R.J. Burnside & Associates Ltd help co-op students leverage their skills for community development

Thursday, December 1, 2022

R.J. Burnside employees and co-op students working in a ditch

By: Krista Henry (she/her)

R.J. Burnside & Associates Limited relies on the dedication and passion of its people, including Waterloo co-op students, to make an impact on the community.

R.J. Burnside & Associates Limited (Burnside) is an engineering and environmental consulting firm that utilizes the fresh perspectives of co-op students to understand their clients’ changing needs. Each work term, the company hires students from across engineering disciplines to bring new ideas and help future-proof their organization.

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For us, co-op students are about investing in the future of engineering as well as the communities they come from. Our co-op program is about finding the right people for our organization who align with our values and practices.



Research from Waterloo’s Work-Learn Institute (WxL) shows that aligning the values of students with the organization is key to retaining emerging talent.

Kabbes (BE ’13) is a former Waterloo co-op student who worked in different departments at Burnside over several work terms before starting full-time following graduation.

Mark Kabbes
Mark Kabbes (he/him)
Manager of structural engineering at R.J. Burnside & Associates

He is one of many former co-op students that the company hires full-time upon graduation.

“When I completed my undergrad, I had tried a variety of different things which allowed me to understand what I was most interested in. This awareness and experience are invaluable to an organization such as ours,” says Kabbes.

“Our co-op students are ready to settle in and continue to develop their careers with us. We see co-op as a valuable investment of time for both us and for the student and it pays off so many more times over!”

In fall 2022, Burnside employed eight co-op students in civil and structural engineering, transportation, infrastructure, and water wastewater design. 


Development projects for the future

Students can work on community-driven development projects both at Burnside and its sister company, Neegan Burnside Ltd.

Neegan Burnside is a majority Indigenous-owned firm that completes engineering and environmental work for Indigenous clients. The two companies work seamlessly together.

“Our co-op students support various engineering teams working through sometimes very detailed designs and working to solve challenging problems. Good support and training are happening here as students work alongside our project teams,” says Kabbes.

Students work on a wide variety of projects, including facility developments, subdivision designs, sewer layouts and bridge assessments, and they are often in the field to help drive construction and wastewater projects. “Students get involved in the design and tendering of many of our projects, as well as provide a high level of service through construction, contract administration, and site inspection,” says Kabbes. From start to finish, students play an influential role in Burnside and Neegan Burnside projects.

Incoming co-op students bring proficiencies in new cutting-edge technologies that are invaluable to Burnside’s success. According to Kabbes, students push the limits of adding new engineering approaches and the use of new technology. “Technology is growing like crazy and the programs that exist keep getting more robust with more capabilities,” says Kabbes. “Waterloo students have great access and exposure to all sorts of different technology and bring that knowledge with them.”

One major area of development in the industry in which co-op students play a key role is Building Information Modelling (BIM). BIM is a software process that relies on three-dimensional (3D) modelling and collaboration to develop structured and integrated building and asset models. This software is a major advancement from the two-dimensional (2D) drawings of the past. BIM also generates QR codes included on drawings, allowing users to view a 3D rendering of the building infrastructure.

“Co-op students push the boundaries of technology, which helps us expand our horizon. Technology will be one of the biggest impacts on our business over the next ten years and, with students, we can get a better grasp of how to push to the next level,” says Kabbes.

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