Megan Norwick, BASc '18, Civil Engineering
"You don’t have to look like a “typical engineer” to be successful in engineering; to solve today’s complex problems the world needs a more diverse range of engineering minds."
I am a civil engineering graduate working as a water resources specialist. My journey to this point has been somewhat unconventional, having entered the program as a mature student with a degree in biology and two years of work experience under my belt. I knew my interests lay in the field of water resources engineering, which made civil engineering a natural choice. Having a defined end goal from the outset really helped steer course and internship decisions. I had already learned the importance of developing a professional network, finding opportunities to exercise leadership and contributing through mentorship within a professional development setting. I was drawn to participate in the University of British Columbia Canadian Society for Civil Engineering (CSCE) Student Chapter and Civil Engineering Mentorship Program for these very reasons. Thanks to my involvement in each of these groups, my time in UBC Engineering has been a truly rewarding experience.
Why did you choose engineering?
Deciding to pursue engineering came after much thought and deep personal reflection of my long-term career goals. I had always planned on pursuing further education, so it was more a matter of determining which program and after my biology degree, I was fortunate to have landed a consulting role as an environmental planner. However, I was not satisfied with being involved only in the environmental permitting aspect of projects and instead I yearned to be the engineer who was literate in the technical considerations and design. During this reflection, it became clear that the sustainable development of our natural resources is what drives me, and that civil engineering would provide the necessary background to effect real change in how we manage resources, especially our water resources.
Tell me about your experience in engineering. What have you learned that is most valuable?
From the beginning, my interest in water resources helped guide me throughout the program. I made intentional choices in my upper year courses, internship opportunities and extracurricular involvement; I wanted to gain the widest range of experiences to help determine which field of hydro technical engineering I was most interested in. Throughout my degree, I gained industry experience outside of the classroom in municipal water and wastewater, in hydrometric monitoring of run-of-river hydroelectric projects and in industrial construction management at a gold mine in Nevada, all of which helped develop distinct, marketable skill sets and exposure to a variety of industries.
The most valuable thing I have learned is that there is more to Engineering than just math and physics. Although a big part, it is the problem solving skills that set engineers apart. In engineering, you develop new ways of seeing and thinking about the physical world around you and start to ask questions like “how can this be made more efficient?” or “how can this be improved to lessen the impact on the environment?” or “how will human interaction affect the design?”.
An Engineering degree will not teach you everything you need to know - that comes with on-the-job learning - but it helps you build a tool kit from which you can address and solve real world problems. How you choose to use your tool kit once you graduate is up to you, but the possibilities are endless.
What has been your most memorable/valuable non-academic experience studying engineering at UBC?
Since maintaining a connection to the professional world was important to me, I chose to dedicate my time to the UBC CSCE Student Chapter. My roles within the chapter progressed from Lead Industry Night Coordinator in my second year, to VP External, to Co-President in my last year. UBC CSCE helps bridge the gap between student and industry by offering frequent events including guest lectures, soft and technical skills workshops, industry tours and our largest annual event, the UBC CSCE Industry Night, that brings together over 500 civil engineering students and industry representatives each year. I am very proud of what our chapter does for the civil engineering student body and have seen first hand the importance of providing professional development opportunities outside of the classroom. UBC CSCE challenges students to set themselves apart professionally and in doing so helps create exceptional student leaders. My work with UBC CSCE was recognized this year through the 2018 Civil Engineering Student Leader Award, but more importantly the contacts I made through my work expanded my professional network within the industry.
How do you feel a degree in engineering has benefitted you compared to a different field of study?
Compared to science, engineering helps make you a more quantitative thinker. We are taught to look at what information is given, or known, to solve for the unknowns. We do this by understanding relationships between variables or solving subproblems to get the information you need. You become more comfortable with thinking about the world around you in terms of numbers, and you see how you can use those numbers to solve problems.
In addition to this powerful new perspective of the world, engineering has given me the confidence to step out of my comfort zone, not be afraid to be hands on and put myself in roles I would never have previously seen myself doing. I purposely sought out opportunities that would challenge stereotypes and have gained so much more by doing so. My first experience of this was when I completed Confined Space Entry and Rescue Training in order to participate in wet well condition assessments of storm and sanitary lift stations. Next, I gained experience in stream gauging techniques at multiple remote hydrology stations in the beautiful backcountry of BC. Lastly, I accepted a construction management role on a mine site where I was often the only female. These three experiences in particular helped develop a desire to work in the field or on a site to continue gaining hands on engineering experience.
What advice would you give a student considering engineering?
Leave behind any assumptions you may have about engineering. You don’t have to look like a “typical engineer” to be successful in engineering; to solve today’s complex problems the world needs a more diverse range of engineering minds. You will never regret getting an engineering degree because of the many doors it will open for you in the area of your interest. UBC engineering is challenging, as it should be, but not impossible and it is definitely rewarding.
What are your plans for the future?
My career will launch as a Water Resources Specialist with a major engineering consulting firm here in Vancouver, working in the area of mine water management. Gaining industrial water management experience will contribute to a greater understanding of water resources management overall. I am looking forward to visiting different mine sites around the province and potentially internationally while continuing to develop site engineering skills.
It is my belief that gaining a solid foundation of technical skills early in my career will prepare me for taking on bigger-picture roles in the future. I am excited to contribute to a field of engineering with many big challenges ahead, such as water scarcity, which will require new perspectives, innovative ideas and collaborative solutions.