Alumni Alumni Stories Thriving in dynamic environments and contributing to communities sustainably

Thriving in dynamic environments and contributing to communities sustainably

Thriving in dynamic environments and contributing to communities sustainably

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an Environmental Advisor? We spoke to Robertha Leo, our alumna, to understand her current role and how our Bachelor of Business and Environmental Science study helped her succeed.

Robertha Leo

What are you up to right now?

I currently live in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG). Over the past two-and-a-half years, I have worked as an Environmental Advisor on the PNG LNG Project operated by one of the world's largest publicly-traded energy providers. The PNG LNG Project produces and ships liquefied natural gas to customers in Asia.

Can you tell us more about your current role and what made you decide to take on this role?

I am a part of the Environment, Regulatory, and Biodiversity group where my primary role is to analyse and report environmental and social data to senior management and external stakeholders. The main focus involves calculating and forecasting air emissions for the Project's gas production, processing, and liquefaction facilities.  I am based in the office, and the data I report comes from the field, hence a lot of my time is spent liaising with work groups across the business to verify and provide insights that I can then summarise and weave into a cohesive story for publication or presentation.

I took this role to challenge my biases and be better informed from an energy sector perspective. Previously, I worked at Solar Solutions PNG and was focused on meeting the energy demands of rural PNG through off-grid solar technology. Now, after nearly three years in the upstream oil and gas business, I have a more holistic view and can see that both approaches are necessary to sustainably meet the energy needs of the world's population

If you could highlight one memorable experience in your working experience so far, what would that be?

As part of my role as an Environmental Advisor, I got to travel to Hides Gas Conditioning Plant (HGCP) located in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, about 1700 metres above sea level, to participate in routine stack testing. I wrote about HGCP and the PNG LNG Project when I was in high school for an English assignment. I never dreamed that one day I would be a part of it, and actually see it for myself. Unlike Port Moresby where I live, the weather at Hides feels like natural air conditioning and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking, especially when the rain and fog clear. For someone who is in the office all day, it was a refreshing change to live at the HGCP camp, surrounded by lush forest and crisp mountain air.

What are some of the lessons learned or challenges faced?

I underestimated how long it would take to re-integrate in my home country after spending over a decade away. Five years ago, when I returned from Singapore, I felt very isolated, like I didn't belong — which made it difficult to search for jobs.

I took up volunteer roles and casual jobs for over a year, focusing on forming new connections and understanding the culture before starting my first full-time job. I'm very grateful to the people who gave me an opportunity to gain work experience in their organisations, and to the new friendships I formed along the way.

I learnt that, while it's great to have clear career goals to work towards, I must remember that the path to reaching my goal is not set in stone. Things will happen that are out of my control. Taking on roles outside of my comfort zone or field of study are not signs that I have "wasted my time in school". Instead, I see it as a growth opportunity — to adapt, transfer my skills, and form meaningful connections wherever I may be. An experience is only wasted when your mindset says it is. I can testify that I’ve been able to find the same level of fulfillment in any role whether paid or unpaid, be it working night shifts cleaning auditoriums or coordinating organisation-wide monitoring assessments.

How do you feel studying at the Singapore campus of James Cook University has helped you? What do you miss the most about your time at JCU?

Apart from providing me with a globally-recognised qualification, and preparing me with the skills necessary to thrive in a dynamic professional work environment, I truly value the informal learning that took place outside of the classroom with my peers from all around the world.

Prior to attending JCU in Singapore in 2014, I had never traveled to Asia. Everything was new and exciting. My coursemates, who represented over a dozen nations, essentially became mini ambassadors, teaching me things I would never have been able to pick up even if I was a tourist in their countries — breaking biases and shaping me into a global citizen.

The Bachelor of Business and Environmental Science had some fun field trips too! From intertidal surveys in Indonesia to snorkelling in Thailand, and visiting floating barramundi farms near Malaysia — truly unforgettable experiences with great friends!

However, without a doubt, the highlight of my JCU, Singapore experience was volunteering at orientation week and being assigned 'joeys' to mentor. I loved helping freshmen meet new friends and, for those from abroad, helping them settle in to their new home in Singapore. What a privilege to have been a small part of their journey!

Robertha Leo

What would be your advice for current students?

To have a more fulfilling student experience, seek out opportunities to serve others as much as possible and lead where you can — put your hand up to lead a group project, tutor or mentor others, even pioneer a new club on campus. The leadership roles I held while at JCU, Singapore are what helped me get my career started and introduced me to new areas of interest such as events management and digital marketing.

Join at least one of the many clubs/societies and add value to your campus, which will in turn enrich your own experience. Many students are afraid that joining a club on campus will cause their grades to suffer yet will spend a full day binge-watching a show. Invest your time wisely in experiences that are not only fun but will add value to you. Another common excuse is waiting till after your first year to join a club because you want to see what the workload is like. I say join as soon as you can, because the more people you know, the more support you have to help you excel in your studies. Tried and proven.

So what's next for you?

In the near future I'll be stepping out of my current role and taking time off work to reset before the next adventure. With Covid-19 restrictions easing up, I hope to organise a few events in Port Moresby. A lot of young professionals work in silos, not knowing that we can learn a lot from each other and contribute more to the communities we come from. My overarching goal remains the same as it did 10 years ago — to serve current and future generations of Pacific people by implementing sustainable solutions to multi-disciplinary issues.

Lastly, JCU’s Strategic intent is ‘Creating a brighter future for life in the tropics world-wide through graduates and discoveries that make a difference’. How do you think you have made (or are making) a difference?

At an individual level, I am the first woman in my family to earn a Bachelor’s Degree. I know that my actions today are setting the pace for those coming after me. My education has given me a seat at the table and a voice that not many youths with a similar background to me have. I do not take this for granted, and I know that I speak on behalf of many that are not heard.

As a budding professional, over the past three-and-a-half years, I've contributed to providing a reliable and safe source of energy for people in Papua New Guinea and Asia. Prior to that, through my internship at Help PNG NGO, I was part of a team that raised awareness on marine pollution, and successfully led the move toward the ban of single use plastic bags in Port Moresby.