This month, we spoke with alumna Beth Renwick and her daughter, Diane Currie, who graduated from UBC Engineering this spring. Read about their comparative experiences on campus, how Beth became the Program Head of a BCIT degree program, and what Diane plans to do now that she has graduated.
Ms. Beth Renwick (BASc 1984 CIVL) graduated from UBC in the middle of a recession, and after several part-time jobs, landed a full-time position with PBK Engineering and Architects. She went on to work for the Greater Vancouver Regional District (now Metro Vancouver), and she is currently the Program Head for BCIT’s Bachelor of Technology in Construction Management program.
Her daughter, Ms. Diane Currie graduated from UBC this spring with her BASc in Civil Engineering and began full-time work immediately after graduation with Horizon Engineering, a geotechnical consultant in North Vancouver.
Both Ms. Renwick and Ms. Currie share their experiences with student involvement opportunities and the value of extra-curricular activities. Ms. Currie, in particular, speaks to the value of her co-op work experience and her participation on the UBC Concrete Canoe student team. Ms. Renwick reflects on the success of her children and what she considers to be the most important skill for success as an engineer.
Can you tell us a little bit about the kind of work that you do/about what you are studying at UBC and what you would like to pursue in your career?
Beth Renwick: I am the Program Head for BCIT’s Bachelor of Technology in Construction Management. I don’t teach, but I advise students, hire faculty, and review students’ final projects. I have been at BCIT for almost 15 years now.
Diane Currie: I am just finishing up a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. I am interested in geotechnical engineering, which has been the focus of my technical electives at school. I am looking forward to starting full-time work this summer with Horizon Engineering, a geotechnical consultant based out of North Vancouver.
What have been the turning points and milestones in your career/education?
BR: When I graduated from UBC in 1984 jobs were hard to come by – it was quite a bad recession. I was fortunate enough to work part-time for Associate Engineering (B.C.) Ltd. and then B.C. Place Ltd. My work with B.C. Place Ltd. was focused on developing the Expo Lands after the world’s fair. However, the lands got sold and I got my first full-time engineering job at PBK Engineering and Architects. After two years there, I went to the Greater Vancouver Regional District, now Metro Vancouver. I was there for close to eleven years, and was promoted over that time from Assistant Project Engineer to Program Manager. I worked in sewerage and drainage system operation, maintenance, and planning – it was very interesting work! In 2000, I left for BCIT for lifestyle reasons: to spend the summers with my children, who were then 10 and 8. It worked out well for us.
DC: I found that going through co-op and getting real-world experience was an extremely important part of my time at UBC because it taught me how work in engineering is related to the schoolwork we do, and what the real applications are for the technical knowledge we are learning.
I also found that getting involved, specifically for me through the Concrete Canoe Team that a group of students started last year, has been a great experience that has taught me how to work with my peers and manage my time.
What is a fact about your work/engineering education that people might find surprising?
BR: The bachelor’s degree program I run is mainly part-time. Students who work full-time can take our courses in the evenings and online to work toward the degree. However, because the program is mainly part-time, and students work through the courses at their own pace, we have no idea how many students are actively pursuing their degree!
DC: Both of my parents graduated from Civil Engineering at UBC in the eighties, and despite the odds I ended up engaged to an arts man… don’t tell Dad!
Do you have a mentor? What did you learn from them?
BR: I was fortunate enough to work for a series of (male) engineers who were very supportive. From all of them I learned the value of good written communication – whether a memo, email, or report. I also learned how to navigate a bureaucracy – it’s a bit of an art form.
DC: I would consider my supervisors during my co-op work terms as mentors to me, as they have supported me through my first engineering jobs and shown me how I can improve my skills to become a better engineer. One key skill that they have taught me is how to communicate as an engineer, both verbally and in writing.
What do you consider your greatest achievement in life so far (personal, professional, or both)?
BR: I would have to say that my greatest achievement is raising my two children to adulthood without the typical teenage issues that you hear about. Diane is graduating from Civil Engineering and getting married, and both she and her fiancé are thoughtful, caring, contributing people. Diane’s brother, Bruce, graduated from Sauder School of Business with a Commerce degree two years ago and is also an outstanding person. I am SO proud of both of them; they are absolutely wonderful people in many ways.
DC: Finishing an engineering degree with good grades, good work experience, consistent involvement, and a good relationship! An engineering degree isn’t exactly an easy endeavor, and being involved only adds to the time commitment required. Looking back on it, I am happy at the level of involvement I had throughout my time at UBC, as it enhanced my degree so much. Coming out of engineering with not only the technical skills learned in class, but also the soft skills from extra-curricular activities and the real-world work experience from co-op is a great achievement that I will be building on for years to come.
What three items would you take to a deserted island?
BR: A pre-World War I set of encyclopaedias. An epic fantasy series (one that has many, many volumes!). An old-style hand-crank gramophone with a slew of records to play on it.
DC: A guitar, my fiancé, and bow and arrows.
What was your most memorable experience during your time at UBC, inside the classroom or outside?
BR: The Engineers Balls that were held in the early 1980s were real extravaganzas. Each department built elaborate “sets” with decorations that followed a theme. They were wonderful events. Most of my memorable experiences were not related to the formal learning environment.
DC: I was so fortunate to participate in UBC’s first ever Concrete Canoe Team last year, and was able to watch it grow even more this year. Starting a student team requires a lot of time and effort, and there was a very steep learning curve for the team as we figured everything out for the first time. I will never forget our very first competition last year in Portland, Oregon. We were the only Canadian team in our region, and though we did not know what to expect at the competition, we came out with a fourth place finish out of thirteen teams. This year, we made it onto the podium with a hard-earned third place finish.
What do you feel are three habits necessary for highly successful engineers/that will help you succeed as an engineer?
BR: Time management; keeping track of the people you meet (how, where, when, why); and careful proofreading to aid in producing excellent written English.
DC: I have always been told that I’m a very calm person, which I think allows me to approach problems with a very level and logical mindset. I also have gained teamwork skills through my involvement in school and through group projects. Lastly, I believe that my written communication skills will be a huge benefit for me throughout my career, as engineers do so much document preparation and email in their work.
What was/is your favourite thing to do on campus as a UBC student?
BR: Hanging out at the Cheeze Factory after classes on Fridays and at the weekly executive meetings (I was the Red Sales person one year and the EUS secretary in my final year).
DC: Grab a cookie from Blue Chip and just enjoy the incredibly beautiful campus we have…or at least the parts of it not taken over by construction!
What are the top three things that you would recommend engineering students do before they graduate?
BR: Get at least one summer job in their field of interest; actively work on improving both oral and written English skills; and get involved in extra-curricular activities. There is an incredible amount of learning that happens outside the classroom, and many students fail to recognize its value.
I can’t stress enough that the ability to effectively communicate is a huge predictor of future success!
DC: Join a student team, do co-op, and take some time to relax with your classmates!