Written by: Jana Giles, 6th Year Chemical Engineering Student at the University of New Brunswick
It was mid-June of my final year of high school when my homeroom teacher pulled me aside
and asked me “So Jana, what university are you going to? I need it for the graduation program.”
She knew that I had spent the entirety of my final year unsure about which university to attend
and what program to study. And it was time to decide.
One panicked last-minute decision later and I’d accepted an offer to UNB Engineering. I chose
engineering partially because a friend in my physics class said chemical engineering was one of
the toughest degrees out there. And he was going to do it. Spitefully, I figured I could do it too.
First year was a whirl wind. I moved out of my parent’s house and into my first apartment. I
walked thirty minutes to and from school every day, rain or shine. I learned how to cook. I took
classes. A lot of classes. I didn’t fail my first university midterm, but it was close. I ran cross
country as a varsity athlete. I wound up in an executive position in UNB’s Engineers Without
Borders chapter. I made friends. I chose a major. I chose a minor. Then changed my mind. And
chose another minor. Looking back, I’m amazed at how first year students manage so many
changes in their life all at once.
In my first year and for every year following, I was grateful to numerous donors in our
community that helped fund my degree. Amidst all the changes I was experiencing, I was so
blessed to have financial support to allow me to spend more time on the things that mattered
to me: academics, sports, volunteering, and learning about our world. The AEE Canada East Chapter has been one such
organization that has generously supported my academic journey.
Second year was tough. A full-time course load in addition to racing as a varsity athlete, plotting
the best ways to promote Fairtrade certifications on campus, extra courses in international
development, environmental studies, and entrepreneurship, eating healthy, sleeping…I decided
I valued my personal health more than trying to maintain this pace for two more years. After
lots of planning and tough conversations, I decided to extend my four-year degree to a six-year
degree and spend the following year abroad. I felt relief for the opportunity to do so and for the
continued support from scholarship donors that made this possible for me.
Starting my third year with a reduced chemical engineering course load allowed me more time
to take courses towards a minor in international development studies, secondary major in
environmental studies and a diploma in Technology, Management, and Entrepreneurship.
However, I only spent one semester at UNB before I caught a flight to Barbados for a study
abroad term working on my minor and secondary major – with no calculators or engineering
problem solving in sight.
Living in the Caribbean and learning about everything that was not engineering gave me the
time to explore the world, gain new perspectives, and learn about myself. I wholeheartedly
believe in the importance of diverse opinions and backgrounds in STEM. For me, travel is a way
to learn about adapting to different cultures, appreciating new opinions, and welcoming
challenges to my own biases. Plus, the snorkel and SCUBA time was a much-needed break.
After a flight home from Barbados, 4 exams in two days, a few days with family, and a few days
with friends, I caught another flight to Toronto. There, I spent a week in pre-departure training
at the Engineers Without Borders National Office for my summer internship with a group of 16
other students from all over Canada. We learned about racism, oppression, African history,
colonialism, leadership, and systemic change-making. Then, a few more flights, a bus ride, a
road trip, and I had landed in Soroti, Uganda for the summer.
Engineering problem solving can be applied in innumerable contexts and that summer, I
worked with a social enterprise that provided business coaching to local start-ups in the
agriculture industry. The entrepreneurs that we worked with were mainly interested in creating
value-addition products, like drying pineapple and selling it in bulk rather than selling individual
fresh pineapples. I learned so much from our little community of entrepreneurs, the family I
lived with in Soroti, and the team at Engineers Without Borders. I still struggle to put words to
this experience, but suffice to say, it was life-changing and I am grateful for the opportunity.
Integrating back into Canadian life for my fourth year of university was a shocking experience in
reverse culture shock. And by the time I had re-adapted, our world entered the COVID-19
pandemic. Transitioning to online classes was a combination of overwhelming and relief at first.
Class in pajamas? Breakfast during lecture? It was a university student’s dream. But, I started to
miss my friends, the uncertainty of the world was looming, and reminding professors to
unmute at the beginning of lecture slowly went from a joke to monotonous.
But, like everyone in the world, I moved with the highs and lows and tried to adapt to what has
been patented as the “new normal”. I started taking courses towards the energy conversion
option offered by the chemical engineering department. I’ve always had a strong interest in
environmental conservation, but it wasn’t really until that semester that I realized I could link
my studies in chemical engineering with renewable energy and make a career out of
environmental conservation. After four years of university, I finally found a purpose in my
That summer, I worked in research on the life cycle analysis of renewable energy systems.
Despite years of life in the educational system, that summer taught me that a knack for making
the Dean’s List did not necessarily destine me for a career in academia. I longed for practical
applications for my research.
The opportunity to work in energy efficiency presented itself the fall of my fifth year. This was
an unexpected avenue for me, as I had become so focused on renewable energy being the only
career solution to match my strong environmental morals as an engineer. Thankfully, careers
focused in areas of environmental and energy engineering are not as scarce as I once believed.
Organizations such as the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) and their international chapter network demonstrate that there are communities of engineers all over the country and globe that apply their technical skills in industries which support environmental remediation.
I adored my experience working in energy efficiency and hope to return to this industry upon
graduation. Working with professionals who were equal parts interested in their calculations as
they were saving the planet filled me with hope. As a passionate environmentalist myself, I was
happy to find a community of engineers that shared my beliefs.
Now I am into my sixth, and final, year as a chemical engineering student. Like all engineering
students, my senior design project is the final hurdle. However, as with so many components of
my degree, I’ve decided to do something a little different. My teammates and I are working
through the Dr. J Herbert Smith Centre on the UNB campus to innovate a use for the leftover
apple waste that remains after processing juice. With the support of the faculty and mentors
from various backgrounds, we have begun preliminary experiments and designs. This
experience has allowed our team to connect with cideries and orchards in the Fredericton area
to learn how to best provide a design that will integrate with their current operations. With
another 6 months ahead of us, any number of innovations, hurdles and changes are likely to
occur, but I have been humbled by the experience of designing a process from the very initial
Overall, our team’s priority is to develop a process which creates value for the cideries and
orchards that are at the ‘core’ of the agriculture industry in New Brunswick. With my previous
background in environmental industries, creating a waste to value addition product is fulfilling
for me, and the rest of the team. And, it’s empowering to be working on something that puts
the responsibility of packaging and emissions on the companies producing products rather than
individual consumers. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work on solving a real-life
problem in my final year. Calculations and derivations are the backbone of engineering, but
working with people is the heart.
With six months to go in my degree, I am starting to find myself looking back on my years at
UNB with nostalgia. I have found myself thinking about “lasts” and “goodbyes”. I have started
thinking about packing up and leaving Fredericton for the next phase of my life. Friends have
accepted full-time career jobs. Other friends have purchased plane tickets. What’s next for me?
We’ll see! Whatever it is, I hope to continue to find and live the adventure in every day;
prioritize environmental and social justice, and meet new, passionate people everywhere I go.
The excitement I feel for a career in “green” engineering came from many years of discovery
throughout university and I have many people to thank for the opportunities, including AEE Canada East –