Engaged graduand builds resilience, skills from Earth to Space

June 04, 2019

“I was pretty shy when I first started university,” says graduand Tristan May. “But being a part of the bigger community at SFU helped me to gain confidence in myself.”

After starting his undergraduate studies in the arts, May followed his passion for technology into the School of Engineering Science, where he dove head-first into clubs and societies that gave him valuable personal and professional experience. He graduates this month, having built connections locally and internationally that position him for a successful career in systems engineering.

Early in his engineering program, May sought opportunities to contribute to robotics and satellite competitions. May served as the mission director for SFU’s Satellite Design Team on a project to launch a weather balloon 30,000 meters above the Interior of B.C. The team custom-built a remote control computer system to monitor the balloon as it captured valuable atmospheric pressure, humidity and temperature data.

Later, he was part of the team’s early contributions to the Canadian CubeSat Project. The initiative will see a miniature satellite — built in collaboration with teams from the University of Victoria and University of British Columbia — launched into space in 2021. These experiences helped May to build an appreciation for teamwork and collaboration, he says.

With a variety of Canadian experiences under his belt, May set his sights on something more international: a co-operative education work term at a manufacturing firm in Switzerland.

“It was my first time working in a professional environment and I had to learn to adapt very quickly. It was like doing the polar plunge,” he says, referring to the Engineering Science Student Society’s (ESSS’s) annual charity fundraiser that challenges participants to jump into the freezing-cold SFU pond each winter.

As a lifeguard, first responder and ski patroller in addition to his studies, May is always looking out for others. In his final year, he was elected president of the ESSS and soon turned his attention to student mental health.

“Mental illness can affect anybody, but it especially affects engineering students,” he explains. Engineering students are less likely to seek help for mental health challenges such as stress, anxiety or depression than students in other disciplines.

May initiated consultations and a survey with students and faculty to understand student stressors, and established tutoring workshops led by upper-year students to help new engineers navigate difficult courses and concepts in time for exams.

“If we can better support the students’ mental health during university, we’ll make better engineers,” he says.

For May, the university experience was about contributing to something bigger than himself.

He says, “I want to do work that has value in society and make an impact. My experience at SFU showed me that I can do that through engineering.”