Real-World Experience through Co-op was a Game Changer for this Engineering Alumna

Author: Engineering Alumni Office

Posted on May 2, 2018

Category: Alumni Spotlight

Bryna McMurtrie (BScCHE’17) says that the engineering co-op program made her a better student and gave her a stress-free final year with a full-time job waiting for her after graduation. It’s not something every engineering student can say.

McMurtrie entered UNB out of high school with strong math and science grades and landed in chemical engineering because of her proclivity toward environmental sciences. She knew it would be a challenging program, but felt that if she could do it, she could do anything. Halfway into her degree, she was feeling frustrated because she says, “we were drawing black boxes for reactors but I didn’t even know what a reactor or even a valve looked like in real life!”

She wanted to understand how her classroom experience would relate to the work world, and so she went to talk with the Engineering Co-Op Office. “They were really helpful and guided me on building a solid resume. I applied to Irving Oil in September and interviewed for an environmental position. I was offered an 8-month full-time work term from January to September 2015,” McMurtrie recounts. “I didn’t know whether to take the offer or not. It meant delaying my degree and being behind my other classmates; it was a very difficult decision to make.”

It would ultimately also become one of her best decisions. In her work term with Irving Oil, Bryna completed a fugitive emissions project for the environmental engineering team and did a lot of field work alongside operators. “It was a wonderful learning experience for me. I keep in touch, and I’m even being mentored through the APEGNB program by my former boss from Irving.”

When she went back to the classroom in September, her grades went up and she was able to participate more fully in classroom conversations. “I had a better perception of what I was studying and a better comparative experience. I suddenly found my classes exhilarating. It was a game changer!”

In 2015, Bryna applied for another co-op work term, this time for four months over the summer. She was offered a position back at Irving Oil and also at Deloitte as a Business Technology Analyst. Although she loved her previous experience with Irving, she decided she wanted to test the waters in consulting. “I had no idea what they even did or why they would want to hire a chemical engineer.” “My first day was filled with uncertainty, and I learned that in consulting, you really have to be proactive and own what you do.” She was given a project to manage an IT Implementation for an industrial client.

She apparently succeeded; at the end of her summer term, she was offered a full-time position after graduation before she even started back to finish her final year of school. “My last year at UNB was stress-free because I didn’t have to worry about applying and interviewing for jobs. All I had to do was concentrate on my courses. I even had enough money because of working my co-op jobs to travel for the summer after graduating and before beginning with Deloitte!”

Bryna began working full-time as an analyst for Deloitte in Saint John in August 2017. She was immediately thrown into a client project that requires traveling to Toronto, Halifax and St. John’s. Because of her previous co-op experience, she was able to hit the ground running. “It’s hard work, but I’m used to that from the engineering program and co-op jobs. I put in 65-80 hours a week working with a team of 60 people from all over Canada. I help coordinate the project plan, forecast financials and do client presentations. It may not be chemical engineering, but I use what I learned in the program to be able to manage projects, people, time and money. I’m really enjoying it.”

Bryna says she owes it all to the co-op program. “It was so important to get that technical grasp in real life. I’m so grateful for the program and support. It’s what led me to where I am today.”  

The Engineering Co-op office provides flexible programs where students can work up to six co-op terms (one co-op term is 4-months) as part of their degree. Students are engaged in highly productive work, rather than just observing, and are paid for their efforts (often with government assistance programs). If you’d like to learn more about hiring a co-op student at your workplace, please get in touch.