From Kazakhstan to Vancouver: Pioneering Hydrogen Research, Mentorship and Sustainable Innovation While Balancing Motherhood and Global Leadership

"Embrace challenges—each step brings you closer to your dream life."

UBC MEL CEEN rising star Aigerim Akiltayeva
UBC Master of Engineering Leadership alum Aigerim Akiltayeva is now at the forefront of one of North America's first large-scale Deep Energy Retrofit Pilot Project at FortisBC.

Aigerim Akiltayeva

Hello, Future Innovator! My name is Aigerim, and I've had the privilege of embarking on a transformative educational voyage through the Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) program at UBC. With a fervent passion for clean energy solutions and sustainability, my story is one of resilience, dedication and unwavering commitment to making a positive impact on our world.

Hailing from Kazakhstan, my journey into the realm of clean energy began with a stellar academic foundation. Armed with a first-class diploma in BEng Energy Engineering from University of Leeds, I embarked on a mission to delve deeper into the intricacies of sustainable energy systems. My academic prowess was underscored by my involvement in pioneering hydrogen research during my capstone project at UBC MEL program.

From winning accolades for the best hydrogen design project to contributing to impactful publications, my dedication to driving positive change through innovative energy solutions has been unwavering. Additionally, I've had the privilege of working on a feasibility study for a blue hydrogen project in Central Asia with carbon capture storage, aiming to establish a hydrogen plant. My professional journey has also taken me through esteemed consulting firms like EY and finance institutes like the Asian Development Bank, where I've had the opportunity to contribute my expertise to projects with global impact.

But my journey doesn't stop there. As a single parent balancing the demands of academia, a consulting career, and motherhood, I've learned firsthand the importance of perseverance and determination. Through it all, I've had the privilege of serving as a mentor, a Teaching Assistant for Professional MBA course at UBC, and a Sustainability Scholar at UBC, all while participating in enriching extracurricular activities like Storm the Wall, Long Boat race and organizing family-friendly events.

Aigerim Akiltayeva Hiking

Today, I stand at the forefront of one of North America's first large-scale Deep Energy Retrofit Pilot Project at FortisBC, where I continue to apply my expertise and passion to drive tangible, real-world impact. Fluent in five languages and deeply committed to global sustainability initiatives, I bring a unique perspective and a wealth of experience to every endeavour I undertake.

But beyond the professional accolades and academic achievements lies a person who finds solace and joy in the simple pleasures of life. Whether it's practicing yoga, hitting the trails for a run, or embarking on breathtaking hikes with my daughter, I believe in embracing every moment and finding beauty in the journey.

Why did you choose to study at UBC? 

I chose to pursue my field of study at UBC because of its reputation for excellence in clean energy engineering and its commitment to sustainability. Throughout my program search, one notable moment that led me to choose UBC was the opportunity to work on real-world projects with industry partners as part of the Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) program. This hands-on experience, combined with the chance to collaborate with renowned professors and researchers in the field, stood out to me as a unique opportunity to apply my learning in a practical setting and make a tangible impact in the world of clean energy. 

Additionally, UBC's vibrant community, diverse student body, and strong emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration were factors that resonated with me and reinforced my decision to pursue my studies here.

What has made your time at UBC memorable?

I thoroughly enjoyed the unique blend of the CEEN MEL degree, which seamlessly integrated both the technical aspects of clean energy and the business side of things. One highlight was our insightful field trip, where we had the opportunity to visit real-life renewable energy projects, including wind energy, hydro and examples of wave/tidal energy. It was eye-opening to see these technologies in action and gain a deeper understanding of their practical applications.

I appreciated UBC's commitment to providing extensive resources for both academic excellence and wellness. From state-of-the-art facilities to comprehensive support services, UBC ensured that students had access to everything they needed to succeed.

Another aspect that stood out was the series of guest lectures and conferences supported by MEL staff. These events not only provided valuable insights from industry experts but also created a supportive and engaging learning environment. I particularly enjoyed how these sessions kept us updated on current trends and technologies in the field, enriching our learning experience and preparing us for future challenges.

How would you describe the student community within your program?

The student community within my program was incredibly welcoming and inclusive, fostering an environment where lasting connections were easily formed. As part of the MEL 2024 cohort, I had the opportunity to collaborate with students from various specializations within the program. Working together on team projects allowed us to leverage our diverse backgrounds and expertise, resulting in dynamic presentations and innovative ideas. For example, my background in energy engineering combined with someone else's urban experience often led to fruitful collaborations and enriched learning experiences.

Additionally, I was fortunate to be part of the UBC Family housing community, specifically Acadia Park, where I found a supportive and vibrant environment from day one. I was impressed by the community's dedication to sustainability, evident in their enthusiasm for recycling and repurposing items, as well as UBC's robust waste program management. The varied program of family-friendly events, including gym sessions, hikes and games, provided opportunities for socializing and building connections within the community. Overall, the sense of camaraderie and support within both my academic and residential communities greatly enriched my experience at UBC.

Were there any challenges you faced and overcame during your degree that you would like to share?

During my degree, one significant challenge I faced was the struggle to find time for everything within a very limited timeframe. Balancing studies, my role as a sustainability scholar, being a TA towards the end of the year, and participating in the CDL course, all within the span of one year, proved to be quite demanding. However, I've always been someone who thrives on challenges and enjoys overcoming them. 

Despite the hectic schedule, I view that year as one of the best learning experiences of my life. It was a period where I truly learned what it means to step out of my comfort zone, away from my home country, juggling different roles as a student and as a mom, all while forming long-lasting friendships. It taught me resilience, time management skills and the importance of embracing challenges as opportunities for growth.

Where do you find your inspiration for using your degree to make an impact on our world?

I find my inspiration for using my degree to make an impact on the world from my family. Growing up in an extensive family of engineers, I was surrounded by role models who demonstrated the power of hard work and integrity. My two great granddads were engineers, and following in their footsteps, my dad and brother also pursued careers in engineering. Their dedication to their work and the positive impact they made in their communities instilled in me a deep appreciation for the field. They taught me that honesty is the best policy and that through engineering, one can truly make a difference.

"I see my degree making an impact on the world by enabling me to contribute to clean energy projects and promote sustainable energy solutions. The field of energy has many facets, and through my work, I aim to explore and develop innovative solutions that will lead to a cleaner, more sustainable future for all."

How did your studies in the Faculty of Applied Science prepare you for the future of work?

The professional landscape within my field has indeed undergone significant evolution over the past decade. My studies in the Faculty of Applied Science at UBC equipped me with a diverse skill set and a deep understanding of emerging technologies and industry trends. Through rigorous coursework, hands-on projects, and mentorship opportunities, I gained invaluable experience in hydrogen research, sustainable innovation, and global leadership.

Moving forward, I aspire to contribute to the future of work in my field by pioneering advancements in energy efficiency, hydrogen technology and promoting sustainable practices. As a mentor, I aim to inspire and guide the next generation of professionals, fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration. Additionally, I am passionate about driving diversity and inclusion initiatives, ensuring that all voices are heard and represented in the workplace.

"To you, dear prospective student, I offer this advice: Dare to dream, chase your passions relentlessly and never underestimate the power of resilience. Your journey at UBC promises to be an exhilarating adventure filled with endless opportunities for growth, learning and transformation. Embrace it wholeheartedly, and let your light shine bright as you embark on the path to shaping a brighter, more sustainable future for us all."


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