Journey To The Iron Ring: A Reflection

This Blog Originally Featured on The National Engineering Month Blog in 2016:


My interest in engineering began with a simple question: where do all the fish go during winter at my cottage. Spending time up north I learned about the natural adaptability of fish and their ability to survive seasonal changes by altering their behaviors to live under the frozen lake; more importantly I learned about the inherent sustainability of nature itself. I took an interest in preservation of the environment, and thus pursuing studies in Sustainability Engineering seemed like a natural fit.

Sustainability is the future of engineering. Through my studies I have realized the importance of understanding the technical application of sustainability. However, somewhere during my university career I began to realize that sustainability was not being employed as widely as it could be. With this in mind I began to reflect on my childhood experience of seeing many dead fish floating to the top of the lake one summer. As I had already learned about the natural adaptability of fish, I did not understand why they were suddenly all dying; I knew that it could not be due to a natural occurrence. I realized the problems effecting a system can be out of one’s immediate knowledge or control; being caused by a wide range of ecological, political, societal and economical factors. Since engineering cannot exist within a vacuum; it is important that the rigorous technical mindset of engineers coexists with the diverse problem solving mindsets of others in order to formulate solutions that properly address these problems. This realization was my introduction into systems thinking and has reshaped my understanding of what it means to be sustainable.

Seeking opportunities to engage beyond the technical applications of engineering – I joined Engineers Without Borders (EWB). My Engagement with EWB has allowed me to broaden my thinking in ways that challenge the status quo. I have learned that a solution that works for one problem, may not solve others – even if they appear of similar nature. EWB has invested in me as a systems change thinker, and because of this has provided me a host of opportunities to challenge what it means to be an engineer. Overall, my experience with EWB has been an exciting leadership opportunity that I hope to continue past my undergrad.

With exams approaching and my iron ring on hand, it is apparent my degree is coming to an end. I am both nervous and excited when I think about where my career will take me. I want to seek career opportunities that will continue to challenge me in ways where I can apply a sustainable framework to affect systemic change. I hope that I can influence change in a way that will ensure my children will be able to enjoy my family cottage in the same way I did – full of fish.

Matthew Primeau