Academic Confessions: Engineering an opportunity

Op-eds Opinions

A co-worker asked me one day, “Why mechanical engineering?” I ummed and ahhhed for  a minute and realized that I had no answer. I had no idea why I chose to study mechanical engineering. Maybe it’s because I fancy myself as a smart lady who’s good at math and physics and can usually understand machines. Or that I like to believe mechanical engineering is the broadest of all the engineering fields. And I admit that I shamelessly researched job and salary prospects for mechanical engineering. See, according to Maclean’s 2015 “Guide to Jobs in Canada”, mechanical engineers are the fifth most in-demand jobs in the country, squeezing out an average salary of $75 000 per year.

I imagined it to be a tough and practical career route that could lead to success. However, most of engineering isn’t learned from textbooks. As all tradespeople can tell you, the job is learned through pure, plain work experience, and UVic Engineering has an amazing co-op program for that purpose. This semester I was privileged to go on my first eye-opening work experience at the Industrial Engineering section of Esquimalt’s Canadian Forces Base, Fleet Maintenance Facility.

So people would ask me, “What did I learn on my first co-op?” Well, a lot. Really, the better question is, “How did I grow as a person (and as an engineer)?”

This was my first ever professional job. I was lucky that I didn’t get lost on my first day — unlike the other co-op students. Thank God my mom worked at the Base as well and told me where to go; she made every trek to work and back a joy. That whole week comprised of many wrong turns and reroutes. I’ve never been in a machine shop as large as the one on the Base. You can imagined me as the tiny, timid thing who jumps at every noise around. But thankfully, I had Jack, a fellow co-op who walked around the Base with me as well. So we both looked clueless together.

As if the machines weren’t terrifying enough, there were scary looking people around. But as it turned out, most of these guys were sweet, tough, gentlemanly, knowledgeable, and nice all rolled into one coverall-ed package.

I had a wonderful supervisor, Mr. Ross, who guided me firmly through the ups and downs. He had a sense of humour that no one could rival. Though I sometimes struggled to meet the challenges presented to me, I hope I met his expectations. But more importantly, I hope our friendship endures.

There was a point when I was afraid that I could never learn enough technical knowledge to be a good mechanical engineer. I had to Google what a flange looked like. I was afraid that I had to play catch up with all the more expert mechanical students; after all, I just designed escape plans at the Base. The job, however, made me think about what my future co-ops would bring. After all, I still had to figure out why I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. I realize that I should just give it time and an endless amount of enthusiasm; it is the discovery that makes it all the more fun, right? I am determined to love what I learn more than ever. This summer, I’m back on the book grind. Time to enjoy the endless sun, the endless schoolwork, and the endless opportunities ahead.