ChemE Future Leader: Kim Watada

Kim WatadaWhen Kim Watada (ChemE 2T2 + PEY Co-op) was in high school, she knew she wanted to pursue a degree that would empower her to make impactful change in society. “I chose the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry at U of T because of the wide variety of important careers you can pursue. ChemE has really allowed me to explore my different interests and eventually settle on an environmental and business engineering specialization,” says Kim.

Now four months into her Professional Experience Year (PEY) Co-op, Kim is getting her first taste of working in the environmental sector as an analyst for The Delphi Group, a Canadian sustainability consulting firm where she analyzes the impacts of climate change and engages with clients to develop business strategies as they pertain to the company’s findings.

“Over the past few months, I have worked with private sector clients across the energy and asset management industries. Getting exposure to a variety of industries has been extremely valuable, as it helps me explore multiple career paths and learn about a greater diversity of topics,” says Kim.

Jennifer Hsu, ChemE’s Manager of External Relations, recently met with Kim to learn more about her interests, and what she’s gaining and wants to take away from her PEY Co-op experience.

What extracurricular groups and activities do you participate in?

I highly recommend getting involved in extracurriculars to meet people in the U of T community. Currently, I am the Professional Development Director for the U of T Student Chapter of the Canadian Society of Chemical Engineering (CSChE) and the Director of Operations for Global Spark, where I work to provide more social impact opportunities for university students across Canada.

I am also dedicated to helping integrate first years into engineering. In the past I was a GEARS leader and APS100 TA. This year, I will be continuing my role as a mentor in the Chem Club mentorship program, and of course a ‘leedur’ in frosh week!

Additionally, I volunteer as a piano player for the Musicians at Your Door, where we livestream monthly musical performances for elderly citizens residing in retirement homes. I also participate on the engineering field hockey team, and am hopeful that intermural sports will run again this year.

Why did you choose to do PEY Co-op? What were your expectations before starting your placement?

I believe that you will never understand the true day-to-day of a job until you are doing that job yourself. So, I chose to do PEY Co-op to test out areas for a potential career and gain the chance to work on projects with longer timelines due to the unique 12-16 month structure. My expectation was that I would learn workplace-relevant skills, build a network of professionals in my area of interests, and decide whether I would pursue a future career in that role.

Is your placement meeting your expectations?

This placement has far surpassed my expectations. First, I have discovered that working on climate change is my passion; I ask tons of questions to learn from my colleagues, consume climate-related podcasts and articles in my own time, and am invigorated with every new thing I learn about the industry. Finding my area of interest is the most valuable thing I have gained from this placement, as it will guide my future career.

I’ve also learned so much about what it takes to be a trusted and respected teammate in the workplace. If you prove that you work hard and produce high-quality work, people will provide you with opportunities to grow. Now at the 4-month mark of my internship, I am preparing client facing materials, giving presentations to the executive leadership team, and meeting experts in the industry every week. My technical skills have advanced greatly, and I’ve developed soft skills that I will use throughout the rest of my career.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I work from 9-5, 5 days a week. I usually have about four meetings a day, which often includes one client meeting, two project touch points, and a virtual coffee chat with a colleague. With the leftover time I work independently, which can mean conducting research, analyzing data, or putting together PowerPoint slides.

What challenges have you encountered during your placement and how have you navigated them?

One of the greatest challenges of working in consulting is time management. I am staffed on three projects, each with different teams, and perform ad-hoc tasks for other colleagues. This means that multiple deliverables, meetings, and deadlines can converge at once, and you must be ready to handle them all. Luckily, my degree in ChemE prepared me well for managing my time. I keep a running to-do list of pending tasks, diligently mark deadlines on my calendar, and avoid taking on additional tasks when I am at capacity. A colleague once told me to work smarter, not harder, and it’s how I deliver high quality work without needing to work overtime.

What opportunities and projects have your placement exposed you to?

I’m currently working on three main projects at The Delphi Group. The first two are Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting projects for a multinational energy utility company and a global agricultural and timber asset manager. The third project regards systems change, as we investigate a potential natural gas phase-out in Ontario by engaging key stakeholders.

Given the pressing nature of climate change, I have become exposed to many opportunities in the space. Leveraging my experience with ESG reporting, I volunteer with an international cohort of female experts on the Task Force for Equity in Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TECFD) to improve understanding of the connection between climate change and gender equity through enhanced disclosure. Together, we have written a report on the interplay of gender equity and climate risks and opportunities to be presented at The Nest Summit during Climate Week NYC in September.

What have you learned from your placement that will help you during your last year in the Department and beyond?

Throughout my internship, I have been fortunate to work with colleagues that are not only experts in their fields, but from a diverse array of educational backgrounds. This multidisciplinary perspective has taught me to look at problems through new lenses that supplement traditional technical engineering considerations. For example, understanding the business case can greatly increase stakeholder buy in for a technical engineering project.

In my last year of university, I hope to bring my collaborative skills to the multidisciplinary capstone project. Working in teams is something that I will do throughout my career and learning how to leverage the diverse talents of my team will be key.

What industry would you like to work in after graduation?

Given my passion towards climate change, sustainability consulting is a good option. However, it is an evolving space, and I have interests in other areas such as impact investing and energy to mention a few.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Many of my colleagues hold interesting master’s degrees in sustainability-related subjects from around the world. Eventually, I would love to gain global experience through a master’s degree in Europe due to their leading expertise in climate change policy and innovation.

From a career perspective, I simply hope I am in a role that enables me to make positive change. Climate change is such a pressing issue, I would love to immediately work after graduation and accelerate my development to be as much of an asset in the fight against climate change as possible.

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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