Meet Jennifer Bhatla, B.A.Sc. '15, Geological Engineering

Jennifer Bhatla
"Engineering is so much more than the technical aspects. One of the most valuable things I have learned is the importance of considering the bigger picture in which a technology is being applied."

What has made your time at UBC the most memorable?

Getting involved in a wide variety of activities with amazing people has made my time at UBC most memorable. I had the opportunity to do four very different co-op terms, including drilling engineering, bone and joint research, and two water and sanitation projects in India. These experiences allowed me to work with interdisciplinary teams and discover what I am passionate about. Most of all, the people I have met, both at home and abroad, have made these experiences as memorable as they are. At UBC, I have had great mentors, both older students and faculty, who have inspired me and encouraged me to get involved. In India, I loved getting to know the staff and children in the community from whom I learned more than I could have imagined.

Why did you choose Engineering?

I have always enjoyed math, sciences and problem solving. I wanted to pursue a degree in which I could apply my knowledge to problems that have meaning to me. Engineering has applications in many fields, and I was interested in exploring a multitude of possibilities and I learned that engineering can have an important role in improving people’s lives both at home and abroad. Engineering therefore was a great option with applications to many meaningful challenges. 

Tell me about your experience in Engineering. What have you learned that is most valuable?

Engineering is so much more than the technical aspects. One of the most valuable things I have learned is the importance of considering the bigger picture in which a technology is being applied. Social and cultural factors can be just as important in the success of an engineering project as the technical aspects. For example, for a biogas plant, acceptance of cooking with gas that comes from human waste, can be a barrier, just as important as anything technical. 

I have also learned that there may be multiple solutions to the same problem, and the solution that works in one setting may not work in another.  In that same example, biogas addresses the need for on-site waste management very well in a rural community outside Mumbai but may not be feasible to address the same problem in northern India at high elevations in the Himalayas, with a very different climate and culture. Therefore, I have learned it is important to consider the greater implications of an engineering project and that collaborating with people from a variety of backgrounds is very important. 

How are you applying the skills you learned through your studies at UBC?

I have found that I can apply the skills I have learned at UBC to many applications.  Most recently, I have been involved in UBC’s Global Health Initiative Spiti Valley Project over the past year working with a team of medical and engineering students. UBC is partnered with Munsel-Ling school in the Indian Himalayas with the goal of improving health. This partnership began in 2007 and has involved many initiatives including health education, anemia and nutrition, diarrheal disease and water and sanitation.  Being able to work in a collaborative environment and bring an engineering perspective was a great opportunity. The engineering aspect of the project is the water and sanitation.

During the summer of 2014 I was involved in assessing water infrastructure that was implemented in 2013. We assessed the functionality of the system as well as the behaviours associated with infrastructure using GPS trackers and video monitoring.  This allowed us to determine usage patterns of the water stations and associated infrastructure including toilets and kitchens, which will inform future infrastructure and facilitate targeted educational interventions. While this might not be a typical geological engineering job, I learned that different fields are more inter-related than I would have expected, and that I can apply what I have learned in geological engineering to a variety of work. 

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

Training with the UBC triathlon club throughout my degree at UBC has been a very valuable experience.  I came to UBC from Calgary and didn’t know anyone when I arrived and being a part of a club allowed me to make lasting friends who had similar interests and be a part of a community. Running and cycling with a group was a great way to learn my way around campus and Vancouver while at the same time getting to enjoy the outdoors and maintain a more balanced lifestyle.  I found that getting outdoors with a group of friends was a great break from school and that I was more productive and happy afterwards.   

How do you feel a degree in Engineering has benefitted you compared to a different field of study?

Engineering has taught me to think through a problem and find creative methods of coming to a solution. While the material I have learned is important, being able to apply it to new problems has opened up opportunities to work in a variety of fields and collaborate with people from different backgrounds. I think the focus on problem solving in engineering is something that will continue to benefit me in any career path I may pursue.   

What advice would you give a student considering Engineering?

Engineering opens numerous possibilities and what you learn during your degree can be applicable to a wide range of problems. I am in geological engineering, but have had the opportunity to work in bone and joint research and program GPS units to assess behaviour patterns related to water infrastructure. While these work terms might be outside of my specific field of study, the background knowledge I gained in engineering allowed me to figure things out. 

Where do you find your inspiration?

It seems to be everywhere! Being at UBC I am surrounded by inspiring people. I have had inspiring mentors whose passions are contagious and encouraging friends who are always there. While on co-op in India, I found the children I had the opportunity to get to know was especially inspiring. Their enthusiasm and genuine caring were constant sources of inspiration and their ideas and insights always incredible. A frequent question at the home was, “Are you happy?” – an important question and good reminder of what really matters.

What are your plans for the future--immediate? Long-term?

My immediate plans are to return to India over the summer and continue to work on UBC’s Global Health Initiative Spiti Project in the Indian Himalayas. The engineering aspect of the project involves water and sanitation evaluation and planning with our partners at Munsel-Ling school. Next year I plan to pursue further education in a field with applications to health and am interested in working in a heath-related field in the long term.   

How will you go on to make a difference in our world?

Over the past few years at UBC I have learned how important it is to work in a team and have really enjoyed getting to collaborate with people from all different backgrounds. I found I am interested in working in a health-related field and hope to work in a field in which I can be a part of an interdisciplinary team that can make a positive impact on lives of people around the world.