SFU MSE graduate Peter Johnston is applying his clean-tech skills at Surrey-based Volta Air Technology, developing advanced eco-friendly heating and cooling systems for vehicles.

Mechatronics grad among those landing plum jobs at home

February 28, 2017

By Marianne Meadahl, SFU News

When Peter Johnston turned his childhood interest in gadgets and robots into a career as a product engineer for Volta Air Technology, he joined the nearly 85 per cent of SFU Mechatronics Systems Engineering (MSE) graduates who’ve stepped into jobs after graduation. Even sweeter, the company is based in Surrey, where he grew up, giving him the opportunity to apply and advance his clean-tech skills at home.

Johnston enrolled in the MSE program—now in its 10th year—after graduating from Semiahmoo Secondary School in 2008. He joined Surrey-based Volta Air as a newly-minted SFU grad in 2013. The company specializes in developing efficient and eco-friendly advanced heating and cooling solutions.

Johnston works on developing products and components, such as controllers for electric refrigeration units that help reduce operational and servicing costs while also decreasing greenhouse gases. Helping companies save money and care for the environment are added benefits to doing what he loves.

“Since starting here after graduation, the company has advanced from no-idle air-conditioning to electric refrigeration, and on to hybrid and all-electric, and now with solutions like solar and lithium batteries we’re working to create the best possible efficiencies,” says Johnston.

While a student, he worked with SFU professor Erik Kjeang and the City of Surrey’s engineering team on a life-cycle analysis of the city’s fleet vehicles to determine their environmental impact and create efficiencies. That led to major changes in fleet delivery and resulted in a new tool to better understand emission effects and lifecycle costs.

“The MSE program opens many doors in engineering fields, and, at the same time, the need for graduates with this plethora of skills is so highly in demand,” says school director Farid Golnaraghi. “Students like Peter not only fill this need but represent the next generation of creative and talented innovators and developers, and companies recognize this.”

The MSE program’s success rate is impressive. As of April 2016, program statistics show that at least 212 of its 252 graduates are employed. The remainder are continuing with graduate studies, or their next steps are unknown.

More than 10 per cent have found jobs internationally, with such leading companies as Tesla, Apple, Space-X and Google, where many first undertook co-op terms (15-20 per cent of co-ops placements are with international companies. In 2017, there are currently 17 MSE co-op students working abroad, with companies like Tesla.

Several graduates are working across Canada, while two-thirds (164) have landed jobs with Metro Vancouver companies. Volta Air has also hired additional graduates.

“You never know where the degree will lead you,” says Johnston, who stays connected with his SFU colleagues, many of whom are working locally. “It’s a great feeling when you can step into the workforce and have the opportunity to use what you’ve learned to make a difference.”