Spending a co-op term working with the geology team on BC’s Site C hydro dam is just one of Katrijn Bjornson’s highlights at UBC Engineering

“UBC has a lot of programs to support Indigenous students and they are working to better integrate Indigenous views in engineering. I’m excited about these changes.”

Katrijn at the Site C hydro dam.

Katrijn Bjornson


Why did you want to study engineering?

I always knew I wanted to do something STEM related, as science and math had always been my two favourite subjects in school. I was torn between engineering and earth sciences, so I decided to challenge myself by trying for engineering and having earth sciences as a back-up plan.

Katrijn sitting on the beach

Why did you decide on UBC Engineering? What made it stand out compared to other schools?

I always had UBC in mind, especially after seeing a video of the campus when I was younger. It’s also one of the top schools in Canada and internationally recognized.

How did you choose your program specialization?

I considered every specialization during first year. I knew geological engineering was an option, but I only really began considering it in the second term of my first year. I had been leaning towards mechanical engineering, but when I pictured where I wanted to be in my career, along with my interests in geophysics and environmental earth sciences, it all came together.

Has your experience as an engineering student been different from or similar to what you thought it would be like?

Coming into the program, I had expected a lot of physics, math and group work – and foundation year definitely has all those components! I was surprised by the amount of group work in first year as you work on design challenges. In APSC 101, my group won the design challenge on water treatment – we spent a lot of time on it and ended up coming in first place out of 170 students, so that was awesome. The technical writing classes were very helpful and relevant in my co-op jobs. The foundation year program really sets you up well.

Engineering students in red jumpsuits participating on UBC Imagine Day

Foundation Year

UBC Engineering’s foundation year prepares you with a strong knowledge base from which to build a solid and rewarding academic and professional career.

Student adjusting a watering mechanism for plants

APSC 101

APSC 101 is a 3-credit course in term 2 that provides an introduction to the engineering profession including: the engineering design process and sustainability.

How would you describe the community at UBC Engineering?

Katrijn having lunch with a friend at a restaurant patio

The community at UBC Engineering is excellent. Upper-year students and staff are always wanting to help first-year students. Within the geological engineering program, the community is so tight and there are lots of fun social events. I’ve gotten to know my peers super well and they are amazing to work with.

What new skills do you think you’ve developed as an engineering student?

My time management skills have definitely improved. It’s really important to find the motivation to do the work during the day and not put it off for last minute. I’ve also developed my communication skills, which are important for group work.

Georox members group photo with the mountains and clouds in the background

Are you involved in any clubs or teams?

I’ve been involved in GEOROX, the geological engineering students club and last year I was the VP Internal. Since I am doing co-op this year, I am not as active in clubs, but next year I’d like to get involved again.

Why did you want to do co-op?

Being part of co-op was one of my primary goals in coming to university. I always knew I wanted to get hands-on work experience, which is different than what you learn in your classes. Co-op has enabled me to work on some cool projects, gain new skills and have a more well-rounded experience.

Applied Science Co-op

Tell us about your co-op job.

I’m doing an 8-month co-op term at the Site C hydroelectric dam project for the engineering company with Klohn Crippen Berger. Since May 2022, I’ve been working with the geology team, doing foundation prep for the approach channels and ensuring the bedrock and foundation is secure. The team is amazing, and I’ve had such a good time up here that I will be very sad when I leave.

Have your engineering classes prepared you to succeed in this co-op job?

Definitely – particularly the content in some of the more geology-based courses. The technical writing skills I developed in the first two years have translated very well to the actual work I do, and the communication and teamwork skills I’ve developed are really important to my role.

Do you have a dream job after you graduate?

I don’t know if I have a dream job yet, which is another reason why I wanted to join co-op. Engineering is so broad, and geological engineering itself is also very broad. I want to gain experience here and there and see what I like and don’t like.

Katrijn pointing to a landslide in the background

What kinds of impact and contributions would you like to make in your field?

I might be interested in doing geohazard or mitigation work to contribute to climate change management and environmental issues. We see lots of extreme weather relate to climate change, like hurricanes, floods and landslides, so mitigating the impact of that on infrastructure and communities is very relevant.

Any reflections you’d like to share on being a female Indigenous student?

In terms of being a woman in engineering, I’ve had nothing but good experiences at UBC. There’s a lot of support overall and I think things are quite different than they were several decades ago. You feel like you have support from other women and male peers.

Although I am Metis, I am very visually white passing, so I don’t have any personal experience with direct discrimination based on appearance. Making comments about race in any capacity is never okay, and we all stand up for each other and hold each other accountable. UBC has a lot of programs to support Indigenous students and they are working to better integrate Indigenous views in engineering. I’m excited about these changes.

Any tips for new students?

For your arts electives, I highly recommend you choose arts electives you are interested in. Lots of people choose a class they think will boost their GPA and end up being miserable. Electives are a nice break from math and STEM courses. I took archaeology, which ended up being one of my favourite courses ever, and I also took a course on gender, sexuality and social justice where I learned so much.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to ask for help and meet new people.

Talk to people in your groups and classes and try and start a study group. If you’re struggling, go to office hours, talk to your prof and ask for extra help. It’s a supportive experience! Also, the more you go through your undergraduate degree, you learn working with others is a lot nicer than doing it all on your own.

On-campus experience

Favourite class: EOSC 330 (Principles of Geomorphology) and ENDS 221 (Sustainability by Design) 
Favourite coffee shop on campus: Starbucks 
Favourite lunch spot: UBC LIFE or Nest buildings 
Favourite study spot: IKB Library   
Favourite place on campus to meet up with friends: EOSC-M Building

Katrijn standing by a small river

Learn more about Katrijn's experience at UBC Engineering

Read more about Katrijn's 4th-year experience.

You can also reach out with any questions: Chat with Katrijn.

UBC geological engineering student on a co-op placement at BC Research Inc.

Geological Engineering

UBC offers the Geological Engineering program in collaboration with the Faculty of Science, blending aspects of earth sciences, civil engineering and mining engineering with a fundamental understanding of the earth’s surface environments...

Geological Engineering
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