The University of Toronto’s reputation within Canada and around the world, the challenge of the chemical engineering program, the large network of alumni, and the ability to gain real-world experience through the Professional Experience Year Co-op program were all very attractive factors to Alton Rego (ChemE 2T2 + PEY Co-op) when he chose to attend U of T Engineering.
Over the last few years, Alton has clearly made the most of his undergraduate experience to date. “I’m the Co-President of the U of T Engineering Student Consulting Association (UTESCA), which provides opportunities for students to break into the engineering and management consulting industry. During my third year, I was the VP of Corporate Relations at UTESCA and was the Third-Year Class Rep for the U of T Student Chapter of CSChE. Additionally, after my second year during the summer, I co-founded a start-up called Toothpod through the U of T Hatchery program securing $10,000 in investments for a business idea in the dental healthcare space,” says Alton. To further add to his long list of activities, Alton is now on his PEY Co-op!
In what industry and company are you doing your placement?
I’m currently working in the Nuclear Industry at Ontario Power Generation, one of the largest, low-cost power generators in Ontario and North America. I work as an engineering intern in the System Planning and Strategic Initiatives group within the Nuclear Waste Management branch at OPG.
Is your placement meeting your expectations?
Yes! A highlight of my job is that I get to work with amazing people. From the time I started, I was properly trained and given the support and resources I needed to perform effectively in my role. During my search for a PEY Co-op opportunity, I was looking for a healthy challenge – something that would allow me to push myself outside my comfort zone, allow me to grow professionally and have ownership over the deliverables and projects I am leading. I am fortunate to say that this is exactly what my experience has been so far.
What does a typical day look like for you?
As I work in a system and strategic planning role within OPG, there are very few typical days. My main responsibility is to develop, optimize and manage models to capture the processing and disposal of low and intermediate level radioactive waste as well as used fuel from OPG’s reactors across all stations. These models are used to develop lifecycle forecasts for all waste generated from OPG’s nuclear stations which is important for the purposes of waste planning, development of cost estimates, and supporting the design and safety assessment of the waste repository. As part of this role, I am routinely required to interface with people in finance, strategic initiatives, operations, etc. to deliver scenarios they would like to see based on the models and data I manage. I also work to support the project management of a new software platform. For this, I help interview and understand the needs of all stakeholders to properly develop technical and user requirements for the platform. Over the first few months of my internships, I’ve developed flowcharts to explain business processes, make presentations, and have been working to develop PowerBI dashboards to provide valuable insights on complex data.
What challenges have you encountered during your placement and how have you navigated them?
The transition from a school mindset to a work mindset was a huge shift for me. I quickly realized that the stakes can be much higher when performing a task for work as it directly impacts real-life business processes. This realization has forced me to become more organized, document everything I do, and run a variety of checks to ensure my work is accurate. In school, everything is quite structured and questions in my problem sets usually have a clear solution. Technical problems that I have come across during my job tend to be more open-ended and unclear. I’ve found that reaching out to my network of managers and colleagues who have years of experience seeing these problems has allowed me to learn how to solve them from a number of different perspectives.
What have you learned from your placement that will help you during your last year in the Department and beyond?
The most important skill I am developing is the ability to effectively communicate and contribute in a professional environment. I am in meetings every day where I am required to clearly articulate my thoughts, think on my feet to answer questions, and convey my suggestions in a convincing manner. When I return to U of T to complete my chemical engineering degree, I hope to be able to apply these skills to team projects such as the Plant Design course or Capstone project. My PEY Co-op experience so far has also helped me increase my sense of ownership over projects and deliverables I am working on. It’s exciting when I am able to manipulate data, create models, or identify issues that lead to cost savings or provide valuable insight into the future of OPG’s nuclear waste.
What industry would you like to work in after graduation?
I am very much still figuring this out! Through the conversations I have had with my managers and colleagues, I have been able to learn about their experiences and roles, what their responsibilities are, and why they love doing what they do. It has really allowed me to learn about the various opportunities and roles available to me after I graduate from U of T Engineering.
Interested in hiring a Professional Experience Year Co-op student? Click the link to learn more about U of T’s PEY Co-op program.
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