Steph Rooke

Current employer: Pennon Plc (Parent company of Viridor and South West Water)

Current job title: Sustainability Advisor

Current location: Taunton, Somerset

“The main reason I chose to study Environmental Science at Plymouth was the high amount of contact time and the significant amount of practical elements on the course, especially the second year field trip to Malaysia, together with the enthusiasm and passion of the lecturers.”

Tell us what you have been doing since completing your studies.

My passion for the need for sustainable waste management started during my school days and it was a natural progression to study environmental science. Towards the end of my masters degree I started applying for jobs within the waste management field and learned that I had been successful for the graduate management programme with Viridor within an hour of handing in my dissertation.

I found out about Viridor’s graduate management trainee scheme through attending and networking with a Viridor representative at the environmental science careers event fairs held at Plymouth University. My first year with Viridor was intensive and really put my academic knowledge into practice; it involved travelling around the UK working on six week projects in all areas of the company to present workable proposals that were able to be put into practice by senior Directors. My projects included learning about each area of the company by completing different work placements including resource trading, sales, compliance, transport, operations, and education.

I spent my second year working on an internal business transformation project, applying the practical experience and knowledge of the waste industry I had gained as a Graduate Management Trainee. This led to me being headhunted and successfully securing a role as CSR Co-ordinator in 2015. This was a challenging new role created within the company which has led to my current and more senior role as Sustainability Advisor for the Pennon group. I have now worked four years within the waste management industry and I am actively working towards becoming a Chartered Waste Manager for CIWM (Chartered Institution of Wastes Management).

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

The most rewarding thing I have done whilst working with Viridor was raising £10,000 in annual revenue for Viridor during my six week recycling and food waste sales placement in Cornwall as a Graduate Management Trainee. What made this an even greater accomplishment was that this was done in the face of adversity during some of the worst weather and flooding the area had experienced. I also represented Viridor in the final of the 2016 CSR Award for the Taunton Deane Business Awards and I was presented with a certificate by Debra Meaden from Dragons Den. The following year, I was proud to be part of Viridor winning the ‘CSR Award 2017’ and led the ‘Viridor Vikings’ team to a silver victory in the annual Taunton Dragon Boat race – we now feature on the box of the Taunton edition of the Monopoly board game!  

The most fun thing I have done in my career was spending six weeks travelling round with the Recycling Crew at Bournemouth Borough Council collecting data for my undergraduate dissertation.

The most exciting thing that I have done in my career with Viridor is to experience and follow the lifecycle of our recyclate and watch it being transformed into new quality material products.

What would you do differently since graduating?

Since graduating, the only thing I would do differently is to attend more CIWM networking events and seminars. Being a member of professional institutions is great as it keeps you up to date with changes in legislation and innovative technology and can benefit your employer too. Networking is really useful as “who you know, is just as important as what you know,” and can lead to exciting opportunities.

Imagine you were about to start university again – with the benefit of hindsight – what would you now tell yourself to have done differently?

The only thing I would do differently would be to utilise the resources of the University’s careers and employability service more. Remember to grab every opportunity that comes your way and make time to learn and develop through continuing professional development; you can always learn something new and the more experience you obtain the better.

What was your main reason for choosing to study your course at Plymouth? With hindsight how significant was this for you?

The main reason I chose to study Environmental Science at Plymouth was the high amount of contact time and the significant amount of practical elements on the course, especially the second year field trip to Malaysia, together with the enthusiasm and passion of the lecturers. I visited a Plymouth University Open Day and spent more than three hours with my parents talking to Lecturer John Bull about the course – by the end of the visit my parents wanted to sign up too!

The location of Plymouth in relation to Dartmoor and being by the coast was ideal for all the practical field trips. I also chose to study my masters at Plymouth as I had built up an excellent working relationship with my lecturers and the course provided an eight week work placement, helping me to gain further experience of working within the waste management industry in a different local authority.

How did we support you in your studies? If you used any support services whilst at the University how did they enable you to get to where you are today?

University of Plymouth helped to support me in my studies throughout the degree; the lecturers always made time for me, I had regular one to ones with my dissertation mentors, frequently used the libraries resources, and attended the career fairs. The employability team were really useful and helped me practice for the interview process, whilst my lecturers gave me advice and support to help me prepare for my Viridor interview which included an interactive presentation.

How did studying at Plymouth change your career aspirations and plans?

I have always known that I wanted a career in waste management ever since school, and studying BSc (Hons) Environmental Science and MSc Environmental Consultancy helped to confirm my career aspirations whilst widening my career opportunities in the sustainability and environmental management field.

What is your favourite memory of studying for your degree at Plymouth?

It would have to be the environmental science field trips. Come rain or shine we were out taking samples and writing in our yellow hard back notebooks. The best field trip memory was our trip to Malaysia and staying up all night monitoring trap door spiders.

How well did Plymouth prepare you for the challenges that you have faced, or will face, in your career?

The Environmental Science degree was a fantastic practical, hands-on course which covered a variety of environmental and sustainability topics including waste management. It was really useful in giving me a broad understanding of the current environmental issues we face globally. I think the masters degree supplemented my undergraduate course extremely well and helped to bridge the gap between my studies and the real world of the waste management industry. The masters degree was coursework based and focused on real life work scenarios which were a great way to apply your studies to real life environmental consultancy work. I was able to tailor the masters degree to suit my interest in the waste management industry, which enabled me to further develop my understanding and knowledge of this area and gain more practical work experience.

Both of the degrees have equipped me with the knowledge that I now use in my role as SHEQS Business Partner. They have also helped me to enter into a career in the waste management industry, which is challenging due to the dynamic and evolving nature of the industry.

Why would you recommend undertaking a course with University of Plymouth?

I would definitely recommend studying Environmental Science at University of Plymouth, especially as the course involves practical field and lab work as well as research. All the lecturers were enthusiastic and fully supportive and the year two field trip to Malaysia is certainly a once in a lifetime experience that should not be missed. There are a variety of sports clubs and societies you can join, a variety of nightlife and an active Students’ Union to give you the ultimate university experience. The University is in the heart of the city centre and right by the sea, so it is a great location to live and there is always lots going on.

If you did a placement how did this impact on your short and long term career plans?

I chose to undertake the dissertation work placement for my BSc (Hons) Environmental Science degree, which involved finding a summer work placement at the end of my second year to obtain data for my dissertation. I spent six weeks working with the Recycle Bournemouth Team at Bournemouth Borough Council and undertook a household recycling kerbside survey which formed the basis of my dissertation. This was eventually published in the . I built up good working relationships at my work placement and this led to an opportunity to undertake summer work to raise awareness of recycling at roadshow events.

I also did an eight week work placement with the Recycle Devon Team and worked on a project assessing and developing social network opportunities for waste communications in Devon which informed my masters dissertation. Both of the work placements helped to confirm and strengthen my desire to have a career in the waste management industry, and in particular the sustainability field. They also helped to build up my network of contacts within the waste industry and gave me the practical experience of working in the waste management industry in two different local authorities: a unitary authority and a waste disposal authority.

Students sampling dog whelks in Hong Kong