Dominating the field of civil engineering one co-op at a time

Sarra Alhassan, a fourth-year Civil Engineering student pursuing the Management Sciences option, reflects on her various co-op positions and discusses how each role shaped her passion for an entrepreneurial, philanthropic and impactful career in the future.


 Sarra’s Co-op Journey:

Work term one

At the University of Waterloo, Sarra worked for the Faculty of Engineering as a research assistant. She worked alongside her professor and colleagues to investigate the effectiveness of reinforcing concrete with fiber reinforced polymers (FRP) sheets. This was an opportunity for her to understand if she could see herself in a research or academic position for the rest of her professional career. 
 

Work term two

Sarra worked at Pinchin Ltd as an AutoCAD technician. She was tasked with making CAD drawings for client reports. She was also able to work on the field occasionally, which allowed her to experience her learnings firsthand.

Work term three

Her next co-op was at a company called Wood Canada Limited, where she worked as an engineering intern. Sarra worked primarily on mining projects with the geomechanics team in a division called Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions. She got to utilize her CAD skills when extracting data from coal seam models while working alongside engineers from both Canada and the US. 

Work term four

This co-op was at HKA Global Inc, in their divisional office located in Calgary. Sarra was a construction/engineering claims analyst where she was able to learn the ins and outs of construction projects and the claims industry.

Work term five

Sarra worked at EllisDon Construction for her next co-op term. Here she was a project coordinator in a large-scale construction project in Toronto. Through this position she was able to gain experience in tasks related to scheduling and project coordination, such as material quantity tracking and handling deliveries. 

Work term six

For her last co-op, Sarra worked at BDO Canada LLP in their Technology Consulting division as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation consultant. This was her first experience as a technology consultant, and she gained valuable insight into the software development life cycle through her involvement in numerous projects at different phases.


An image of Sarra


 Q & A with Sarra

What was your biggest accomplishment during your co-op term at EllisDon?

“My biggest accomplishment at EllisDon was working on the material tracking system. The system measures how much material comes in relative to how much is needed. In this process, I found a deficiency in the system, where the quantity of material we had on site did not align with the information we received from our suppliers.”

“I conducted an audit to find the source of the discrepancy, which meant manually going through a year’s worth of invoices. Eventually, I found explanations for every dollar of difference. Amongst other errors, I discovered that there was approximately $30,000 worth of material that was not reported accurately. We were able to correct the errors quickly and ensure that the tracking system was accurate moving forward.”


What was it like handling such a big project and how did you prepare yourself to take on such tasks?

“I was nervous at first because it was my first time working on a construction site and I was not exactly sure what to expect. When given a task, I prepared myself by taking notes while my supervisor was explaining the task to me. I also updated my supervisor on my progress frequently to ensure that I was heading in the right direction.”

“Another important aspect was asking questions to show that I was fully involved in my tasks. This also helped me confirm that my understanding of my tasks was accurate, which allowed me to avoid frequent mistakes. I find it very important to ensure that I am clear with what is expected of me in order to execute my tasks smoothly.” 

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Do you have any tips on maintaining a balance between studying and working?

“My biggest tip is to get adequate rest between terms, but I also like to go out and have fun during that time. To prepare myself for the upcoming term, I like to create an agenda and stay organized in terms of new material that I need to learn. I have a notebook where I list down new technical terms that I come across during the term so that I can keep track of all the knowledge I acquire.”


An image of Sarra

What is it like being a woman of colour in a predominantly male-dominated field?

“Being in a male-dominated field can be intimidating at some points. I would sometimes feel the need to go above and beyond the requirements to prove myself. However, my co-op experience at EllisDon was a very positive one, despite the construction industry being largely male dominated. I felt supported by the company’s culture that values diversity and inclusivity, which was reflected in the people I worked with.”

 

“My supervisor, Mona Lister, who was also a woman of colour was particularly inspiring as she excelled in her role and demonstrated remarkable strength in carving a successful career path for herself. I continue to look up to her as an inspiration even today. Overall, I am very lucky to have been surrounded by wonderful people in all my co-op terms, and I am thankful I did not encounter negative situations.”


What did you enjoy about your company’s culture? 

“I enjoyed the culture of all the companies I worked at. However, my experience at HKA Global Inc stands out because our team was like a family. There were only a few people on our team, and it felt like I was working with friends. I was away from home during that co-op term, but I didn’t feel lonely because of my team.”

“This was also my first in-person co-op after the COVID-19 lockdown, and it was nice being in a new city. I was able to explore Calgary and visit Banff National Park, which was breathtaking.”


What advice would you give to other co-op students? 

“Don’t be scared to try new things and always take a chance. It is also wise to tailor your resume to the job you are applying for if you are interested in it. And especially for your first few co-ops, don’t overlook the co-op resources the University provides, which you can find at the Center for Career Action. Overall, don’t sell yourself short and remember that you are just as qualified as everyone around you.”


What’s next for you?

“I am going back to my previous role at BDO Canada as an implementation consultant. Other than that, I want to start a non-profit organization. I am extremely interested in humanitarian work, specifically in the area of empowering underprivileged children through education. Looking forward, I also aspire to become an entrepreneur and establish my own business someday.”


Follow Sarra’s co-op journey on LinkedIn

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