Alejandro Ruiz

Alejandro Ruiz

Postgraduate Research Student

Postgraduate Coursework

Master of Environmental Management

Graduation Year: 2008

Current Position: Chief Justice at the Environmental Court, Santiago, Chile

Tell me about your current role...

In 2016, I entered the Environmental Court for Central Chile and in March 2017, I became its Chief Justice. Our Court is composed by three judges, two of them lawyers and the other one a chemical engineer, and we collectively decide the cases. It features two main lines of action. The first one refers to claims on administrative decisions regarding environmental permits granted to developers; on environmental fines and other sanctions imposed to industries; on standards defined by regulations, etc. The second one is related to restoration of environmentally damaged areas.

What does your typical day look like?

Every day is different, running this Court. One day, I will be holding audiences with lawyers and witnesses. Another day, I will be working with the multidisciplinary Court’s staff solving the cases we face. The next day, I will be meeting with other judges to discuss cases and trying to find an agreement as a basis for decision. Some days, I do field trips to the areas subject to controversy. And most days, I will be reading and studying tons of evidence provided by the parties involved in the different cases. It is hard work, but fascinating.

What is one thing you love about your job?

There are many things I like about my job. Overall, I love doing something for a living that goes beyond an ordinary job, producing a significant effect to society. This is a strong driver to begin every day and nourishes my will to tackle the many challenges and even some adversities that I come across. When I started working in the environmental field, about 16 years ago, I had all the energy and the motivation. Nowadays, this job keeps me likewise motivated and inspired.

How do you stay focused and inspired in what you do?

Jobs like these, seen from outside, seem to be almost unreachable and for special people. Once you get here, you realise that hard work is rewarded and giving your best is necessary to flourish. No more no less, but this is something anyone can do. In order to maximize your contribution, you need to stay focused and to keep common sense in life. This is why I don't use the official car but I take public transport every day and try to walk as much as I can. It is essential to stay in touch with reality.

Did you imagine this would be your career? What would a 17-year-old Alejandro think of what you are doing now?

I honestly didn’t imagine 25 years ago where I would be today. I don't have a strict long term working plan. I try to live every day as a unique one. Opportunities just come up. You only need to be prepared. If a working place is nourishing me and making me professionally stronger I stay there. Otherwise I look around. Consistency, hard work and a balanced life are essential.

Why did you decide to do a Master of Environmental Management degree at UNSW?

Chile is a very traditional country. Being a lawyer means going further in that same direction. Most of my law school classmates have taken a postgraduate program in Law. I challenged that trend. Working in the environmental field opened my eyes to a multidisciplinary approach. I like Law, but I am also interested in Science and Engineering and many other things. Once I learnt about MEM, its philosophy and the number of subjects you can take from different faculties, I knew it was my thing.

What was your Master of Environmental Management degree at UNSW like?

Undoubtedly the best two years of my life. Excellent uni facilities, a multinational study group from all disciplines - including Aussies of course - living near the beach... it was the perfect studying abroad experience. While my Chilean friends in the US and the UK where eager to finish their programs after long winters, I was looking for a way to stay in Australia, which eventually didn’t happen.

What is your best memory of your Master of Environmental Management degree?

Definitely my study group. A German architect, an American designer, a French engineer, some English from the IT world, a Japanese chemist, many Aussies from all specialties, and a Chilean lawyer. It is impossible not to have fun in such an environment and with this diversity. And every Monday after class a cold Australian scooner at the nearby Royal hotel, altogether.

How do you feel that your Master of Environmental Management degree shaped your career?

MEM is the reflection of what I am looking for in life. Diverse, dynamic, challenging. A program that drives through almost all disciplines created by the human species. To me, being an environmental lawyer was not enough. I wanted to become an environmental professional. There is still a long way to get there, but the MEM program definitely shaped the way I have been building my professional career.

What is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at UNSW?

Setting aside my degree, I loved the integrated UNSW campus where all students melt in an international environment, full of life, diversity and sports. Before coming to Australia, I was curious about the standard of the Group of Eight universities, and once I got to Sydney I realised how deserved was for UNSW to be part of it.

What advice would you give to someone trying to decide if they should sign up for a Master of Environmental Management degree?

I would ask them if they are prepared to face and to study disciplines that take you out of your comfort zone, and if they are willing to become sound environmental professionals, regardless of your undergraduate degree. If the answer is yes, the rest of the experience is everyone’s cup of tea: living in Sydney a few blocks from the beach, outdoor life nearby and an international university environment.

Alejandro has been awarded the inaugural 2018 Alumni of the Year, an honour presented by the Australian Embassy in Chile. It recognises Chilean students who have studied in Australia and have since gone on to an outstanding professional career in Chile, an incredible achievement for Alejandro, beating hundreds of alumni from all over Australia to win - he has certainly done UNSW Sydney proud!