Levi Engels, BASC '18, Mining Engineering
“I believe that I will make a difference in the communities in which I work by providing excellent engineering work that is safe, mindful of communities’ needs, and respectful of the environment.”
I have been an engaged student while at UBC, being part UBC’s Mine Rescue Team leadership, a member of the Sigma Phi Delta engineering fraternity, and a member of the mining student executive council. I have applied my schooling to a variety of co-op work including mineral exploration in the Yukon, geotechnical consulting in northern BC, and longwall coal mining in West Virginia.
Through the Faculty of Applied Science I have also done a lot of Indigenous educational youth outreach. In 2015 I was hired by the Tsay Keh Dene Nation to coordinate remote healing camps in their traditional territory for adult members of the nation. The experience was powerful, and I developed lasting friendships over the course of the summer. I wanted to maintain these relationships and continue to give to the community in some way. Being at UBC, education seemed like a good fit and I approached the Geering Up organization within the Faculty of Applied Science to get something off the ground. What has happened has been three incredible years of successful workshops and camps run for youth from kindergarten to grade 12 in over 20 different Indigenous communities. Seeing is believing, and if anyone reading this is curious about what these programs look like then I encourage you to check out the videos linked below:
What have you learned in engineering that is most valuable?
I have developed skills that you would expect of an engineering graduate such as critical thinking, problem solving, time management, teamwork, etc. However, the most valuable lessons I learned revolve around true community engagement, especially when communicating with non-technical people. This means being able to connect with the values, culture and ambitions of a community — to listen to their stories and understand what truly matters to those you are working with. Being humble and open to new ways of learning and feedback has been essential for me in understanding these lessons.
I think it is natural for engineering students to want to rush into a problem, start creating solutions, and act on them as quick as possible. I have learned to slow this process down to allow for much more consensus building and engagement with others. With the Geering Up Indigenous Outreach program, I wanted to create land-based learning camps that integrate Indigenous knowledge and the BC engineering and science curriculum into an accessible and safe outdoor program where youth could learn, be supported and inspired. Despite the evident benefits of the program, my initial attempts at implementation were met with pushback and scepticism — even from communities with whom I already had a pre-existing relationship. It took time to build trust and grow the program in smaller pieces, but once the programs were running, the amount of support received from everyone involved helped to create success far beyond my original vision. I am indebted to everyone who has taken up the vision and contributed in their own way to help make this success possible.
Where do you find your inspiration?
The people around me in my everyday life inspire me. I am blessed to be graduating with an incredibly talented and competitive class of mining engineering students. Their ambition pushes me to achieve more and I am looking forward to seeing where all my classmates end up.
So much of my work experience has been in remote locations and I find inspiration in these small communities where hard-working men and women give to their friends and families day in and out to make life better for all.
I am inspired by the successful mining executives and industry professionals who have taken time out of their lives to visit UBC to share their experiences and mentor a new generation of engineers. These encounters have been some of the most valuable I’ve had at UBC, and I hope to pay it forward to future aspiring students as I develop along my own professional path.
Last and most important is the inspiration I find in the love and support of my parents, siblings, fiancé and friends. Their support and encouragement have helped carry me through this degree.
What are your plans for the future?
This last year I’ve thought a lot about how to ensure that there is continuity to the educational programming being done with First Nations youth, and how to grow the value of this programming for UBC, the Indigenous communities and most importantly, the youth who are participating and learning in the programs. The Faculty agreed to create the position of Indigenous outreach coordinator to address this issue, and I am so grateful that it sees the value in having this work carried on. I am particularly grateful to Dr. Sheryl Staub-French and Faculty of Applied Science Dean, Dr. James Olson for their support. I will be spending some time traveling with the new coordinator to make introductions with communities while transitioning the role. I believe there is an incredible amount of potential for further growth and I am excited to see what new work and partnerships will be come from this.
In September, I will be getting married to my loving partner of five years whose love, support and grit inspire me to face any challenge side-by-side. After the wedding, she and I will be relocating to Queensland, Australia where I will begin an 18-month assignment as a mining engineer-in-training (EIT). This assignment is part of a larger five-year contract with one of the world’s largest mining companies that will see me relocating to new assignments and countries every 18 months or so. This is a dream job and I am excited to gain professional experience across many different sites to experience new cultures. I will strive to carry out quality technical work that is mindful of local communities and the environment. I also plan to stay connected with UBC and to serve on Geering Up’s board of advisors to help support the Indigenous Outreach program in any way I can.
How will you go on to make a difference in our world?
I believe that I will make a difference in the communities in which I work by providing excellent engineering work that is safe, mindful of communities’ needs, and respectful of the environment. The skills and knowledge I’ve gained working with Indigenous communities while at UBC will be invaluable in helping me accomplish this. I see myself helping to craft large-scale ambitious resource projects that create value where there was none before; value and benefits that can be shared with all communities involved.
Education and mentorship will always be an important part of what I do. While I may never collect a paycheck for it, I will remain connected as a mentor to youth who are building their own life narratives, particularly in remote and Indigenous communities. Mentorship and teaching are important to me and I want to give back as much as I possibly can.
What advice would you give a student considering engineering?
Understand that the degree is just a foundation that equips you with a toolbox of skills that you will need to find success over the course of your own journey. It does not teach you how to be an engineer — that comes with experience after school is over. Having a degree on paper hopefully represents that you’ve acquired many of these skills, but if that’s all you’re interested in going into UBC Engineering for, you will miss out on what the program really has to offer.
At UBC there is opportunity to rub shoulders with successful, passionate academics and professionals on campus and in Vancouver whose career narratives can be learned from as you develop your own. I like to think of this journey as a narrative instead of a path, because the story will continually evolve even as you set the major plot points to put your own success into motion.
Get involved with student groups — whether they be design teams, clubs or governments. This is where you will find some of the closest and most supportive communities at UBC. Through involvement you will discover inspiration and opportunities that would never have come up within the classroom.
Find success working with others: what can be accomplished when a common vision is shared is so much more than what can be done by an individual. This applies to studying, schoolwork, projects and just about any aspect of your degree.
Spend time learning about what drives you. There are often multiple right answers, and most people can find satisfaction in a few different fields. If you’re motivated to develop your own learning and career narrative, you will find that there will be opportunity to cross-over into other industries and lines of work.
There are a number of skills that you will need to help make your own goals possible. Some of these include time management, organization, team building, communication, etc. Don’t worry about trying to develop every aspect of yourself at once, but try to continually improve where you can.