UBC MEL MHLP Professional Leadership Master Degrees

Urban Systems - Grace Sonmezsoy

Alumna Story - Grace Sonmezsoy

Urban Systems – Grace Sonmezsoy

Grace Sonmezsoy built a successful career as a management consultant in Hong Kong that included positions of Associate Director at Deloitte China and a Director of Ernst & Young’s infrastructure advisory group, providing strategic advice to investors, lenders, developers and governments. With her finger firmly on the pulse of a rapidly changing industry, she decided it was time to return to school to update and expand her technical knowledge so as to better address the complexity of challenges facing our urban environments.

“The pressures of climate change are a stark warning of the need for more resilient and sustainable cities,” says Grace, who came to the program with a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering.

“UBC is a recognized world leader in the field of sustainability, and I was very interested in the MEL in Urban Systems for its combination of technical courses focused on sustainability topics and its business courses.”

An integrated curriculum in urban planning

The MEL in Urban Systems curriculum covers the life cycle of urban infrastructure, including planning, engineering, infrastructure asset management, project delivery and economics.

“What makes these courses work is how integrated they are,” says Grace. “They span the lifecycle from planning and design to procurement, finance and operations. They give you a broad perspective of the challenges of aging infrastructure, complex system design and sustainability.

“Unlike my education in civil engineering, which was quite siloed, this program requires you to think about the totality of the system and the holistic approaches needed to successfully address challenges.”

Over the course of the summer, she completed a summer internship with the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative to develop a preliminary roadmap on how planners and landscape architects incorporate natural asset management in their planning and decision-making process.

MEL students also take business and leadership classes through UBC Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School. Grace came to the program with an MBA and high-level leadership experience throughout her career; even so, she found the business classes to be very useful.

“Some of the classes covered content I was aware of, but I saw this as an opportunity to reinforce concepts and update my knowledge,” she says. “Other classes – such as those on innovation and sustainability – added to my knowledge and are very important to help guide teams and organizations to success.”

Growing an industry network

Grace says that she was very impressed with the program and that she particularly valued the opportunity to learn from others and expand her network.

“Many industry leaders came to speak with us over the year, which was very beneficial for learning about how organizations are addressing the latest issues and trends,” she says. “These were also valuable opportunities to meet leaders in their field and I have a large Canadian network as a result.”

She also points to networking opportunities in the business classes, which bring together students from all the MEL programs, as well as health-care professionals from the Master of Health Leadership & Policy program.

“This is a very good set up that is also helpful for networking and meeting other professionals outside of your program area,” she says. “We learned a lot from each other – both about what’s happening in other industries as well as more tangible things, like learning new presentation styles.”

Since completing her degree in December 2021, Grace has continued to pursue her passion for sustainability through additional education, achieving certification as an Envision Sustainability Professional and completing an eight-week course on Sustainability Infrastructure Systems from MIT.

Grace and her family moved to Vancouver from Hong Kong, and she is looking for new opportunities where she can use her unique technical and commercial skills in a Canadian context.

“With my understanding of the challenges associated with infrastructure project delivery and my interest in sustainability, I am eager to incorporate sustainability considerations into the planning and delivery of infrastructure projects to achieve better project outcomes for all.”