Becoming an Industry Student Mentor Has Been a Win-Win for Brad McPherson and UNB

Author: Engineering Alumni Office

Posted on Dec 6, 2018

Category: Alumni Spotlight

St. Stephen native Brad McPherson (BScCHE’05) may not have traveled far up the highway to work in Fredericton, but his career has expanded in many directions on paths that he never would have guessed.

Brad McPherson UNB

With an interest in joining the wrestling team at UNB, McPherson needed to figure out what he would study. He liked chemistry in high school and was interested in problem-solving, so chemical engineering seemed to make sense. After graduating he did a short stint with a municipality in New Brunswick on an energy efficiency project and then took a government contract as an Approval Coordinator for the industrial processes and energy manufacturing sectors at the Department of Environment. With that contract expiring, he got an opportunity to return to St. Stephen to work at Flakeboard Company Ltd (now ARAUCO) as a chemical technical coordinator in their resin plant. “I had this big fancy lab to work in and was involved in everything from resin manufacturing to the finished product. It was a fun job and I gained a ton of experience on the industrial side.”

Brad’s next move was back to the Department of Environment & Local Government as an approvals regulator for municipal, private, and Crown-owned water & wastewater systems. “I had the chance to work on a very broad range of projects and infrastructure and learned a lot,” he says.

It was during his stint here that he applied to become a design mentor for the capstone design course at UNB. The year-long fourth-year course has student teams working with clients on a real-life problem to come up with a design solution. Each team has an industry co-mentor (separate from the client) and a faculty academic co-mentor. Students are graded by their mentors and their projects are judged by their clients at the end of the year.

“I began mentoring because I thought it would be something interesting as well as provide that little bit extra of engineering, plus it would fit my schedule since it’s very flexible as far as the hours dedicated to it. It’s become so much more than an interesting side opportunity. It makes me do research and re-learn principles and keeps me on my game. It provides me a chance to liaise with industry and broaden my professional network. And it’s immensely satisfying to help students learn and mature.”

As a mentor, Brad takes on a wide range of student projects, everything from shellfish waste to oil refinery redesign to pulp mill section refurbishments. This year, he’s working with two student teams, including one that’s a multidisciplinary team made up of both chemical and mechanical engineering students. That team is working with Northern Pulp on reforming the evaporator and recovery boiler sections of the plant which are currently near capacity.

“I spend an hour a week with each team, plus do some of my own research as well as marking. I help them work through 8 milestones throughout the year, and guide them on design, on report writing and presenting to the client and also on collaborating as a team. Especially with the multidisciplinary team, their thinking is fundamentally different, so they have to learn to understand each other's disciplines and turn their ideas into something that will work for the client. They gain a better understanding of what it takes to be successful in industry. There are a lot of valuable life lessons learned throughout the year.”

Brads UNB experience with students has led to becoming a part-time stipend instructor in the chemical engineering department. “Teaching is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I really feel that adding professional experience through interactive classes to the other lectures and labs that students take is important to their overall education.”

In 2016, Bradley was seconded to the Executive Council Office as a project executive to facilitate and strategize around economic development and job growth in both the public and private sectors in New Brunswick. “My technical background plus the projects I was exposed to as a mentor gave me the experience necessary to determine if a project met New Brunswick’s model and criteria for economic growth.”

Earlier this year, Brad moved into the role of Director of Business Development (Tech Innovation, and Business Partnerships) within the Department of Energy & Resource Development. He works on forestry, mining, agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries projects to help strengthen economic development and innovation.

“My broad range of experience - both through jobs and through UNB mentor work on various projects - has really allowed me to build my knowledge and keep current on new research and best practices. It’s also given me a strong network of industry contacts that’s hugely helpful. My career trajectory is perhaps not typical of a chemical engineer, but it’s been very satisfying and interesting. I’m looking forward to more growth and moving NB ahead in the future!”

To learn more about becoming a mentor for fourth-year engineering students at UNB or to have your company become an industry client, see details on the website, and email Dr. Couturier Mentors can live anywhere across Canada and meet with students via online video connection.