Catching up with Raphael Soldi

When Raphael Soldi (ChemE 1T3+PEY) was growing up, discovering a love of science almost felt magical. “As a huge fan of Harry Potter in my younger days, my first taste of chemistry was incredibly exciting for me. I can remembering those early lab experiments in grade school making me feel like I was in “potions” class, and finding that really cool.” As a result of those early days in the lab, Soldi was originally drawn to the idea of studying chemistry in university. However, as he looked more closely, his focus shifted toward an engineering degree instead. “I learned that many pure science careers can require a Master’s degree to really get started. I became more interested in studying chemical engineering when I learned that engineering graduates enjoy significantly higher employment prospects straight out of undergrad. To be honest, aside from being told that working as an engineer could be a great career, I didn’t know much else about chemical engineering.  It wasn’t really until my 3rd year that I began having a genuine understanding of chemical engineering. I can remember when it all started to click, and feeling the same way I did about mixing potions as a kid. The more I learned, the more excited I became about the discipline.”

Soldi is now a dedicated chemical engineer with over 5 years in the resource industry, finding solutions to and addressing concerns regarding plant chemistry, engineering, and operations. He’s spent his young career rotating through Process Engineering and Production Engineering roles in Canada and abroad. “I was extremely lucky to find a job before graduation through a career fair on campus, where I met some great people from [Canadian mining company] Sherritt International – my current employer,” Soldi explains. “The whole application process was very straightforward for me. I was really lucky that everything seemed to fall into place very quickly.” After applying online, a phone interview, and a subsequent in‑person interview in Edmonton, he had a job offer for a 3 year program that would take him to Alberta and overseas to Madagascar. The opportunity to branch out and move to another city was a welcome one. While it was difficult at first to be away from Toronto, the city where he grew up, he rather quickly developed a great appreciation for Edmonton and for Western Canada. Additionally, the chance to spend some time working overseas was a dream come true for Soldi. “One of the most exciting and challenging experiences of working at Sherritt is working in Madagascar. The stark contrast between life there and life in Canada has been really eye-opening for me. Experiencing a very different culture, and learning how business is conducted in different parts of the world has been really beneficial to me as an engineer and as a person.” After the 3-year program was over, Soldi was kept on by Sherritt as a Production Engineer at their refinery just outside of Edmonton.

As an immigrant himself, Soldi really enjoys the opportunity of working in multicultural environments, which often requires him to switch from speaking in English to Spanish, and then to French depending on the team he’s working with. “My experience with Sherritt has been invaluable. I’ve had the opportunity to work on a variety of different projects in numerous different plants in different countries: metals refinery, hydrogen plant, ammonia plant, sulphuric acid plant, fertilizer plant, etc. My job has also allowed me to experience work and life in a part of the world I never imagined visiting before.” Soldi has also had the opportunity to work in different departments throughout his company which has helped him to learn a lot about the profession and career paths in the industry. “I didn’t really have a ‘dream job’ like some other people I knew when I was finishing university,” Soldi confesses. However, his position with Sherritt has shown him a variety of possibilities and perspectives which are helping him to better understand and define what his ideal career path might look like. “One of the things I like most about what I do is that it was very new to me when I started, and I’m lucky that I work for a place that lets me move around to explore different interests and learn new things.” This has provided ample opportunity for growth: as Production Engineer, his work is tightly intertwined with plant operations and day-to-day technical needs, as Soldi spends a lot of time in the field, getting to know operators and the ins and outs of how plants work. “I keep on learning new everyday things, like about the differences between a circuit’s intended design, versus its actual installation, performance, and operability. It keeps things interesting, and it’s making me a better engineering, as well.”

Aside from giving him the opportunity to travel, Soldi’s career presents other rewarding challenges. “Working at a facility built in the 1950s can make day-to-day operations a little more exciting sometimes,” he confesses.  Apart from the fact that the material being processed has changed over the years, and that the processes and installations have consequently had to adapt, standards and documentation practices have also shifted over time.  Adding to the fact that the metallurgical technology employed is quite unique and proprietary, finding information and history on the what, why, and how can be quite challenging.  Luckily, the plant’s workforce includes many people who have worked many, many years there. “This means that a big part of my job is learning from the vast experience, knowledge, and expertise of my more-senior colleagues.”

The chance to work with such a diverse group in terms of personal and professional backgrounds, and levels of experience has had a big impact on how Soldi views the field of engineering. Soldi is most-interested in finding new opportunities to gain more exposure to sustainability and novel technologies, both through straightforward engineering and through technical project management, and he’s dedicated to continue to learn as much as he possibly can about those areas. “I am passionate about the changes required to battle global warming and depleting natural resources during our lifetime,” Soldi exclaims. “I would be thrilled for the opportunity to be part of the team that contributes to alternative energy systems, more efficient use of and recycling of resources, or reduction of greenhouse emissions. Additionally, I hope that in the future I am able to have a more in-depth understanding of world markets and industry, thereby being able to contribute in some significant way to the preparation or education of younger generations to address society’s evolving needs.”

Beyond the courses he took in school, what most prepared Soldi to hit the ground running when he entered the workforce? U of T Engineering’s excellent mentorship programs are right at the top of the list. “Through the Skule Mentorship program, I was paired up with ChemE alumnus M. Pingal in my 4th year.  This formal mentorship enabled me to develop a relationship through frank discussions about the ChemE program, job markets, and his experience post-graduation.” Soldi also found strong connections with his instructors that continue to have a lasting impact on him. “Another mentor I was lucky to have was Prof. R. Sacks, whose course on Foundations of Leadership I took in my 4th year. I think that this was one of the most valuable courses I took in my university career, preparing me on how to be a leader, in the workplace or elsewhere, by first understanding myself and becoming my own leader.” After feeling so well-supported in his journey to become a professional engineer, Soldi is ready to do his part to help the next generation of engineering graduates make the transition from school to their chosen profession. “I would absolutely jump at the chance to give back to the U of T Engineering community as a mentor. I’m currently living in Edmonton, but I would love the opportunity to pair remotely with students who are looking for some guidance and mentorship,” Soldi proclaims excitedly. Anyone interested in connecting with Soldi can find him on U of T Engineering CONNECT.