Alumni with a “cool job in an even cooler climate”

April 22, 2024

“I love the challenge. I love that my work contributes positively to the world.  I love seeing the physical progress on site. I love problem solving and variety: working with lots of different people on lots of different projects.”

This is Karissa Hyde talking about her passion for her career and all it brings to her life. The former Christchurch Girls’ High School student has a cool job in an even cooler climate: she is the Construction Manager for Antarctica New Zealand.

“Every choice, even the wrong one, you learn something. There are no failures, only learning and growing and steps that lead you to the next opportunity.”

Although based in Christchurch, she makes regular trips to Antarctica in her role, which sees her managing the construction side of Scott Base.

Back in the beginning, Karissa grew up on the family farm in Cheviot, Canterbury. Clearly, she was destined for clever things at a very early age: completing a maths course at the University of Canterbury while still at high school.

Keystone – then known as the Graeme Bringans Property Education Trust (GBPET) – came her way when a career counsellor at school suggested she apply. “The interview was probably quite intimidating at the time, but getting selected was awesome!”

The award enabled her to study civil engineering at the University of Canterbury. As it was with her school studies, her exam marks were constantly peppered with A’s and A+’s. “University was a fun time”, says Karissa. Studying engineering meant she attended university with the same cohort of classmates throughout. “I look back now and see that I wouldn’t have made it through on my own, it was a real team effort.”

During one of her regular reports back to Keystone on her academic progress, Karissa resolved to: “not put off my work until the last minute”. Talking about that now, she laughs heartily. It is only in recent times she has discovered an explanation for that habit.

“I discovered last year that I have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). I finally know now, at 39, why I am the way that I am. I’m happy to talk about it, it’s just part of what makes me who I am, good and bad, and hopefully by talking about it I can help others understand a little better and be more comfortable talking about it.”

She says she doesn’t really like the name. “It’s not a deficit of attention: it’s just the inability to control where your attention goes. Once you understand how your brain works, it’s a lot easier to work out why you need to do things a certain way, why some things are easy or why other things are really hard, and you can put strategies in place to help.”

Her passion for working on projects that positively contribute to society has been a real focus throughout her career. “I haven’t really done much commercial work. I’ve worked for private companies – but on a lot of public work: schools, motorways, and earthquake and flood remediation. I’ve built forests, stormwater basins and pump stations that help alleviate flooding and improve water quality, and now I’m working in Antarctica on a station that supports research on climate change.”

And yet there’s more. Karissa volunteers for the National Association of Women in Construction, as well as with Inspiring the Future, as a role model showing children and young adults that being female or neurodivergent doesn’t need to limit your choices of career. She maintains on-going connections with Keystone. And she’s currently studying for a Postgraduate Diploma in International Development. On top of all this, Karissa and her “very supportive” husband, Brian, are raising their four-year-old son, Theo.

Karissa has some sound advice for the younger person she once was. “Don’t worry too much about making the right decision; embrace change and the opportunities that come your way.

“Every choice, even the wrong one, you learn something. There are no failures, only learning and growing and steps that lead you to the next opportunity.”

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