“It feels natural to me to combine engineering and geography.” Emiko Wijeysundera plans to use her unique combination of skills to create solutions that improve peoples’ lives.
- Degree: Bachelor of Applied Science
- Campus: Vancouver
Year: 2nd year
Why did you want to study both engineering and human geography?
I love learning about community and culture and feel passionately about human and world issues, but I also really enjoy the analytical, “textbook” problem-solving of STEM subjects. In high school, I most enjoyed and leaned into my humanities courses like English, world issues and philosophy, but I was also on the robotics team and have considered engineering as a potential path for a long time. This made it hard to choose one program because I love such a wide range of areas.
I decided to come to UBC because it offers a dual degree program, so I could study both engineering and arts, equally. My arts major is in human geography focusing on how physical location shapes culture.
It feels natural to me to combine engineering and geography. As an engineer, you are applying your technical knowledge of science and mathematics to create solutions for people, and human geography focuses on the way these people interact with their surroundings and each other. I hope that my human geography focus will allow me to more fully understand our current world and identify problems that my engineering degree will have given me the tools to solve.
Why did you decide to do a minor in First Nations and Indigenous Studies?
I struggle to balance my Canadian pride with the horrible truth of how Canada came to be, through the dispossession and ongoing cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples. In first year I took FNIS 100, the introductory First Nations and Indigenous Studies course at UBC, with the effort to better understand my role in reconciliation. The course discussed the historical and ongoing story of Indigenous peoples in Canada and started to develop tools to build positive, informed and mutually beneficial relationships with surrounding Indigenous communities. I found it deeply impactful and thought-provoking. I think this course is valuable for all who call Canada home, and I hope the knowledge I gain from my minor will help me to navigate work in Canada in a meaningful and productive way.
What’s your course load like doing the dual degree option?
A common misconception is that I take double the courses each semester. Instead, I just substitute a couple of classes here and there and will ideally end up extending my degree by only one year (in addition to time spent on co-op work terms). I am hoping to fit an exchange in there as well!
Coming into UBC, did you know you wanted to focus on engineering physics?
Not at all. I’m so grateful for that first foundation year. In grade 12 I was struggling to figure out which faculty I belonged in; I was nowhere close to thinking about specializations! In APSC 100, the first semester introduction to engineering class, we had weekly specialization information sessions which I always looked forward to. For most of first year, I leaned towards environmental or chemical engineering, but I stayed open to exploring the different options and ended up loving my physics classes, which veered me in the direction of engineering physics. I fully made up my mind to pursue engineering physics quite late, around a week before the specialization forms were due!
Was engineering what you thought it would be?
I was a bit nervous going into first year; I didn’t really know what to expect. Once I began my studies, however, it was easy to fall into rhythm and the courses felt like a natural progression from high school. The profs do a fair bit of review at the beginning of each course and there’s a lot of group work, so you quickly start to recognize familiar faces. The first-year engineering courses are quite interesting, and you work on projects that expose you to different types of engineering. I was surprised by how broad and far-reaching engineering really is!
What are some of the highlights of your education so far?
For one project, we had to propose the location for Vancouver’s next protected bike lane. The project was not what I had thought of as a traditional engineering assignment, so it exposed us to some of the lesser-known work that engineers do. We learned to understand and balance the viewpoints of multiple stakeholders affected by the location, consider how the bike lane integrates with public transit, and then plan out the construction phase and how that works with current traffic flow.
Another project I enjoyed was designing a simple rainwater harvesting system for a remote community in BC. We got into the nitty-gritty of various filtering components and there were a lot of physics equations involved!
What skills have you developed as an engineer?
The biggest skill I’ve acquired is the ability to pick up new information quickly and effectively. I have not found myself with a lot of free time (there are only 24 hours in a day, and I try to sleep for at least eight of them), which has forced me to make the most of my time through organized scheduling and efficient work.
What extracurricular activities are you involved in?
I’m part of UBC A Cappella and this year I am the musical director of one of the groups, Fermata. I’m also on the Engineering Physics intramural Ultimate team, and am a UBC Sustainability Ambassador. There are so many exciting ways to get involved on campus!
Tell us about your upcoming co-op term.
Next semester will be my first co-op work term. When I was applying for jobs, I was looking for a position that combined engineering with human geography or Indigenous studies. I was hired by an urban planning consulting company in Vancouver called Urban Systems, and I will likely be working on projects that are very similar to the one I did on bike lanes in first year (it was very helpful to be able to talk about this project in my interview). I am so excited to start in January!
How do you see yourself using your engineering and human geography degrees to make a difference in the world?
I will see how it all evolves! One idea that I am considering is trying to work with Indigenous communities in Canada, specifically those up north, and seeing where an engineering degree might be helpful. Sustainable city-planning is another area I am interested in – how can we design cities to contribute more positively to mitigating climate change? The last thing I’m thinking about is using journalism and writing to tell stories about engineering and scientific advancements.
Any advice for students coming to UBC?
If you’re not sure about what specialization/degree/program you want to pursue, don’t be afraid to talk to people and reach out. Reach out to Engineering Ambassadors at UBC to talk to students and be connected to those who can answer your specific questions! As an engineering ambassador, I can assure you that we would love to help.
If you are coming to UBC in first year and are able to, I would highly recommend taking the Jump Start program. I met some of my closest friends during Jump Start and was introduced to various support systems and opportunities that exist on campus. It was an incredible way to start my journey at UBC.