Renewable solutions: problem solving in the energy sector

Frances Hallen standing in front of staircase smiling with two of her edited avatars on either sideFrances Hallen (she/her) is the Co-op Student of the Year for the Faculty of Engineering this year. In her fourth year of Environmental and Energy Engineering, Frances excelled during her work term at EDF Renewables. By combining her strong analytical skills and desire to solve social issues, Frances was able to make an impact while continuing her learning.

Frances Hallen smiling at the camera

As part of the renewable energy development team, Frances was an integral part of the team establishing solar and wind facilities across North America. In her role, she was responsible for the development pipeline, contacting government regulatory agencies, building relationships and working on community engagement pieces.

Using her critical thinking skills, she led the design and implementation process of surveys, organized site-wide visits and created follow-up reports. Frances also accompanied the vice president of development to Montreal to help facilitate a bid-strategy working session with representatives from the US and Canada.

Frances leveraged her engineering expertise when engaging in project management and collaborating with teams across North America.


What about renewable energy and the environment interests you?

“I've always been very driven by impact within my career. The increasing concern about climate change is something that I want to tackle in my professional journey. Being in Environmental Engineering and looking at system infrastructure, as well as the greater impacts it has on different communities and society as a whole, renewable energy is an industry that addresses all these problems.”

“It makes me feel like I can make an impact in many ways, since it’s a problem that touches upon many different parts of society. That makes it a very complex problem to tackle. For me that’s very stimulating, but also very rewarding when I see the rippling effects that it has.”

How do you connect your learnings from school to your co-op terms?

“Specifically in the energy field, there are obviously technical things that I've learned in school, such as economic analysis, engineering components, interacting with communities and assessing energy and environmental outputs.”

“I think overall having an engineering education has definitely prepared me to take more initiative because I am a problem solver. It’s given me the confidence to take things as they come because I know how to solve complex problems and I can network with people where I need to, to solve them in the most efficient way possible.”

What’s one challenge you overcame during your work term?

“One piece of feedback that I received from my co-op employer was that I really needed to trust my instincts. Sometimes I think that can be a challenge as a co-op student because it's not a full-time job, you're not out of school, and you don't necessarily have the on-paper credits that a lot of your colleagues do. However, it’s important to remember that you are still very valuable, creative and a good problem solver.”

“There were sometimes where I felt like I needed to check in and get feedback at every step of the way to gain that confidence. Sometimes, I was given more of a leadership role, but it felt like I couldn't tell other colleagues what to do. So, trusting my instincts was a challenge, but I think it is worth taking a bit of a risk. I believe we, as co-op students, know more than we think we do.”

How would you describe to an employer what you bring to their organization?

“A lot of the things that we've had to do in the classroom have seemed extremely challenging at first. Whenever I see something that I can't do, I remind myself that there's been a lot of things that I've seen that I can't do but I figured out how to do them over time. Sometimes it was with the help of others and sometimes it was just sitting down and thinking about it for a long time and trying different things.”

“So, I would describe myself as someone who can learn very quickly, because I’m very passionate about making a difference in the workplace that extends to society overall.”

In the age of automation and artificial intelligence, why do you think a human engineer mind is important?

“As engineers, we're taught so much and we have loads of tools at our disposal, so many things to help us in the analyses that we do. However, to protect society, it is so important that we understand exactly what we're working with.”

“Ultimately, we can be the ones to take responsibility for what happens and know how to back it up. So, as things become more automated and we have all these additional tools, as engineers, we must understand how they're being used, what could go wrong and how to respond to that. I think having the engineering mindset that questions what you're being given and is curious is always going to be important.”

How does it feel to win the Co-op Student of the Year Award?

“I'm definitely very proud of myself, but it's a community win as well. There are so many other excellent co-op students and we’re all working very hard. It's really interesting to see the impact that we're all making in our different industries.”

“I'm really glad that through my career, climate and renewable energy are being represented.”

What’s next for you?

“I’ve had a very positive experience working in the renewable energy sector with EDF Renewables and it's somewhere I'd like to stay, whether I continue with development or go into a more research focused position.”

“I’m looking into the different pathways for the energy transition because I enjoy doing this and I’m very excited to do it. The co-op program has given me the skills to find the job that I want and the confidence that I can succeed.”

Frances Hallen smiling in front of a purple background


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