Carleton engineering graduates expect to go forth into the world and make a difference, no matter which discipline they pursue, but a trio of undergraduates are already having an impact, as their performance at the university’s annual Co-op Awards demonstrates.
Engineering physics student Yannick D’Mello, and biomedical and electrical engineering student George Hanna shared this year’s Co-op Student of the Year Award, the first time it has been declared a tie, and Krista MacWilliam, who studies architectural conservation and sustainability engineering, won the inaugural Women in Engineering Co-op Student Award, given out by the Faculty of Engineering in recognition of exemplary co-op achievement and effort representing women in the field.
“We throw a lot of fundamentals at students, especially in the first couple years, before we get into more interesting applications,” says Deniz Karman, acting chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who presented MacWilliam’s parents with her award in a late-March ceremony because she was in Nunavut on another work term.
“It’s a lot of hard work and they don’t always see the necessity of what they’re doing. But often, when they do a co-op placement, they have a sudden understanding of why they are doing the things we do at school, and they gain a much deeper appreciation of the meaning of their education.”
What’s more, says Karman, the employer benefits from having a highly motivated and qualified hard worker on staff for anywhere from four to 16 months. Many employers need the help to complete specific projects and view the co-op as a screening opportunity if they plan to hire in the near future.
Students can also give their employers an injection of energy and enthusiasm, and sometimes familiarity with new technologies, adds Julie Bebbington, Carleton’s manager of Co-operative Education. And they’re usually paid well.
Because students typically have three or four work terms during their undergraduate years, they can try different branches of their chosen path, with different types of employers, from large government departments to small private firms.
“They mature and sort of find themselves,” says Bebbington, “and bring real-world experience back to the classroom.”
MacWilliam, 23, a fourth-year student from Ashton, Ont., was nominated by senior engineer Santino Cicciarella, her supervisor at Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, where she worked with the infrastructure team on the agency’s Canadian High Arctic Research Station project.
“Krista was challenged and was instrumental,” says Cicciarella. She “reviewed and provided very professional comments and recommendations on numerous project reports.”
MacWilliam appreciated having the chance to get hands-on experience in her field of study.
“Through this placement I had the opportunity not only to work with professional engineers, but also knowledgeable and talented individuals with backgrounds in science, government policy, Inuit and Northern affairs, communications and management,” says MacWilliam, who is expected to graduate in spring 2016. “From this diverse group I gained a plethora of knowledge that will help me build a promising career.”
D’Mello, a 25-year-old originally from India who will be graduating this semester, and Hanna, 20, who was born in Ottawa and will graduate in 2017, both completed work terms at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique’s Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications Research Centre, just east of Montreal.
“Having an outlet to apply my knowledge whilst still learning was immeasurably beneficial,” says D’Mello, who was praised by supervisor Roberto Morandotti for his ability to “adapt to situations, resolve conflicts, and motivate his peers in such a challenging situation.”
For Hanna, working alongside D’Mello at the institute’s Ultrafast Optical Processing laboratory provided hands-on experience with high-level research.
“Tasks were no longer problems with a straightforward answer,” says Hanna. “This exploration of the unknown without any sense of what lies behind the curtain kept me on edge the entire summer. It is a thrill I desire in my future profession.”
Commerce and marketing student Lena Elchamaa and Charles McIvor from the public affairs and policy management program received honourable mentions in the Co-op Student of the Year category, and the Ottawa Hospital’s Maternal-Fetal Division won the Co-op Employer of the Year Award.
“Not only did this co-op job provide me with an excellent academic experience, it also reinforced my confidence that medicine was the career that I wanted to pursue,” says third-year biology student Rachael Page, who nominated the hospital.
“My employers were genuinely interested in helping me pursue my passion for medicine and health science.”