Women in STEM: Katelyn Currie, Mechanical Engineering

"The best way to make a difference in this world is to dive right in and do it; with commitment and hard work, as well as a great team around you, anything is possible."

“The best way to make a difference in this world is to dive right in and do it; with commitment and hard work, as well as a great team around you, anything is possible.”

Original Feature

What has made your time at UBC the most memorable?

The innovation and potential of everyone studying here. The people I have met at UBC, or at competitions and events, have blown me away and helped me grow as a person, as well as encouraged me to try things I never even knew existed before coming here. UBC has so many things going on, and the possibilities are endless for people to be creative and realize their potential here. It leads to some really incredible ideas and products. Some of my favourite moments at UBC have been long conversations with people I just met; it truly is a place of mind.

Why did you choose Engineering?

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I was in high school but I was good at math and physics, and I really enjoyed building things in all of my shop courses. I also really wanted to do something where I could make a difference in the world, and it seemed like engineering was the best fit for all of these things. My brother was in Engineering here at UBC and also encouraged me to come and try it out (read: dragged me out to UBC for a tour, showed me some incredible robots, and told me all the reasons why UBC is the best).

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

The most valuable thing I have learned in my degree is how to think very logically through problems and how to think independently. Engineering has never come easily to me, I have worked quite hard throughout my degree to be here, and often felt like I’m not smart enough or good enough to be an engineer. I think one of the most valuable things I have learned is how to keep pushing forwards, have confidence that I can figure it out and how to use all the resources available to develop the skills I need to accomplish something.

The degree started with a lot of theory and heavy mathematics and physics, I found the best way to really understand this was to join a student team and begin to apply those skills early. As the degree progressed, especially in fourth year, all of this theory starts to come together and become practical, but to get a head start on that, I found joining a student team to be incredibly valuable.

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

I apply most of the technical skills at every job I have worked at and in a lot of my hobbies. The soft skills I have learned at UBC have really affected my entire life. My interpersonal, communication and problem solving skills have improved greatly and with the technical background of my degree I have much more confidence in professional settings, as well as in my day to day life.

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

My most memorable and valuable moments have definitely been with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and the UBC Supermileage team. I joined both groups while in first year and quickly made friendships that became as close as family. EWB opened me up to a better understanding of the world, its interconnected and complex systems and challenges such as poverty and inequality which cannot be solved by technical solutions alone. I joined a network of incredibly caring and compassionate people, the sort of people who are determined to and will change the world.

With the UBC Supermileage team, I have dedicated the past 5 years to the pursuit of efficiency, building two high mileage concept vehicles to tackle the difficult challenge of fuel efficient transportation. I learned hands on and technical skills that I never could have gained in the classroom as well as an ability to teach and lead a diverse group of volunteer students. Serving as the 2014-2015 team Captain was the most challenging but also invigorating experiences of my degree, and I was very proud to have contributed to the full rebuild of two competition vehicles with massive engineering improvements this year. Besides the vehicles themselves, the passion and dedication of every team member has been overwhelming; there is an inherent drive to create a better vehicle through new technology and develop better engineers along the way. As well as being one of the most welcoming and learning focused environments I have ever experienced, there is a commitment to perfection and engineering excellence which is at the heart of this team’s culture. Supermileage has helped me realize the true value of teamwork and what a team can achieve, and given me the best memories of my university degree.

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

Engineering has a very strong focus in problem solving. I think that no matter where an engineer goes, they have the skills and ability to find the root of a problem, figure out what is needed to solve it, and teach themselves what they need to solve it. This is the most valuable thing about an engineering degree, and it is topped off with the ability to work with people and get along in teams.

What advice would you give a student considering Engineering?

I think anyone can be an engineer if they are excited and committed enough to becoming one. It will be a lot of work, a student should be prepared for that, but the effort going in is completely worth it and will pay off in the end. Definitely pursue your passion while at UBC. There is a plethora of student teams and clubs, join one, or if you aren’t interested in any, start your own. There is no better time than the present to be following your dreams and turning them into reality. UBC is the place to do that, and the degree will go quickly so make the most of your time here! Tuum est. This is your degree, so seize the moment and make it the best degree ever!

Where do you find your inspiration?

I find inspiration in every cool engineering article I see. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but every time I read about how someone 3-D printed a heart, or found water on mars or used graphene for yet another incredible application, I just get so excited by the possibilities. New knowledge and the potential to be someone who contributes a huge discovery or product to society really motivates me. The world is an exciting and vibrant place, I’m inspired by every new idea and the person or team behind it.

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

Immediately, I plan on finishing off the last few courses of my degree in Switzerland. I am crossing my fingers on final acceptance for exchange at ETH Zurich and will likely explore Europe for a potential master’s program. I am interested in studying control systems or robotics in the future, with an eventual goal of a biomedical engineering career. However, after all my time on the UBC Supermileage team, I am still very excited about energy conservation and production so who knows!

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

Knowing that I can design and build a vehicle from scratch has given me so much more confidence in myself and has empowered me to start my own projects. I want to keep learning from more experienced engineers and others around me, but also to begin developing my own creations and innovations. I’m still looking for that idea which really suits my strengths and passion, something that can help make a difference in the world, but I am pushing myself to develop something new and valuable in a startup company capacity. The best way to make a difference in this world is to dive right in and do it; with commitment and hard work, as well as a great team around you, anything is possible.