Ali Kamalipour, Geological Engineering - Class of 2009
Why did you choose your undergraduate program?
I chose Geological Engineering because it satisfied my curiosity in applied earth sciences by teaching me the engineering thought and problem solving process. I also chose the discipline because of its wide array of professional applications, everything from civil construction to oil and gas exploration, to name but a few. And, I chose Waterloo because it houses Canada's premier engineering school. It was a dream of mine to become part of this unique community.
How did you like your experience at UWaterloo?
Put simply, it was life changing.
When I moved to Waterloo (from Edmonton) back in 2004, I was not in a good place in my life. I had a lot of doubts about myself. I needed a fresh re-start and wasn't sure if the Admissions Committee would give me the chance. But, somehow they did!
And, though I struggled for the first three terms, after completing couple of work terms, I grew up quickly and developed a much better sense of resilience (something that has helped me in my professional career tremendously).
In the second half of my time at Waterloo, I found my footing and started to really enjoy the learning process. The courses became specialized and the work terms became more meaningful. While I barely passed 1A, managed to finish 4B with distinction. The people of Waterloo gave me the chance and then didn't give up on me.
So, I would say my experience at Waterloo taught me to keep hope alive, be resilient, persevere, and go on a journey of lifelong learning.
What were your favourite classes?
Far too many to choose, but I am now thinking back!
Looking back, I would say the courses that had hands-on experiences were my favourites. I really enjoyed Hydraulics (and the laboratory component). Really enjoyed flow through porous media, and soil mechanics. I really enjoyed the natural hazards course as well. The slope stability exercises came in really handy when I found myself involved in a tailings dam design for an oilsands project. The geomecahnics course turned out the be the fundamental primer I needed in my very first post-graduation assignment as a drilling engineer.
If I had not gone into oil and gas exploration, I would have gone into river engineering. Until I took Hydraulics, I had never heard of "river engineering." And, now I live by the Vedder River in Chilliwack, BC. Every time my wife and I go for a walk along the river, I can't help but notice the engineered sections and the natural parts. To this day, if an opportunity presents itself to study river engineering, I would take it whole heartedly.
And, speaking of hydraulics! I am currently putting my engineering knowledge to good use by building a home-made irrigation system for the front yard by harvesting rainwater. Believe it or not, I used the surveying skills in Bob's 1A class to figure out the ground elevation and how much water head I need to create sufficient flow and pipe diameter, etc. I was actually pleasantly surprised when I realized I still have it in me to do the number crunching part of engineering! As I grew in my career, I gradually moved from the calculation heavy roles to more project, financial, and technical risk management roles. This was exactly what Prof. Evans had told us to expect!
How did the friends you made at UWaterloo inspire you throughout your undergraduate experience?
I consider them to be some of my best friends. Adam always kept me on my toes with his competitive nature. Eric always had my back as we pulled long study sessions. And, Julie actually inspired me to accept the job with Shell and to try cause positive change from the inside. They still continue to inspire me as I see them flourish in their adventures around the world. We've been scattered around the country and the world, but I like to think that our bonds defy the long distances between us. I think we need to do a better job of finding each other and more importantly keeping in touch with one another.
Co-op work term history
What is the biggest lesson you learned from co-op?
I learnt to learn from people who are smarter, more knowledgable and better skilled than me. This lesson, learnt during co-op as opposed to during my fulltime work, humbled me early on and allowed me to develop meaningful relationships with everyone I meet.
Looking back, I can say that I have learnt something or picked up a skill from just about everyone I have met in my engineering career, from crew members on a drilling rig all the way to the executives at the headquarters.
I truly believe everyone, no matter how junior or senior, can teach me something I don't know but should.
What is your occupation now?
I am currently in my final year of studying law at the University of Victoria, planning to join Norton Rose Fulbright LLP as a Student-at-Law in Spring of 2022.
I am also building small independent exploration company, as part of a joint venture, in Texas.
Did your undergraduate program play a role in where you are today? How?
Yes, absolutely! Without the engineering education and the life skills learned through my Waterloo career, I would not have had the opportunities that were afforded to me after graduation.
It was because of the Waterloo quality of education that Schlumberger hired me, trained me and ultimately sponsored my 4th year design project. And, that caused Shell to hire me and give me immediate responsibilities as a drilling engineer. Later on, the dual nature of my degree allowed me to be part of the geological exploration campaigns in North America and Europe which led me to work on M&A deals which in turn allowed me to work closely with commercial and legal experts, causing me to contemplate a second phase for my career as an energy lawyer.
List 3 lessons you'd like to share with the current undergraduate students.
- Your family is always more important than any success you may achieve or career opportunity that might cross your path. Never trade your time with family for time at your work. There will come a time that you will wish your phone would ring and display would read 'Mom', 'Dad' or 'Brother' or 'Sister' but you know that will never happen. So, while you still have the opportunity to be making and receiving those calls and visits, don't waste the time on work. There will always be more work to get through, but family won't always be around.
- Take risks! I know it sounds cliche but it is true. And, taking risks does't have to seem big or profound at the time. If you are unsure about taking a course, risk it and challenge yourself to learn. If you are unsure about a job offer or assignment, go with your gut feeling because more often than not, your gut feeling is right. And, years later looking back, you'll notice that that seemingly small decision may have had a disproportionate positive impact on your career and life.
- Routinely re-invent yourself by adopting lifelong learning as a way of life. Don't let graduating from Waterloo be the end of your learning; make it the foundation to build on. Lifelong learning can come in many different ways, both formal and informal. After you have a few years of work experience, go back to school (part-time) and earn a graduate degree. You'll be surprised how much exponential growth you'll go through by working full-time Monday to Friday and going to class on weekends for two years straight. It's tough and at times you will question your decision, but when you are done, you will have developed the stamina to take on tougher goals. Treat the summer months as a period for learning something fun, be it a new hobby, a new sport or a new language. The goal should be to always learn and you will be surprised how these seemingly disparate skills you will pick up along the way will become useful down the road.