UBC MEL MHLP Professional Leadership Master Degrees

Clean Energy Engineering — Anna Swanson

Alumna Story — Anna Swanson

Clean Energy Engineering — Anna Swanson

After graduating with a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Colorado, Anna Swanson worked for several years in the oil and gas sector for Schlumberger. Gaining experience as a field engineer working in Argentina and across the US, she was promoted to an engineering lead position in Oklahoma City, where she managed up to six crews.

“While I enjoyed working in the oil and gas industry for the opportunity to work in many different places, I always knew I wanted to move into sustainable or alternative energy,” she says.

“Returning to school would help me make that shift, and UBC’s Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) in Clean Energy Engineering looked like the perfect graduate degree for that. I liked that the program had a 50/50 split between courses in clean energy and in business.”

Anna was also excited about the prospect of living in Vancouver, a city she had previously visited. “I remember touring the Museum of Anthropology and walking around the UBC campus and just immediately loving the city.”

Building her technical skills

The MEL’s technical classes explore energy generation, transmission and distribution, as well as utilization and management. One of Anna’s favourite courses focused on the life-cycle assessment of products, from material extraction and manufacturing through to distribution, use and final disposal.

“I also really enjoyed the energy policy class,” she says. “I hadn’t been exposed to this area before, and it gave me great insight into how policy is structured, how stakeholders are involved and what goes into creating policies.”

During the year, Anna completed a capstone project with Community Power, looking at the potential greenhouse gas emission reductions and cost implications of supply-side and demand-side energy strategies in remote off-grid communities. She then developed a tool that communities could use to better understand impacts and trade-offs. 

“The historic focus has been on the impacts of energy generation,” she says. “But the conversation needs to shift to explore ways to reduce demand, and my analysis backs this up. It was very interesting to see the extent to which energy-efficiency measures have a quick payback period and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. I knew the numbers would be strong, but I was surprised by just how strong they actually are.” (Read an article on Anna’s capstone project.)

Acquiring new business skills

Anna says she found the business classes through UBC Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School extremely valuable, as she had not studied business and leadership in her undergraduate degree. She also valued the diversity of her classmates, given that the business courses bring together students from all of the MEL programs as well as those in the two Master of Health Leadership and Policy (MHLP) programs.

“Engineers tend to bring a technical or number-focused perspective to challenges, while the students from the health disciplines tend to put people first,” she says.

“Working together on group projects, case studies and presentations created opportunities to build better solutions and bring great ideas forward that we couldn’t have otherwise.”

Anna gained a coveted spot in UBC Sauder’s Creative Destruction Lab, a course that enables MBA, MEL and MHLP students to work directly with emerging science and technology startups that are participating in – or hoping to participate in – Creative Destruction Lab West. She contributed business insights to two companies, including one developing virtual reality tools to support individuals recovering from a stroke. “The company wanted to move into the Canadian market, and I provided a detailed analysis on market entry strategy,” she says.

Launching a career in a new sector

After graduating in December 2019, Anna spent a few months with her family in the US. She drove back to Canada a week before the COVID-19 pandemic closed the border. With companies putting hiring decisions on hold, Anna has focused her efforts on networking with the industry contacts she developed during the 12 months of her MEL.

With the economy now beginning to reopen, Anna says she is looking forward to using her experience – and the new knowledge she has acquired – to “make a difference in the clean energy sector.”

Clean Energy Engineering

Clean Energy Engineering

Develop the technical, business and leadership skills needed to generate sustainable energy solutions.

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