Integrated Water Management – Sean Mercer
Alumnus Story — Sean Mercer
After graduating in 2015 from McMaster University with a degree in chemical engineering and bio engineering, Sean Mercer worked as a commissioning representative for GE Water & Process Technologies and its successor company, Suez. His role saw him visiting customer sites across North America to install equipment for water and wastewater treatment facilities and provide remote support to troubleshoot issues.
“I’d been working at a job where I was travelling a lot, and it seemed like a good time to think about settling down in one place for a while,” he says. “I realized I could either try and find a new work position or go back to school to expand my knowledge of the water industry beyond my technical niche and use that to guide me to the next step in my career.”
Sean says he thought about a research-based master’s degree, but chose the MEL as it offered the well-rounded education he was looking for.
“Career-wise, the MEL really stood out as it would allow me to take the same technical classes I would in an MEng and I could pick and choose electives that interested me. But it was also like a mini MBA with its courses on the management, leadership and business side of things.”
Engineering classes offer holistic perspective
The technical courses gave him a broad overview of material that was both familiar and new. Highlights included the water and wastewater management strategies class that covered some of the “raw chemical engineering material” he’d covered in his undergrad. A course on engineering hydrology exposed him to areas of water management beyond his professional experience in water treatment plants.
Sean says an elective on sustainable water systems offered through UBC’s Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs stood out for its holistic approach to water management. Bringing together students with backgrounds in engineering, social sciences and policy, the course exposed students to diverse perspectives.
“We had some really great discussions about access to water and the fair use of water, and looked at water management issues through a social and political lens rather than from a purely technical point of view.”
Sean was also selected to be a UBC Sustainability Scholars intern, working with Metro Vancouver during the summer to identify companies that were potentially significant dischargers into the sewer system but who were not currently captured through Metro Vancouver’s wastewater permitting process. This position gave him an opportunity to work with a variety of stakeholders, including the environmental regulation and enforcement team, and to learn more about Metro Vancouver and the issues impacting the local sewer system.
Fast-paced business courses
Sean credits the MEL’s business and leadership classes for providing a “broad strokes” understanding of key concepts. “These are really fast-paced classes,” he says, noting that many classes are run as half-semester courses or are condensed and intense, like the three-week Business Acumen for Technical Leaders class in August.
“I really enjoyed learning more about leadership and management principles and about leadership styles,” he says. “And some of the other content, such as on marketing a business, motivating staff or the finance and accounting side of things, are definitely useful to know.”
A job in a new area
Sean’s interest was piqued when a position for an assistant project engineer-in-training at Metro Vancouver’s sewer and drainage group opened up in the fall of 2020. Although his professional experience to date was mostly on the wastewater treatment side of things, he was interested in learning more about the upstream area of sewage collection and was successful in landing the position.
“The degree certainly helped me get this job and transition into this new role,” he says. “It expanded my skills and gave me a broader understanding of what’s happening in wastewater management beyond the specific details I knew before.”
Reflecting on his experience of the MEL, Sean says he tried to make the most of each class by testing out what he was learning and trying new approaches.
“It can be as simple as taking something from one course about leadership styles and then applying those ideas when running group meetings. The MEL is a time away from work where you’re meeting so many new people and being exposed to many new ideas. It’s a great opportunity to experiment with these new ideas and then take the lessons and skills you’ve learned into whatever is next for you.”
Integrated Water Management
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