Andrew Sheroubi, BASc '18, Chemical and Biological Engineering
"The lesson was to fail faster. Failures provide the best avenues for growth and for learning."
The world is in trouble. We have to do something about it.
Andrew is deeply passionate about global humanitarian causes. Throughout his time at UBC he was very involved with a variety of organizations such as Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and the Canadian Red Cross. He was president of the UBC Red Cross club for two years and is the current director (and one of the founders) of the Red Cross Student Movement (RCSM), a student led initiative aimed at empowering the community to take action on local and global issues. During his final year, Andrew created and ran APSC 498H, an Impact of Technology on Society course on humanitarian engineering. He also worked on designing a modular water treatment system for both remote First Nation’s communities and disaster response situations. In his spare time Andrew enjoys reading, cooking and trying to find the ever elusive work-life balance.
What has made your time at UBC the most memorable?
I have genuinely enjoyed my time at UBC. Each year provided new and interesting opportunities and allowed me to meet fantastic individuals. This past year has proven to be especially memorable for a few reasons. First, I was able to create and facilitate my own course on humanitarian engineering (a topic I am very passionate about) through the Student Directed Seminars program. This experience was immensely helpful in developing my knowledge on the subject and provided me the opportunity to work with like-minded engineers. It also gave me a reason to get in contact with many amazing individuals working in this field from around the world.
I am also very interested in business (particularly social entrepreneurship) and this year I managed to squeeze in all the courses required for an entrepreneurship minor. This minor included New Venture Design (APSC 486) — arguably the best course I have taken at UBC. Combining both entrepreneurship and engineering aspects, teams worked to create both a technical solution as well as a business model to fulfill a societal need. My project for this course was the modular water treatment system for remote First Nations communities. Not only was I able to apply my technical skills towards a humanitarian issue, but I also learned how to create a sustainable social business around it.
Tell me about your experience in engineering. What have you learned that is most valuable?
I highly value my experience in engineering, but to be honest I found it quite difficult at times. I studied for long hours and pulled my fair share of all-nighters (which I don’t recommend). Although it was challenging, this experience improved my work ethic and my tenacity in general. The heavy work load promotes creative problem solving, and instills a love for learning. The problem solving mindset that is cultivated throughout the degree could be the most valuable aspect of engineering. Unlike other degrees, engineering gave me tangible tools and skills to help serve the larger world.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned was on my first day at UBC, during an Imagine Day speech. The lesson was to fail faster. Failures provide the best avenues for growth and for learning. I am the type of person that naturally wants to have a solid, sure-fire plan before starting anything. We can get stuck in this planning phase though and it is much more effective to try something and learn from the experience. We spent a lot of time conducting research for the water treatment project, but true progress was achieved when we started prototyping and testing our ideas.
What has been your most memorable/valuable non-academic experience studying engineering at UBC?
UBC is overflowing with many different opportunities and experiences, and it hosts a multitude of exceptional individuals. During my time here I was involved with many different clubs and organizations on campus, represented the university in a variety of conferences and competitions around the country, and developed strong friendships. I have been blessed with many wonderful experiences and it’s very difficult to pick the most memorable from them, but here are just a couple. One of my favorite experiences was going to the EWB national conference. The community in EWB (particularly the UBC chapter) was one of the best I have been part of — they are great people, who are simultaneously fun to be around and who genuinely care about the world.
My experience as the president of the UBC Red Cross club was also particularly special to me. It is inspiring and humbling to see many individuals passionate about helping others. I am very grateful for those people and for the many resources that are available to support students groups in their projects.
What advice would you give a student considering engineering?
Engineering is a wonderful and extremely useful discipline. You’ll gain tools and the ability to tackle complicated problems. However, engineering is also quite difficult and the people who excel are those with good work ethics. You learn a lot through your classes, but you could argue that you learn just as much, if not more, from what you chose to do outside that. Join a study team, take on different projects and participate in competitions. University is an opportunity to grow as a person beyond technical knowledge. I guess my advice could be summed up in this: get out there and do stuff!
What are your plans for the future?
I aim to specialize in the field of water treatment, and eventually want to work as a humanitarian engineer, potentially with large organizations such as the International Red Cross or the UN. Through these organizations, engineers can work on three to 12-month missions that I can hopefully do alongside my career. After I accumulated more experience, I potentially want to revisit the modular water treatment project and see if I can make it a reality.
How will you go on to make a difference in our world?
That’s a tough question. First of all, I don’t believe that I can make a considerable difference on my own, or that I should. Part of the motivation for creating the humanitarian engineering course was to analyze and discuss failures in humanitarian work, many of which are due to good, yet ultimately selfish, intentions (an example is voluntourism — international travel that allows the individual to contribute to sustainable development, while exploring a new country and culture). The focus should be on the problem itself and the people affected, not on the desire to solve it. I believe it’s our responsibility to do our best to help improve the lives of people around us, particularly those who are in vulnerable positions. That’s what I will strive to do.