Christian Pavlidis is far from your average civil engineering student minoring in engineering business and sustainable energy; she’s pushing boundaries with experiential learning, is working full time at Criterium-Jansen Engineers, and is already making a name for herself – all before having walked the University of Toronto convocation stage.
How is she managing it all?
Christian is one of U of T’s incredible Professional Experience Year Co-op students.
As defined by the university, Professional Experience Year Co-op (or PEY for short) enables undergraduates who have completed their second or third year of study to build meaningful work experience, strengthen their professional networks, and enhance their interpersonal and technical competencies.
The U of T program is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Choosing The University of Toronto For Engineering
As a student of the University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, Christian was drawn to the school due to its reputation for having the best engineering program in Canada. She also recalls being aware of the Professional Experience Year program and recognizing what an incredible experience it would be to explore her future career outside of the classroom.
“Professional experience is something you don’t always get. Especially when its 16 month long. So that was definitely a stand out to me [when choosing a program]. I think the experience is absolutely crucial in discovering what you want to do.”
To her surprise, UofT has not only delivered on an academic promise of excellence, but has also gifted Christian with an overwhelming sense of home and community.
“Even though UofT is an amazing school for learning, and the professors are awesome, what is even more awesome is the sense of friendship you have with your other students… I never expected to find life-long friends.”
Applying For PEY Co-Op & Interviewing
Christian fondly recalls that her program administrators were very supportive and encouraging when helping to set both her and her peers up in the PEY portal. Once an initial fee was paid, jobs were released, and students had the opportunity to browse, select ones they were interested in, and apply.
Christian was thrilled to have been interviewed and hired by PEY participants, Criterium-Jansen Engineers, an engineering firm that specializes in all aspects of building evaluation services for commercial, residential, and condominium properties.
The Benefits of PEY When Exploring a Career In Engineering
When it comes to the benefits of PEY, Christian says that the 16 month program really makes a difference when it comes to the field of engineering.
“Civil engineering projects can take longer. So it’s nice to be able to see a project come to fruition. It’s great to see the whole timeline of how everything really works.”
Christian also noted that a huge factor for staying motivated is the mentorship she and her peers receive from their employers, faculty, and upper year mentors who have already completed PEY.
“A lot of the upper years spoke so highly of their experiences and of how many opportunities there are” .
As with other students in the PEY program, Christian will also gain:
- Full time employment for 12 to 16 months
- Competitive salary ($50,000 to $90,000)
- Access to industry professionals
- Career path clarity and trajectory
- Professional confidence before starting job
- Accelerated P.Eng designation
Experiential Learning at Criterium-Jansen Engineers
At Criterium-Jansen, Christian has been diving into a number of different projects in building inspection and structural engineering.
“I have been learning every single day on the job.”
In the realm of building inspections, she says she was able to absorb a lot of practical knowledge that you don’t necessarily get from sitting in front of a book. For example, she was able to look at a building with her team and determine if a mark on a wall may indicate water penetration.
“I’m really baffled at how much knowledge there really is to learn about just about the construction and the million other factors in the environment. It’s not just all theory ,which I would have thought, being an engineer.”
When it comes to structural engineering, Christian says her learning was in a whole other ball game:
“You almost have to come up with solutions on the spot. Which I think is amazing…You have to be able to visualize a mathematical problem right there. And I really wish I can learn that skill over time.”
Finally, the importance of communication has been a major learning exercise for Christian, both with her clients and the team. She’s been challenged to communicate with the city, in how to best communicate solutions to non-engineers, and to always keep her team updated with where she is in the field.
Working at Criterium-Jansen Engineers
Christian is thoroughly enjoying her time at Criterium-Jansen Engineers as she has been given the opportunity to bounce ideas off of other brilliant minds, hasn’t experienced any office politics, and everyone has been incredible welcoming, much like her U of T family.
When asked what advice she would give to other aspiring engineers, she had these take-aways to say:
“Apply for a job that you want and that you know you will be good at. There’s no point in doing something you don’t like. You have to give 110%. You have to be willing to work out tough problems.”
“When you’re on the job, don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t be afraid to ask for more work, and for more opportunities.”
“Everyone was you once. Humanize your engineers.”
A Future In Environmental Engineering
So, what’s next for Christian?
Once she completes her co-op with Criterium-Jansen, she looks forward to heading to grad school for structural engineering and one day hopes to open her own firm.
Admittedly a bit of a tree hugger, her eco-focus drives her passion to incorporate green energy into all of her future career goals and she is excited to write her thesis on the environmental impact of various building materials.
To learn more about the Professional Experience Year Co-op Program at U of T, please visit the Engineering Career Centre.