Applying His Skills In Math And Science To Help Others

"Engineering is not just learning the content, it’s learning how to learn."

Harishankar Krishnan smiling

Harishankar Krishnan

Why did you want to study engineering?

Engineering has always aligned with my interests. 

I was born in India and raised in Malawi, and during my schooling a lot of my academic interests focused on math and science. My school emphasized community support and service, and that got the gears turning and had me wondering how I could use math and science to help others.

If engineering is the right choice

How did you decide on UBC?

Well the joke is that I picked the place on the opposite side of the globe! It takes 24 hours to get between here and Malawi, or really three flights, three layovers and 30 hours of flying.  

I was looking for a university that was known for its environmental focus and sustainability. That’s definitely UBC. 

A lot of my friends went to Europe, but I was looking for something different. I knew Canada was very immigrant friendly and UBC has a really good reputation for supporting international students. 

UBC Vancouver Campus

Why engineering is one of the most rewarding careers

How did you choose Environmental Engineering? 

I was interested in environmental issues and trying to mitigate the impact of climate change. 

Malawi is a very poor country and a lot of the effects of climate change are very apparent in terms of extreme weather and droughts. In my first year, Dr. Greg Lawrence and Dr. Majid Mohseni proposed environmental engineering as a new program and I liked their vision. 

Environmental Engineering  Dr. Greg Lawrence 

Dr. Majid Mohseni

What are some of the highlights of your university education?

One of the electives I took last term really stands out. It was humanitarian engineering course that was jointly offered for arts and engineering students. We were a mixed group and tackled humanitarian issues together. 

My group partnered with an NGO to design a small-scale water treatment system for a First Nations community in Lytton, BC. 

We interviewed the water manager from the community as well as someone from Indigenous Services Canada. At the end of the term, we submitted a report with a proposal, backed up with contextual and technical information. 

This was a great project. Engineers often tend to think that the best solution is one that can be applied anywhere. However, the arts students quickly pointed out that this is not always true and that context matters. Each community needs its own solution that addresses and accounts for its unique problems. 

Questions about engineering

Were you involved in any extracurricular activities?

I was part of Third Quadrant Design for three years. In the first two years, I was part of a team designing a sustainable home and maximizing the use of renewable energy for passive housing. 

In our third year, I was the team lead and we shifted the design so it could be a sustainable, low-energy building on campus to serve as a study space. 

We submitted the design to the international Solar Decathlon Competition, placing third overall. Third Space Commons was build in 2023 is used as a living lab and collaboration space for students.

Third Quadrant Design  Third Space Commons

Any co-op or work experiences you’d like to share?

My first co-op was a four-month term in Malawi where I worked at the civil engineering firm my dad works at. I was in the middle of nowhere working on an open dam, which was very intense and exciting. 

For 12 months after third year, I worked at WSP in Vancouver and got to explore a lot of BC through that position. I did field work at contaminated sites to sample groundwater, soil and air and then send the samples to the labs for testing. 

I learned a lot on the job – including one of the main messages our engineering profs repeat: engineering is not just learning the content, it’s learning how to learn. 


Benefits of co-op

What’s next?

I’m doing an exchange at the University of Monash in Melbourne. 

I’m hoping to do some courses on building sustainability and predictive climate change models using atmospheric phenomena. 

I’m actually very interested in weather! I’ll return to Vancouver at the end of 2024 and then take a semester to finish up some technical electives here.

Coordinated International Experience

Do you have any thoughts on what you’d like to do with your degree?

It’s still early days and there are so many interesting paths to pursue. 

Some jobs that I’ve recently been intrigued by include working as a neighbourhood climate planner or being a consultant and working with municipalities on strategies to be more climate resilient, such as district energy systems or sustainable food production. 

Why engineers make great leaders

Do you have any advice for students who are considering engineering?

It’s not easy! But there is so much support, especially as an international student, and there are so many clubs and extracurriculars that you can pursue. I’d also encourage you to take your time with the degree. 

Don’t rush it – do what makes you happy, because it’ll make life a lot easier!

UBC environmental engineering students taking a reading in an urban creek.

Environmental Engineering

As one of the most beautiful places anywhere, British Columbia is an ideal location to pursue an Environmental Engineering degree. UBC offers two Environmental Engineering Programs...

Environmental Engineering

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