Meet Alexander Harmsen, B.A.Sc. '16, Engineering Physics

Alexander Harmsen
"One of the most valuable things that I took away from engineering is the belief that I can solve any problem."

What has made your time at UBC the most memorable?

Being one of the first people on UBC Orbit, a Satellite Design team, joining the UBC Cryogenics and Life Extension Club, going on exchange to the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, traveling across the country with a drone strapped to our van, starting up UBC Unmanned Aircraft Systems and being President of Engineers Without Borders. But, most of all, just getting to meet so many other awesome people and making so many memories!

Why did you choose Engineering?

I am very curious and felt that engineering could open up the world for me by giving me the technical know-how to tackle many of life’s challenges. It seemed like the perfect starting point and base for everything else I plan to do in life!

Tell me about your experience in Engineering. What have you learned that is most valuable?

One of the most valuable things that I took away from engineering is the belief that I can solve any problem. Perhaps it will take a lot of money, or a lot more know-how, or thousands of other people, but by using this engineering approach I feel confident enough to say that there is no problem that is unsolvable!

How are you applying the skills you learned through your studies at UBC?

Being a part of so many student design teams has been a great way to put into practice the things that I learn in the classroom. Every engineering student should be part of a design team at some point in their undergraduate careers. It helps tremendously in motivating students to continue their students, and also in showing potential employers that they have hands-on, practical skills as well as all the book smarts.

What has been your most memorable/valuable non-academic experience studying engineering at UBC?

Participating in UBC's Go Global Study Abroad program. Being able to spend an entire term of my undergraduate degree at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi was eye-opening, inspiring and let me experience an entirely new world. I took engineering courses while abroad, but also managed to soak in the culture by getting involved in the local community and trying to become an IITian for 5 months!

How do you feel a degree in Engineering has benefitted you compared to a different field of study?

In high school I was tempted to enter into a business undergraduate degree. By choosing engineering with a minor in commerce, I think that I managed to get the best of both worlds!

What advice would you give a student considering Engineering?

Make sure that you get involved in things outside of the classroom! Undergrad is a perfect time to experiment and figure out what you actually like doing. If you are even remotely interested in a certain club or student team, try it out for a semester – no one is going to ask you to commit to more time than that. Don’t feel like you’re stuck in that role forever, and feel free to change if you like something else more!

Where do you find your inspiration?

There are so many things in the world to learn that I feel like I’m wasting my time if I’m not learning more all the time!

What are your plans for the future--immediate? Long-term?

Immediate – Autonomous Navigation for small aircraft at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in California

Long-term – starting up my own drone company and taking over the world (but not in an evil way)!

How will you go on to make a difference in our world?

I’m really excited about pushing the boundaries of technology and helping people reach their full potential through automation of ordinary systems. I want to help develop robots and autonomous systems to help give everyone a world of opportunity and help lead to a more productive, sustainable and creative world!