“Seeking discomfort leads to great personal growth”

Sam Roberge-Arnott (he/him) is in his fourth year of studying mechatronics engineering. Having completed six work terms, Sam imparts wisdom on building connections in university, standing out in competitive programs and embracing international opportunities.

Sam's co-op journey

Work term one: Sam launched his co-op career at Neuman Raufoss, an automobile part manufacturer located in Montréal. As an engineering assistant, he worked on manufacturing cells with the industrialization improvement team.

Work term two: For his next role, Sam accepted a test engineering position at Sanmina, an electronics manufacturer in Ottawa. At Sanmina, he was able to learn more about the electrical side of engineering by debugging modem cards and servers alongside the manufacturing team.

Work term three: Sam had the opportunity to work in a startup environment at Tyto Robotics. Working in a small team, he developed drone testing apparatuses.

Work term four: Next, Sam joined Ekidna, a cannabis testing company in Ottawa. As one of the only mechanical engineers at Ekidna, he led product design for the testing device.

Work term five and six: For his remaining two co-op terms, Sam ventured to Los Angeles to work for Parallel Systems where he helped design a subsystem for autonomous electric freight trains.

Q&A with Sam

Sam and friends visiting the SpaceX.How did you find your position at Parallel Systems in Los Angeles?

“I had accepted a product design co-op in Toronto, but before starting they let me know that they wouldn't be able to offer me a complete opportunity because of financial troubles. So, they encouraged me to find something else. That was a few weeks before the scheduled start of the term so I was a bit panicked.”

“I tried to find a job by harnessing my network, doing interviews and applying. The position at Parallel Systems was something that I came across on LinkedIn. They did a term spotlight with a quote from a student at the University of Waterloo, so that's how they came up on my feed.”

“I went to their website; their mission looked super awesome. They had an open position for the fall so I applied, interviewed, got the position and then rushed to get my visa. A lot of people want to have a Silicon Valley experience and I felt the same. I just wanted to be in an innovative environment where people were really pushing the limits of technology.”

Sam's photo of Yosemite.Can you tell me a little bit more about your photo of Yosemite and why you chose to submit that picture to the "Where in the World?!” co-op photo contest?

“That photo was taken this summer. The co-op students at Parallel Systems and I made travel plans to go to San Francisco and go camping in the Yosemite area. So, that's what we did. We met up in San Francisco, drove out and absorbed the beauty that is Yosemite.”

“Working in downtown Los Angeles for that entire term and the previous one, I really didn’t realize how much I missed nature. It was such a nice break.”

“Although Yosemite is pretty tourist heavy, it was still such a beautiful landscape and I did take a few pictures there. The one I submitted really stood out because you could see the forest fire smoke looming overhead in the sky and that was kind of poetic in a sense.”

What advice would you give to a co-op student considering a co-op term abroad?

“Just do it. You'll never get a free trial period as good as an eight-month or a four-month co-op term, right? Yes, in Canada you can meet lots of people and grow your network, but it’s a whole other experience when you’re working in another culture.”

Sam and the SpinStop team at the Velocity Pitch Competition.Which projects are you most proud of from your co-op and academic career?

“Definitely the projects at Parallel Systems. In a fast-paced, small team environment, you have a lot of autonomy over what to work on— and it's important work that is part of vehicle development.”

“There were lots of projects I got to work on, like designing a parking brake system for the train, and most recently, doing bearing design for the next generation of vehicles. Those have improved my engineering skills and critical thinking.”

“My capstone project has also increased my confidence in general. Our product is called SpinStop and the problem that we're tackling is the uncontrolled spin of helicopter rescue technicians. During search and rescue missions, when a rescuer is being lowered from a helicopter, they sometimes spin out of control. This can be pretty dangerous. It can lead to nausea and ankle injuries.”

“What we're doing is completely eliminating the spin experienced by the rescuer or the rescue subject. We're doing this by making a device that is attached at the bottom of the hoist. We’re developing this now and it's going well. We’ve been able to get some grants and participate in the Velocity Pitch Competition.”

Two people looking up at the cliffs of Yosemite.Mechatronics engineering is a competitive program, how do you stand out from other students when you're applying and interviewing for jobs?

“I’d say the main thing is to communicate your value. Everyone has skills; everyone can uniquely contribute to the team they're applying for. You just need to be able to show your value. If you're unsuccessful at first, then solicit feedback from the employer or the interviewer.”

“Waterloo has so many resources to be able to improve your skills and engineering experience. We have top performing student design teams, clubs and resources for personal projects like the Engineering Student Machine Shop, 3D printing centers, part supplies, soldering stations and workplaces.”

“Design teams are something I recommend for everyone, not only engineering students. They need finance students, marketing students...etc. It can be taxing, but everyone can do it with the right amount of time management and it’s something that employers value so much because you're going beyond your coursework to embark on a demanding extracurricular project.”

Sam and friends in downtown Los Angeles at night.Now that your co-op journey has reached its end, what's the most important lesson you've learned along the way?

“Something that my parents have said, that has been echoed by many people I look up to is ‘it's not what you know, but who you know.’”

“That’s been thrown around a good bit, but it's important. It's the people that you meet, whether that's in university or on co-op, that matter. I think that's probably the most valuable thing you get from university. You're surrounded by other smart and resourceful people. You just have to really make that effort to connect with them because you could meet your co-founder, a connection to a dream job, your best friend or even your soulmate.”

What’s next for you?

“I'm graduating in April 2024 and working on my capstone project until then. After that, I have accepted a full-time position at Parallel Systems. I'll be going there after graduation this summer.”

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