ENVE: Discovery, found family, and change

Joanne Powell, Class of 2015

Project Engineer, EIT|Energy East
TransCanada PipeLines Limited

What were some of your favourite courses in the ENVE program?

My favorite courses would have to be:
ENVR 410-Energy Environment and Society (UBC)
MINE 480- Mine Waste Management (UBC)
CIVL 405 – Environmental Impact Studies (UBC)
ENPL 401 –Environmental Law (UNBC)

All of these courses are so varied, and I think that’s part of the reason I connected with them. I think so much of our degree focusses on the technical aspects of engineering, whereas a lot of these courses focus on the soft skills of engineering and more than just the tangible problem at hand. These courses focus on the social implications and impacts of our job as well as the technical. Engineering is not all about just solving the problem in front of you. In order to solve a lot of the problems we have to understand the physical, social, economic and ecological impacts of the problem and the suggested solution. The “best solution” may not always be practical given certain geo-political or socio-economic constraints. As an engineer you have to not only try and solve the problem, but do so recognizing all of the other factors in play.
You also have to be an effective communicator; whether that be through presentations, reports or day to day communications. What nobody tells you going into engineering is how integral communication is, not only get through school but to succeed in the workforce. Spell check will only take you so far in life, you have to have the social skills necessary not only to promote yourself but your work as well.

How well did this program prepare you for working in the industry?

The Environmental Engineering degree is unique in that it not only is taught at two campuses but also the breadth of courses allows you to figure out your niche. For me, I learned early on in the program where I wanted my focus to lie. I was fortunate enough to have two summer student positions after my first and second years that exposed me to environmental site assessment and remediation. From then on I tailored my focus towards that stream of environmental engineering choosing to take technical electives in mine waste management, environmental impact studies, aquatic pollution ect. However, in my year I was one of the few in Environmental Engineering to have that directional focus of “this is what I want to do”. Most people took everything from mine waste management to process engineering, I think when it comes to your technical electives it is your chance to explore what is out there and where your degree can take you so choose what interests you.

There is no one class or one course that prepares you for the real world and the industry I think it’s a combination of things that prepare you to face the real world. First and foremost I think the intensity of the program is probably the biggest asset. Yes, you are taking six courses, with mandatory labs and tutorials but learning how to structure your time is one of the biggest takeaways. If you’re working on a major project or working towards a deadline there are time where it will seem too much, when you will have to stay late and work overtime; the work ethic that you have whilst in school will carry over when you begin to work in industry. Secondly, we work in an industry that is constantly changing. New technologies are emerging, natural resource development is shifting and the program is set up such that you have a wealth of knowledge to draw on, so use it. In my current job I’ve used foundational skills from EOSC 429, MINE 480, CIVL 416, CHBE 485 on a daily basis. The program provides you with the basics and the rest comes from on the job learning.

What were some of the best memories of being in the program?

For me the best memories are not specifically tied to one class or one moment; I think my fondest memories come from the countless hours spent in the ENVE study room at UBC studying and hanging out with my fellow classmates. I think most of Environmental Engineering alumni can attest to the fact that you become a lot closer to your fellow classmates once you get to UBC. It’s not that you weren’t close beforehand but rather that the people in the program become your second family. In third and fourth year, you typically spend the majority of your time with other Environmental Engineering students. In class, out of class studying, your classmates become like family, they’ve made the transition with you from UNBC to UBC and they are the ones who truly understand how crazy and hectic the demands of the program can be.

During my two years at UBC I would spend upwards of 5+ hours of time in the study room a day before class, after class, and between classes and I was never alone. Classmates would come in and come out of the room and we would have chats in between sets of heat and mass equations; it’s something now that I look back on and smile. While our frivolous conversations didn’t always amount to much they did bring us closer and we shared numerous laughs in those tiny rooms. My classmates became my second family. A year on, and a province away I still maintain connections with a lot of my classmates. They are the ones who struggled and triumphed alongside me, they saw me grow up; and as we reconnected for events such as Iron Ring and Convocation it’s not lost on me how 30 people have the ability to change your life.

Advice to prospective students interested in this program?

The one key piece of advice to prospective students would be to allow yourself to be flexible and comfortable with change. During the degree you’ll change schools, cities and change focus more times than I’d care to count; just know that with each change that will come your way it will make you a stronger person. School is not the be all and end all, you may love some of your classes, you may hate some of your classes but each class will teach you something. When I first started out in the program I didn’t have a clue what it would mean to be an Environmental Engineer. I am a year out of school and I’ve changed focus twice already. I started out doing environmental risk management and site assessments and now I am doing geotechnical hazard classifications and acid rock management. There are so many avenues you can take with Environmental Engineering you don’t have to be married to one aspect of it. Allow yourself to move with the changes and be open to learning new things.