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Making a difference matters to young engineers

University of Calgary alumni discover human relations key part of role

Brock Dyck says he liked everything he learned about Urban Systems when he researched the company for his 16-month internship as a University of Calgary civil engineering student. His discoveries later moved him to seek employment with the organization at graduation time.

Scott McKennaAn engineer in training at Urban Systems Calgary branch since May, Brock says the organization’s commitment to community building resonates strongly with him. He’s involved in his first community initiative since joining Urban Systems, supporting a program that teaches school children about the beauty and power of water by having them build water filters from kits prepared by a number of collaborators.

This initiative represents a perfect blend of Brock’s community mindedness and professionalism.

“It really resonated with me and the engineering aspect behind it is pretty cool,” he says.

Joining a company with similar values was important to Brock, who earned scholarships for his university education through his community and volunteer work.

“For me, it was trying to find the place that really fit for me. The financial aspect came second, especially at this point in my career,” he says. “It was more about finding the right place and the place I was going to be able to grow, rather than going for the oil and gas field (work) and trying to make as much money as I can.”

Scott McKenna, who’s been an engineer with Urban Systems for 3 ½ years and is also in Calgary, says working in the natural resource development sector is a choice for many people in Alberta, and it’s a common driver for employment. He says he joined Urban Systems primarily to put his newly acquired knowledge to work.

He says he has “a sense of pride and satisfaction” in that what he does has a lasting impact.

“Working for Urban, I can say I helped do that or helped this town with this, or helped this part of the city . . . the potential is here to step into roles that shape how communities will develop over the next 50 years, and support the big decisions that municipalities make that determine if they’re going to be a really cool place to visit or live, or they’re going to focus more on revenue.”

Both Scott and Brock say they are currently doing a lot of project management work, which requires not only technical knowledge but also interpersonal and communication skills — something Scott has discovered he has an affinity for and values a great deal.

The people side of his work has presented a big learning curve for Brock. “Something that people seem to miss in the engineering field is that dealing with people is half to 90 per cent of what you do on a day-to-day basis. It doesn’t only involve sitting at a computer crunching numbers, it’s also about learning everything from how to write a professional e-mail to public speaking and holding meetings. These are things that until you’re in the working world, you never really touch on.”

His education provided a solid foundation for his career, particularly on the technical side, and Brock says the internship he completed between his third and fourth year of university “really opened my eyes to what an engineer does.”

“I was lucky enough to go to a company that treated me like a new graduate engineer, not an intern, because I was given all the same roles and responsibilities that I would have coming out, so that was definitely a good eye opener,” he says.

Scott, who looks forward to continuing to expand his knowledge base, encourages newcomers to the profession to do information interviews with those already in the field for an accurate and realistic picture of what it’s like.

“Don’t try to decide what you want to do just because of what you’ve heard about it or the image it has,” he says. “Go find people that are doing what you want to do, whether you know them or not, and ask them what they do day to day, week to week, and what they like and don’t like about it.

“Find out everything about it rather than just saying, ‘I want to be an engineer because of this or that.’ Get out and do some real-world research. Don’t just get a degree because it sounds good.”

Brock looks forward to earning his engineering designation, and continuing to gain more knowledge and add value to projects and Urban Systems as an organization. He appreciates that it’s a “flat organization,” where “everybody’s here to support everybody else and you don’t have to be afraid to approach anyone in the office to ask any kinds of questions.”

His best advice for a meaningful career is to look beyond material fulfilment. “If you can find something that’s in line with your passions, it doesn’t feel like you’re going to work every day. If you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

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