Learning Beyond the Classroom

By Kimberley Hort

Weekend spent hiking the North Molar Pass, Banff National Park


When my cohort got around to having the option of joining the UBC Engineering Co-op Program, oil prices had just crashed and tens-of-thousands of jobs in the oil and gas sector were lost. The first positions to go were the co-ops. A lot of people in my year couldn’t find work through the program and a lot of the jobs still available weren’t that appealing. But wow, as someone who stuck through it, let me tell you that the extra load of work to get into the program and the days of writing cover letters and tailoring your resume are well spent. After all, I’m happy to say that I will be graduating with experience in three different sectors, without any student debt, and with an awesome job waiting for me. So was it worth it? Absolutely!

I started working 4 months as a civil engineering assistant in construction for a municipal government, and while I enjoyed the work and the people, it wasn’t related to environmental engineering or something I saw myself getting into as a career. I learned a lot about project management, professional communication, and writing reports though, which beefed up my resume for next time.

My second term was 8 months in a Kraft pulp and paper mill working as the environmental lab tech and I was actually given the responsibility of running the lab after being trained. Let me tell you that being in charge of running the lab for a mill making millions of dollars a day is daunting when you start. By the end of it though, you’ve acquired a slew of new technical skills, a network of coworkers, leadership experience, the ability to think critically and get things done, and confidence in your own abilities. No sir, you’re not some wide-eyed student that can’t function outside of a classroom anymore, you can run the show with a smile, and does that ever feel great.

With the experience gained from my first two co-ops I was able to land a position in the field I wanted to work in, water resources, with one of the world’s largest international environmental companies. For 8 months I worked as a hydrologist: in the field at large-scale mining projects in Northern B.C. and in the office where I worked on environmental baseline studies and impact assessments for projects in Canada, South America, and Africa. I had a blast and found that I actually loved working in the sector I had specialized in at university, which was definitely a relief. I made great connections, learned to overcome challenges while working in remote areas, saw some spectacular views, and found the perfect place to go back to once I had my degree in hand.

So if having a real job where you’re a valued member of a team and not the errand runner, paying off your student loans or not taking out any to start with, enjoying some disposable income instead of being a poor student, seeing different parts of the country or the world, earning time towards completing your EIT, and graduating with your foot already in the door of your dream career seems like something you’d be into, then apply for co-op. Put in the hours and start your career before you’ve even graduated, because believe me, it’s worth it.

Weekend spent exploring a giant spruce forest on the West Coast