Linda Blankenship

Linda Blankenship, Civil Engineering - Class of 1983

Linda Blankenship

Why did you choose your undergraduate program?

I was very lucky to have the encouragement of my high school physics teacher, Mr. Wiseman. I was good in math and science in general, although physics was tough for me and I had to work hard on it. Mr. Wiseman hosted a brown bag lunch with a former student of his who was in the engineering program at Waterloo. The student talked about the co-op program and that got me interested. I really liked the idea of being able to get the practical experience and earn money while I was going through the program.

How did you like your experience at UWaterloo?

Well, it is not nicknamed Suitcase U. for nothing! But seriously, it was a wonderful experience. I enjoyed the intensity and focus on my future career. The professors were top-notch and the whole program was well-structured. The co-op program experience is incredibly well-managed. The first year was tough because I was one of many excellent students in the program so that was an adjustment, as compared to being at the top of the high school class.

What were your favourite classes?

I especially enjoyed the classes in my desired field, environmental engineering (at that time, a part of civil engineering), that I took in third and fourth years. I was able to take hydrogeology through Earth Sciences at the time - it was an emerging field at the time and I was being taught by world-renowned experts. Finite element modeling, aquatic chemistry, water management and similar courses were all very enjoyable to me. I have used that knowledge throughout my career at different times and in different ways. I did not have an appreciation for how much I would draw on all that knowledge while I was in school.

How did the friends you made at UWaterloo inspire you throughout your undergraduate experience?

Our class had a lot of spirit. We were the smallest graduating class cohort at the time in the Civil program and everyone participated in all the engineering events. That spirit really carried us through the crunch times when courses were demanding and busy. I was one of a very few women in the program at that time and we were a good group of supportive friends too.

Co-op work term history

  • Canadian Coast Guard, Prescott, Ontario
  • M.M. Dillon, Toronto
  • Adams Mine, Kirkland Lake, Ontario (two terms)
  • Kilborn Ltd., Toronto
  • Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Kemptville, Ontario

What is the biggest lesson you learned from co-op?

I consider co-op to be the start of my professional career. My biggest lesson was in the "soft skills" that I learned - time management, public speaking, asserting myself effectively with peers and supervisors, and managing projects toward a specific goal as agreed upon for the co-op term.

What is your occupation now?

I retired a few years ago. My last position, and my most gratifying, was as a vice president with a multi-national architecture/engineering firm. I was also a national practice manager for their infrastructure asset management practice applying ISO 55000 principles. I had previously managed a large research program on leading practices for managing water infrastructure so this work allowed me to help water utilities apply them to their organizations. I was able to transfer this knowledge which is so important to enable water utility employees in their critical role to protect public health. I also mentored a number of younger engineers which was very gratifying.

Did your undergraduate program play a role in where you are today? How?

My undergraduate program was critical throughout my career - perhaps unusually, I really stayed within my field of study of environmental engineering. Some courses that I had taken did not come into play until more than a decade into my career so I had to dust off those textbooks and notes! My engineering credential helped open career doors and was a really a requirement to do the consulting and research that I did throughout my career.

List 3 lessons you'd like to share with the current undergraduate students.

  1. Try different things during your co-op experience. I did everything from fly in helicopters to inspect navigable waterways (Canadian Coast Guard) to count cars for transportation projects (M.M. Dillon) to design a predictive maintenance program for a processing plant (Adams Mine.) I have drawn on all these experiences during my career and while making career choices.
  2. Plan to refine your study skills. You will be with the most academically gifted students and you will have to "up your game." I was not at the top of the class academically and had to really focus and study hard. It got easier in third and fourth year - good news!
  3. My UW network has been a constant source of support and friendship throughout my life. I moved to the U.S. in 1991 and was able to network with a few grads living here to get my career started here. UW friends are everywhere you are.