In honour of March being Engineering month, we are taking the time to introduce you to some of the engineers on staff at Keystone Environmental.

Mathew Barker, P. Eng. and Christina Chan, P. Eng. are both valuable members of our Engineering department. We interviewed them on their thoughts on all things Engineering including how they got to where they are today, and where they see Engineering in the future.

Mat and Christina both agree, “Engineers are some of the most diverse people.”

“Engineers, specifically in consulting, are often doing different types of jobs from month to month. This requires adaptability, the ability to find resources to gain information and learn quickly, and the confidence to make decisions and act on that information while maintaining professional liability for your decisions.” says Mat. “This translates into project work, which is very solutions oriented, but also translates into playing hard as well,” adds Christina.

Christina did not come to engineering fresh out of high school, in fact she had a long journey to get where she is today. She completed a B.A. in psychology, a chef program, taught English in Korea, worked as a chef in England and travelled the world, until finally she knew it was time to go back to her original love of science. She originally planned to become a marine biologist, until her program was put on hold due to changes in the faculty. It was then suggested to her to take a year off or pursue another direction until the program resumed. After researching, environmental engineering was highly appealing – with the same basic science prerequisites, and similarities to an applied science like marine biology; it also opened the door to another interesting program ‘Engineers Without Borders’. When she was accepted in the program, she never looked back.

While Mat had a more direct path to where he is now, it was his love of solving problems and interest in how things were designed that lead him to the field of Engineering due to its limitless career possibilities. Specializing in Environmental Engineering allowed Mat to align his work with his own personal beliefs and goals.

Environmental consulting is made up of diverse projects, large scale projects, tight deadlines, and long hours, yet both Mat and Christina are excited to get up in the morning and start another day. Of course, a good night’s rest and lots of coffee helps and they both ensure they use their downtime to do the things they love – spending time with family and getting outside in nature. ‘Working in the environmental engineering field, I have a great sense of pride in the work that I do. I believe environmental stewardship must be a priority for everyone as humanity continues to develop. Knowing that each day I have made a positive impact, both in my community and in communities outside the lower mainland, really inspires me to build on this career,” says Mat.

“Every day at Keystone is completely different. One day is working with a design team to create improvements in wastewater treatment plants. The next is delving into patent law and writing up patent applications. And the next is travelling across the country (pre-covid) to meet and present our projects to other professionals in the environmental engineering field. The best part of my career is 100% the people. The Keystone Environmental staff are incredible, and I have the pleasure of having some of the most amazing consultant colleagues and clients.” adds Christina.

engineer meet and greetWe have all seen the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the world; Mat believes this will have a positive impact on Environmental engineering – creating opportunities for business development. “I believe there will be significant opportunity which will come from the advancements in working remotely that many businesses have had to adapt to due to COVID.   Engineering firms will no longer need a centralized office and the hiring process will expand its territory without having to physically relocate staff.  Business development has less boarders for work due to this,’ says Mat.

With an upward trend in incorporating sustainability practices in day-to-day operations, Christina remarks, “I think we are on the upward trend of incorporating sustainability practices and renewable energies into our industry as well. Clients are starting to ask for more out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to finding solutions to operate more efficiently and sustainably. I also see a shift in many industries incorporating environmental engineering principles. Companies are involving us in the front-end engineering instead of in the middle or at the end of projects. This is great as it allows us to work better with the other consulting engineers during the conceptual design phase to ensure environmental components are an integral part of the overall design.”

There is a diverse portfolio of projects between Christina and Mat, including designing a pilot system for hydrothermal liquefaction and catalytic hydrothermal gasification of wastewater sludge to convert all organic carbon matter in sludge to biocrude, methane and biogenic CO2. To working on a pilot and demo scale hydrometallurgy plant which used pressure oxidation and pressure cyanidation to extract copper, gold, and silver from low-grade ore concentrate, deemed not economically viable for extraction by traditional mining methods. Both projects required Christina and Mat to complete extensive research and assist on operations, construction, design, and troubleshooting. There are no boundaries to problem solving, and the collaboration between team members and clients allows the solution to come to fruition – satisfying all parties involved.

For those exploring a path in engineering (regardless of field), Christina advises, “Engage with your peers, mentors, colleagues and clients as much as possible. Stay motivated especially during the challenging moments because those are the moments that will be remembered. I appreciate the new ideas and skills that the young engineers are bringing to the table. I am constantly learning from them, and I hope I can consistently provide them with mentorship and shared knowledge. I believe in the saying that “We stand on the shoulders of giants”. The younger engineers have the historical knowledge to build on, tied in with major advances in technology. They literally can change the world for the better if they want to. I will stand behind them and encourage them to do it!”

Mat agrees. “Be diverse!  You may not feel like a task or job is in line with where you want your career path to go, however, there is overlap in all the engineering disciplines. Having a diverse experience will benefit you down the road, and who knows, maybe you will discover something you love without knowing it existed before!”