What’s one thing you wish you knew about engineering back when you were in high school?
That engineering is all about helping people. When I was younger I was dead set on being a doctor because I wanted to help people live healthier, happier lives. I decided to enroll in chemical engineering and complete it with a biology minor to get most of the medical school pre-requisites out of the way. I also wanted a degree that would open doors and I figured that double engineering and medicine degrees would be very powerful.
In my last year of my undergrad I took a course on water and wastewater treatment and my whole perspective on engineering changed. I found out that, historically, the most significant impacts to public health were connected not to advances in medical science, but to the disinfection of drinking water and installation of proper sanitation systems. This discovery helped me to connect my desire to help people live healthy lives with the engineering and problem solving that I had come to love through my undergraduate degree. I haven’t looked back!
What’s your proudest accomplishment as an engineer?
This one is tough. I remember feeling very proud when I was chosen to travel to northern BC to talk to students about engineering, to expose them to the work that we do and talk about how engineering is all about helping people. I had only been working for a couple of years and I felt like I was being chosen to be an ambassador for the profession. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and have continued to look for opportunities to interact with kids and show them the wonderful world of engineering. My other proudest moment was when I received my professional designation and joined the ranks of the incredible engineers who have paved the way for all who follow… pun intended :).
Tell me about a time in your career when your work has been about discovery or curiosity?
I work as a consultant which gives me lots of opportunities to work on teams with smart people with different areas of expertise to solve difficult problems. One project where my work has been about discovery or curiosity is a corrosion project for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMoW). The RMoW has many different water sources and historically has seen evidence of internal corrosion across their system (i.e. green staining of faucets, pinhole leaks in domestic piping and leakage in particular areas of the distribution system). They hired us to work with them to figure out how this corrosion might impact the lifespan of their pipe in the ground and identify the best way to manage any corrosion that is occurring.
To start, we had to determine how corrosive the water actually was then figure out the best way to manage it. In doing our background research we found out that not only is there no standard way to determine if a source water is corrosive, but also that there is a lot of disagreement in the scientific community about how corrosive water actually degrades the pipes from the inside out (particularly with copper corrosion typically associated with green staining). We did some baseline testing and found that the water is very aggressive to steel, but copper samples installed in the system were not degraded rapidly. We’re very curious about what is happening on the surface of the materials and are currently partnering with the University of British Columbia to discover what is actually happening at surface at the molecular level and determine how this will impact the lifespan of RMoW’s infrastructure.
Do you feel your work contributes to society? How so?
Absolutely! My work focuses on water and wastewater infrastructure which I feel is the foundation for healthy communities… I might be a little bit biased here.
Why do we need more female engineers?
I think that teams benefit from diversity of not only gender, but also practice area, race, and age because this diversity brings many different perspectives to the table. These varying perspectives allows us to be more creative and innovative in the way that we solve problems. With these differing opinions, approaches and perspectives it’s not always easy to agree on a solution, but when we do, the solution is usually a much better one. One other strength I see with my female peers is that we are often excellent integrative, systems thinkers who are good at seeing the big picture and using this perspective to figure out how to organize and break down difficult problems.
Is there a person who influenced your decision to become an engineer?
Yes I was definitely influenced by two strong women in my life. My Aunt who is a civil engineer/lawyer who works as a patent and trademark agent and my sister who started chemical engineering two years ahead of me then went on to do her PhD in biomedical engineering.
How did it feel to be listed as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women in 2015?
Surreal! It is humbling to be part of a group of such incredible women. This network has inspired me to dream big and to believe that I can accomplish anything that I set my mind to.