Catching up with Michael Tran

Michael TranMichael Tran (ChemE 1T7+PEY) has always been interested in exploring different cultures and interests. At the age of 14, Tran moved from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Toronto for school. Described by his friends as intelligent, ambitious, dedicated and caring, he spent his spare time in high school learning new languages, playing in the school band and tutoring other students in math and sciences, which he continued to do even throughout university.

Speaking of university, it was here at U of T’s Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry (ChemE), where Tran developed a strong passion for the environment and sustainable energy. “I believe a large component of future global development will be focused around better environmental awareness and protection, as well as a shift of our energy generation mix toward more sustainable and environmentally friendly resources. This will present a young engineer like myself with a great opportunity to apply my technical background to help solve existing problems and develop new technologies, which allow for a more sustainable growth in our world,” said Tran who graduated from ChemE’s undergraduate program with a minor in Sustainable Energy, as well as an Engineering Business Certificate.

Since graduation, Tran has vacationed in New York and Boston continuing his passion for travel and culture. This coming fall, he will be starting a new role as Junior Analyst, working on environmental and nuclear radiation protection. Tran recently took time out of his schedule to reflect on his education, what ChemE meant to him and his hopes for the future.

Q: How has your university education prepared you for your future career?

Tran: My undergraduate experience, from both academic and extracurricular levels, has helped me develop the necessary background and knowledge in environmental science and sustainable energy. Minoring in Sustainable Energy, I undertook a number of courses in energy systems, energy policies, as well as environmental engineering. These courses have given me a better understanding of the technologies of the future, as well as the policy landscape which can help/hinder the development of these technologies. Outside of the classroom, I was also involved in a number of professional organizations and networks. I was involved with Emerging Leaders for Solar Energy (ELSE) Canada and helped develop a networking platform for professionals in the solar industry. Serving on the committee board for the U of T Chapter of ELSE, I organized the first ever Green Careers Conference at U of T (featuring speakers from Deloitte, General Motors, just to name a few companies) to promote careers within the sustainable energy field.

For my PEY Co-op, I worked 12 months with the Environmental Division of OPG to provide environmental services/consultations to OPG operation subject to environmental regulations. During my internship, I developed and obtained a number of new Environmental Compliance Approvals (ECAs) for equipment/processes at OPG, using air dispersion modelling. I also helped to lead department initiative for LEED building certification. In addition, I worked on revisions of Engineering Standard for chlorination of invasive zebra mussels at OPG’s nuclear station, coordinating between the Engineering, Operations, and Environment departments, to enhance station safety while minimizing environmental impacts.

Q: What did you like most about the ChemE undergrad program?

Tran: I enjoyed ChemE focus on project and teamwork throughout our undergrad curriculum. Throughout my professional experience, I have found that the types of work I was responsible for can vary from department to department, from one company to the next. However, the single component which is constant in all of my engineering assignments has been the collaboration between different groups and stakeholders in order to fulfill the company’s objectives. I believe my various exposure to teamwork and project leadership, such as Team Strat and Plant Design, has significantly helped strengthen my confidence in collaborating with others to accomplish desired objectives.

Q: What topics or assignments did you find particularly intriguing while in ChemE?

Tran: I enjoyed the Plant Design project in my fourth year the most. Working on the design of a chemical plant for treatment of CO2 and upgrade of glycerol (a major byproduct in biodiesel manufacturing), the project was the closest representation of a real-life engineering assignment that I’ve had in the program. The team that I was assigned to was completely randomized, which is similar to industry experience where you often don’t get to handpick the people you work with. Serving as my team’s project leader, I had the opportunity to lead the development of project schedules and milestones, allocation of time and resources, client communication and consultation, and project oversight. Completion of the project involved applying previously learned chemical engineering concepts (mass/energy balance, PFD/P&ID, equipment sizing, etc.). As part of the project, I also had the chance to apply my business knowledge in conducting an economic analysis of capital/operation expenditure, demonstrating how our final design was able to produce a satisfactory ROI for the client. Using my industry experience, I also conducted an environmental analysis to assess the potential impacts the plant operation might have on the environment.

Q: What extracurricular activities did you participate in while at ChemE?

Tran: I was involved with a number of clubs and programs. I participated in the Troost ILead Summer Program, where I took part in workshops/events designed to promote leadership in engineering. As part of the program, I also worked in a team of five to facilitate a mock workshop on the theme of “Thinking Outside the Box,” which was presented in front of the Chair of ChemE and other faculty members. I worked on the logistic committee of UnERD 2015, where I developed event schedule and executed logistics to ensure the smooth operation of the largest undergrad research competition at U of T. I was also an active member of the ELSE organization mentioned earlier. From these experiences, I learned a great deal about teamwork, collaborating with peers from different disciplines and with different personality/strengths. These experiences also helped sharpen my leadership abilities, as well enhance my project management/planning skills.

Q: Is there anything you would change about your ChemE experience?

Tran: I would love to see more cross-disciplinary courses in the program. I have found that a large number of existing chemical engineering occupations requires familiarity/knowledge of other disciplines, such as industrial/mechanical engineering. I believe having more exposure to these concepts, either as part of the core program or electives, would help prepare students better for the future employment.

Q: What would you like potential employers to know about you?

Tran: I am a self-motivated, fast-learning and innovative engineer. I like to take initiatives in projects to find new and better solutions to a problem. I am a team player and good at collaborating with others to accomplish team goals.

If you’d like to CONNECT with Tran, please send him an email through U of T Engineering Connect. He is keen to learn from Skule™ community members and expand his network.

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