Spierings Verhoeven: Recipient of the AEE Canada East Founders Scholarship (2022-23) from UNB

Written by: Spierings Verhoeven, 5th year Mechanical Engineering Student at UNB

Hi, my name is Spierings Verhoeven. I grew up as the fourth of six children on my family’s dairy farm in Sussex, New Brunswick.

Growing up, I never worried about the future. I lived in the moment, whether I was in class, on the sports field, playing video games, spending time with my family, working on the farm, or hanging out with my friends. In the sixth grade I moved away from home to become a boarder at Rothesay Netherwood School. I would spend the next six years living in an all boys dorm and navigating life on my own. I was committed to doing well in school and finishing at the top of my class but I didn’t have any plans after that. However, when grade 12 rolled around and everyone started asking what my plans were, I got the hint. I didn’t have an epiphany that led me to go into engineering; it just seemed like the practical choice. Since I had always been good at math, physics, and systematic problem solving, engineering seemed like it would be a good fit for me. Engineering was also a strategic choice because I knew I would be able to start working immediately after graduation. Having decided to pursue Engineering, I just needed to determine which school to attend. I considered several universities but ultimately settled on the University of New Brunswick not only because of its good reputation but also that it was close enough to home that I could continue to help on the family farm as needed.

First Year

Since I already had experience living away from home, enjoying unlimited chocolate milk at the meal hall, and being responsible for my studies, I was more excited than nervous to start university. Though the classes were bigger, the lectures were longer and the homework was harder, I felt prepared to take on the challenge. High School prepared me well and while the content and workload were at times difficult, I was able to effectively manage my time so I could find academic success.

One constant I could count on though, was the fun of living in an all boys dorm. From hanging out and playing video games to distracting each other from school work and having life chats, it was a good time.

One unexpected benefit of choosing UNB was reconnecting with many friends that I had made throughout my childhood, on various sports teams, and during high school but I also met a lot of new people and made some really great friends both in residence and in my classes.

Outside of class, I took advantage of the University Recreation program to play several sports a week during the fall term including the club frisbee team. 

Second Year

Second Year I was excited to see my friends again and recharged from a summer of working on the farm back home.

First semester went by smoothly, I decided to play club field lacrosse instead of frisbee, giving me the opportunity to meet more new people. I was back in the all boys dorm with my closest buddies, helping each other with assignments, and goofing around in our free time.

Early in second semester one of my closest friends decided to leave UNB to complete an  Engineering Technician program at a different school. This came as a surprise to me as we often competed with each other for the highest grade. Their decision to switch programs stemmed from struggling to understand what an engineering career would look like and if it would be hands-on enough for their liking. While I was sad they were leaving I understood their decision, and it brought up the same concerns for me. I didn’t have any idea what my career would look like once I graduated either. However, I reflected back on the experiences that had led me to where I was, including how much I enjoyed designing and building, how quickly I could tackle a problem with a systematic approach, and that I loved being a part of a team working together towards a common goal. With that, I was reaffirmed in my decision. Even if I wasn’t sure what the future would hold, I knew this degree would provide me with the tools and options to lead a fulfilling career. With that settled, I was back to the grind of finishing weekly assignments at 3:00am while death-staring at my broken code. Just before the end of the semester, the pandemic hit and I moved back home to finish off the year online.

Third Year

Third year took place during the height of the pandemic and while being locked down in your house can be frustrating, online school was something I actually quite enjoyed. From home cooked meals to recorded lectures, and saving on living expenses, there were many positives. More than that, what specifically made online school a positive experience for me was the habits my friends and I started. Early on we made a Microsoft Teams group and would have daily calls just to complete school work together. We weren’t always working on the same assignments, didn’t spend much of the time talking, and would leave and join the call randomly but the camaraderie of all working together even while we lived hours away from each other made doing school work more enjoyable. Instead of feeling isolated, these group calls helped me feel connected while helping me get work done by providing accountability in a sea of monotonous days.

Pandemic or not, I wanted to take advantage of the co-op program at UNB and began applying for various intern positions. I was extremely fortunate to land a 16-month internship with TC Energy in Calgary starting in May 2021. This internship would push my graduation back a year but I wanted to get some real world working experience before graduating. I worked the first 11 months of my internship virtually. My role centered around supporting the engineer responsible for the gas pipeline integrity planning in the southern region of Alberta. Thankfully, my position was conducive to remote work and I was able to take advantage of my co-op by learning a lot while abiding by travel restrictions. Almost a year after I started I had the opportunity of moving to Calgary in April of 2022. Moving across the country from my small town to the big city was an adventure in itself but getting to work in person really made the whole co-op experience. My virtual co-workers not only became in person co-workers but also my friends, we enjoyed weekend trips to the mountains, cheering for the Flames and Stampeders, and attending the Calgary Stampede.

Throughout my internship, I learned a lot about my specific area of work but also what it is to work in industry, what careers in engineering are like, and what skills are important to develop. I am really grateful for the opportunity I had with my internship and the memories made along the way.

Finishing late August of 2022, I made a four day road trip across Canada to start my final year of school.

Fourth Year

I am now halfway through my final year and have enjoyed returning to in-person classes. After a 2 year break, I was able to rejoin the lacrosse team and connect with some old friends while meeting lots of new teammates.

I also have the opportunity to experience the apartment lifestyle while attending school which will be another new adventure. I’m enjoying the freedom of choosing electives this year so I can specialize my engineering focus. Recently I have begun searching for jobs and I can’t wait to see where my engineering journey takes me next.

As I conclude this chapter of my journey, I wanted to thank the Association of Energy Engineers for their role in my success. I am so grateful for the support given by organizations such as the AEECE whose financial support has allowed me to focus on studying while motivating me to achieve academic success.

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