Student Experience – Sean Mercer
For Sean Mercer, the MEL in Integrated Water Management has provided a welcome balance of technical and business learning, the opportunity to dive into both familiar and new subject areas, and the time to reflect on how he can use his leadership and technical knowledge to make a difference in the industry.
Why did you choose the MEL in Integrated Water Management?
Over the course of my undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and biosciences from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, I became very interested in water treatment. After graduating, I worked for General Electric as part of the commissioning team within Water & Process Technologies. When GE sold their water business to SUEZ Water Technologies & Solutions, I continued with the new company in positions of greater responsibility. As the lead commissioning representative for the North American field operations team, I visited municipal and industrial customer sites to install equipment for their water and wastewater treatment facilities. I also provided remote support to troubleshoot issues.
What’s been your experience of the first few months of the program?
I chose this program for its balance, and I am not disappointed! I’m interested in the intersection of technical and social issues, and the dual focus on engineering and business courses allows us to explore that.
On the technical side, I wanted to pursue a course-based program so that I could expand my knowledge of some different areas in the field. The mandatory Integrated Water Management core course on biological reactor design and the electives I’ve chosen are serving that purpose.
The business classes are also a nice mix of the familiar and the new. These are discussion-based classes that you’d typically find in an MBA program. Students are expected to do the reading beforehand, and the class time becomes an opportunity to explore the concepts together and learn from each other. I enjoy that I am able to get a broad look at leadership and management from both the instructors and my classmates.
One thing I really appreciate about the program is that it’s an opportunity to think about the big issues. The program directors encourage us to challenge the status quo, strive for new things and be the change leaders of tomorrow. For me, that means reflecting on how the business classes integrate with the technical courses and exploring how that can help me create my own career path and make a difference within this industry.
What was it like to move to Vancouver?
I travelled a lot for my job and am therefore very used to living in different places and exploring somewhere new. My friends and family in Ontario were supportive of my decision to move here, knowing that this program was aligned with my goals and desire to learn new things.
Finding a place to live was, of course, something I thought a lot about in the months leading up to the start of the program. Unlike other places I was used to, the time between when an apartment is advertised and when you move in is relatively short, which meant there wasn’t much point looking for a place until later in the year. I knew some people here, and when I found a place through a Facebook site for UBC students, they went to the apartment, gave me a tour on video chat and introduced me to my potential roommate. I ended up moving into the apartment.
What extracurriculars are you involved in?
Each MEL and MHLP program has a representative on the student executive committee, and I was elected to be the rep for the Integrated Water Management program to help with planning events for students and liaising with the department heads. I was involved in extracurriculars as an undergrad and I really enjoy them for the opportunity to get to know people outside of the classroom.
Where are your favourite places to study on campus?
I really enjoy studying in the MEL/MHLP studio. It’s our own private space, just for the program. There are whiteboards for group brainstorming, lockers, a kitchen area and a large TV we can use for practising presentations. It’s a great space to share and collaborate. There have also been some good social gatherings, such as potlucks and watching the Super Bowl.
Any favourite quintessential Vancouver experiences?
I actually haven’t done too much around Vancouver in my first few months here, as I’ve really thrown myself into the program. I’ve been running a lot and am really thankful for the quiet neighbourhoods around where I live, the trails in Pacific Spirit Park and around the university, the Arbutus Greenway and being able to get down to the water easily. I’m looking forward to some longer runs and hikes around the mountains this summer! I’m also interested in checking out some more of the micro breweries around the city. There are a lot of great options for food and drink and I’ve barely scratched the surface!
Any advice for others thinking of pursuing an MEL or MHLP?
There’s a wonderful broadness to this degree, which comes from having those MBA-style learning experiences alongside your technical classes. It also comes from the other people in your program – those of us in Integrated Water Management all bring different levels of professional experience to the program, so there are many opportunities to learn from others while pursuing your own interests and deepening your focus. If you want to make a difference in yourself, your company or industry, I really believe this is a good vector for doing that.