Chella Thornton, BASc '18, Chemical and Biological Engineering

Chella Thornton
“Participate in events, join teams, make friends, take some “me time” and have fun! School may come first, but you should set some time aside for yourself.”

Throughout my chemical and biological engineering degree I have had a blast being involved in the engineering community, mentoring for eng•cite, acting as a senior orientations leader for the engineering faculty and co-vice president of the CHBE council. I also had the opportunity to participate in the UBC International Student Learning Program, working to develop a proposal for a centralized drinking water system in a small coastal community in Costa Rica. I am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had at UBC, helping me learn how to lead, solve problems and be a positive force in society, personally and as an engineer.

Why did you choose engineering?

When I was in high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for my career (unlike some of my peers who had specific goals and long-term plans). I enjoyed the connection to the “people” aspect of arts, history, and languages; however, I was also very interested, and excelled in, sciences. Engineering was suggested as a degree that could open any door for my future. My father is a chemical engineer that continued his studies to finish medicine. I didn’t really know what possibilities engineering had in store, I just leapt into it, and I am so happy I did. Participating as a mentor for eng•cite (an organization that promotes gender diversity in the engineering field) I have enjoyed teaching girls of all ages about what engineering really is, and encouraging them to follow their passions.

What has made your time at UBC the most memorable?

The friendships and connections I have made throughout my degree have made my time at UBC so special. Friends I made in my first few days at university remain amongst my closest. The inclusive and friendly engineering community has given me the opportunities to get to know people within my department and the whole faculty over the course of my degree. Whether hanging out with my CHBE pals, storming the wall, or meeting new people through volunteering involvement, getting to know and spend time with interesting and friendly people has made my time at UBC so much more memorable. I look to stay in contact with as many as possible as I start my engineering career.

What have you learned in engineering that is most valuable?

It was my experience with UBC International Student Learning Program that really opened my eyes to what engineering could be. During the summer of 2017, I participated in the Global Engineering Leadership program, where I took a course for the first semester and was on placement in rural Costa Rica for the second semester. The course highlighted the non-technical side of engineering — engineers must develop leadership skills, work in interdisciplinary teams, and problem solve in different social, economic, political and cultural settings. Working with people in the affected areas to cost effectively solve problems pushes you to think outside of the box. During my placement in Costa Rica, I experienced the challenges of intercultural and lingual communication, the economic realities of low income areas, and the importance of listening and learning from the local people we were assisting.

This experience provided me with a “people-centric” view of engineering that we are not often taught in our classes — a focus on the important societal impacts surrounding the problem instead of only the technical aspect of the issue to avoid unintended consequences to public welfare. These considerations, as well as the realm of influence an engineer can have in the world, have been some of my most important take-aways from my engineering degree.

What has been your most memorable/valuable non-academic experience studying engineering at UBC?

Engineering is not an easy degree — it requires a lot of hard work, perseverance and patience. When I was in second year I focused almost all my energy on school, leaving little time for to relax, have fun and do things with friends other than studying. This resulted in the grades I wanted, but high stress levels, and it was a tough few semesters for my mental health. Everything turned out well, but the experience helped me get to know myself better: I figured out what I need to thrive mentally, physically and emotionally. From that experience, I used what I have learned to ensure successful final years in my program. I made time to get more involved, have more fun and still achieve my academic goals. I have grown as a person throughout my undergraduate degree — getting in touch with how I think, what I need and how much I can handle has been a very important learning experience for me.

This experience is the reason why I have been personally invested in creating a peer mentorship program for second year CHBE students. I know that I would have benefitted from upper year student support to help me learn how to navigate university, and I want to help convey that knowledge and my experience to incoming students in the department.

What advice would you give a student considering engineering?

Participate in events, join teams, make friends, take some “me time” and have fun! School may come first but you should set some time aside for yourself — it’s important to make sure you’re staying healthy (physically, mentally and emotionally) and connecting with the engineering and university community. This will make your engineering experience so much more fulfilling, make the hard work go by faster, and will provide you with lasting relationships and great memories.