boca Raton “lit a flare” and ignited her passion for service and adventure.

Alex shares that her second Round Square trip was a service trip. This time she travelled to Africa, to Philippolis, a town located in the Free State Province in South Africa. Once there her group built a counselling building for the children in the community. “You name it, we did it!” explains Alex. Building the centre was a construction project and Alex found herself mixing cement, bricklaying and making floors.

The experiences had an equally transformative impact on the way she viewed the world. They left her feeling curious, confident, and courageous. Her engagements and conversations with others ignited her spirit of adventure. She felt that leaving her own “little school bubble” and meeting “these incredible people who are all doing their own things to create change” opened her mind to a world of opportunities that existed beyond school exams and “small friendship groups”.

“Suddenly your world gets a lot bigger. Very quickly you start to think about things slightly differently and you begin to realise what you are capable of. All it takes is putting one foot in front of the other and you make that change possible, for yourself and for others.”

Inspired to engage in another service trip, Alex headed to Borneo. She travelled to Kubah National Park. There she worked at the Matang Wildlife Centre, a dedicated centre where orangutans are rehabilitated and released into the forest. In addition to her husbandry work with the orangutans and sun bears, Alex worked on construction of enclosures for the animals.

Reflecting on her experiences, she shares that attending her first conference in 2013 gave her the courage to challenge herself. To push her to be more, to do more to help others, and to embark on adventures. It led her to Asia.

“I really do think that if I hadn’t had the South Africa conference as a baseline for a service trip, I would never have been so confident in just going out to Malaysia in the first place.”

Challenging herself also extended to her approach to choosing a university. Alex believes that pushing herself outside of her comfort zone and spending time with different people gave her the courage to apply to Imperial College, London. The requirements were high, but Alex was determined. She believes that her experiential learning with Round Square “made the whole difference” in her application. Alex was able to share how her experiences had impacted her personal development. It was this skill development that she feels was most interesting to the admissions team at the university, particularly her ability to persevere and work things out.

“I don’t think that I would have gone otherwise, to be honest. For my engineering degree, they were specifically looking for problem solving.”

Problem Solving is a Round Square Discovery that Alex feels she developed during her travels. As she reflected on her adventures, she connected her character development to tangible experiences. When Alex was asked about her teamwork, communication, and leadership skills during her university entrance interview, she found it easy to draw upon the service experiences she had at the Round Square conference in South Africa.

“I was able to engage in a conversation. It wasn’t just me answering their questions. All of a sudden it was no longer an interview. It was so much more engaging. It made a difference as what I had to say was a bit different from what anyone else would say. It really helps you stick above the crowd. It made all the difference.”  

Even now, Alex continues to not be daunted by interviews and views them as opportunities to engage and share. “I’m not nervous” she explains “I enjoy the conversations. The process is fun. I think that I feel like this because I have all this experience under my belt. So, when I am asked a question, I do not have to go fishing for an answer. I know that I have something to add, which is quite cool!”

When it came to her A Level results, Alex did not receive the grades that had been asked for by Imperial. Her university acceptance came through first, she had her place at Imperial to study Mechanical Engineering and she was delighted! Then she looked at her A Level results and realised that they did not match her original offer. She was confused. Why had Imperial College London offered her a place on the course without her having achieved the asking grades?

“I didn’t understand. These weren’t the grades that I needed. So, I contacted UCAS. They explained that the university place had been given to me because of my extracurricular roles.”

Alex says that as she stood in the kitchen on that day, she felt incredibly thankful. “I am grateful that I did say yes to everything that was given to me. I pushed myself to try everything. And just having that mentality has got me to where I am now, with the skills I have now.”

This skill development and proactive approach extends to her workplace communications. Although she feels that she is “a low tier in the team” she does not let that affect her confidence or her daily interactions. “I just put myself out there a bit more. I go looking for ways to engage with others, rather than just sitting back and relaxing.”

Alex explains that she often engages with directors in her current company, and confidence and communication skills are key to getting the job done. You need to be able to communicate with everyone, no matter what you may think your status might be. Alex says, “I have to be able to engage with them [directors] and not be intimidated.”

As she reflects on the opportunities she has had, and how these experiences have supported her transition into university and the workplace, we ask Alex a final question. Given all that she has experienced, what advice would she share with high school students who are starting out on their own journeys?

“Obviously, work hard. But your grades are not the end result. When I say “work hard” I mean work hard on yourself. Say yes to every opportunity that gives you joy. And if you keep following where your heart wants you to be, you will end up where you are supposed to be!”

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