March 1, 2021
UBC Engineering students secured more work placements for the 2021 winter term than they did for any winter term in the engineering program’s history.
With guidance from UBC Engineering Co-op, 570 students found jobs for the period of January to April 2021. It is an especially notable achievement given the negative impact the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had on the economy over the past year.
Employers included Intel, Ballard Power Systems and Teck Resources, which collectively hired 46 students, as well as local biomedical companies Evasc and Zymeworks, which recruited top students from UBC’s biomedical engineering and chemical and biological engineering programs.
“Although we did better than we expected in the summer, with additional recovery into the fall term, we still saw fewer placements for the summer and fall 2020 terms than we would in a normal year,” says Sara Buse, director of experiential learning and academic services at the UBC Faculty of Applied Science. “It is truly incredible that the co-op program has bounced back so well during a time when we are still seeing economic uncertainty.”
Maira Bolanos Parra, an integrated engineering student, accepted a role at Hexagon Agility for this year's winter and summer terms. As an engineering intern, she creates and modifies engineering drawings using computer-aided design (CAD) software, making improvements to clean transportation products that are sold in 45 countries around the world.
“Since [Hexagon Agility] has a fairly large product line, there are lots of changes or customizations requested by customers,” says Parra. “The first month I was learning about the CAD and PDM [product data management] software they use, and now I'm working on a small project on my own, as well as assisting other design engineers with projects or smaller tasks.”
Engineering was a natural career path for Parra, who developed a strong curiosity about the science of everyday things like electricity and car engines at an early age and became particularly drawn to physics in high school.
“I feel that engineering — and of course STEM in general — is sort of an extension of that, and it gives you the tools to create novel solutions to improve people’s lives and tackle growing problems like climate change,” says Parra. “I really enjoy being part of an entire project, from the initial brainstorming-slash-research phase to the actual realization of the idea. There's a lot of satisfaction in seeing your efforts bring a physical product to life.”
Ege Berk Akkaya, a fourth-year student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is working as an information systems developer at Greenlight Innovation, a company that provides tools and equipment for alternative energy applications. He is currently creating an internal web app to digitize the company’s data.
Akkaya says he came to engineering through his love of math and physics and a desire to learn “how to apply their principles in real life — and make cool stuff!”
“The number one thing that I enjoy about my job, and engineering more generally, is that it actually adds value to people’s lives and you get to change the way people experience life,” says Akkaya.
Buse attributes UBC Engineering Co-op’s renewed success in work placements this term not to any significant shifts in strategy, but rather to continued efforts to engage with students and employers throughout the pandemic.
This meant reviewing students’ applications, offering practice interviews, providing timely responses to students’ questions, and alerting students to new jobs as they came in. It also meant maintaining communications with employers to make sure they were aware of suitable candidates and of the funding that was available to hire them.
“My team has been working very hard to work with employers to try and get them to continue hiring or start hiring again if they took a pause,” says Buse. "It’s probably more of a persistence in continuing to provide quality co-op experiences to our students that is really driving the increase.”
To budding engineers, Parra suggests exploring topics or projects they are interested in — and not being afraid to ask questions.
“People generally love to talk about their projects,” says Parra, “so if you happen to find someone doing something cool, try to learn from them! If you're at UBC, I would also definitely recommend joining a design team. I was in UBC AeroDesign for two years and it was wonderful to have a community of like-minded STEM students, while also getting an awesome chance to do real design work with a team.”
Akkaya agrees, advising young students to “get out there and explore.”
“Don’t be scared of trying new things and taking risks,” he says. “And when in doubt, follow your heart. Because the heart already knows what it wants.”