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Co-op Term: Spring and Summer 2020
1. Where did you work (Department/Organization name and location)?
I worked for the British Columbia Rapid Transit Company Ltd. (BCRTC), a subsidiary of TransLink, as the Student Asset Data Associate (GIS).
2. What was your role (what type of work did you do)? What were some of your responsibilities?
I worked in the Enterprise Asset Management team at the BCRTC. The team was formed in 2019 to work on the InforEAM project, creating a new asset management system which would modernize and improve the company's maintenance system while optimizing their annual budget.
There are nine departments that had to be individually worked on, so that meant nine smaller projects were all being worked on in different phases. For my first four months I supported these projects via data collection (GIS data points or searching for serial numbers on trains and power equipment), data post-processing and upkeep, and gathering documents for future projects.
During the last half of my co-op, I was assigned as co-lead for two of the nine projects. This was the departments for Rail and Rolling Stock. I had different responsibilities for both. Rail was a newer project, it concerned the maintenance of the SkyTrain guideway tracks, meaning there was more work to be done. As such I was responsible for planning and hosting stakeholder meetings, scheduling data collection, and training new team members in conducting data collection. Rolling Stock was one of the departments first projects as was in it's later stages, it concerned the maintenance of the train vehicles, so there was less work for me to do. All I had to do for this project was schedule data collection for any trains that require their to be data updated.
Although these projects became my main responsibility, the team alternated the schedules for all nine projects so I still conducted data collection to support other projects.
Between the end of July to the end of August, I was placed on night collection with six other team members. We were collecting data for the Rail project in areas that, due to safety reasons, cannot be accessed during day. It was a long and tough 6 weeks, but it was filled with a lot of fond memories coming from a collective Dunkirk spirit.
No two weeks were ever really alike, the nature of the whole InforEAM project made it so I was regularly doing something different. My supervisor often checked in with me to see if I ever wanted to try something new or different, and was very supportive in helping me achieve any goals I had.
3. How did the skills/knowledge developed in the classroom apply to your job? What did you learn?
Compared to my first co-op, this one required me to apply my technical and interpersonal skills more. I found my prior knowledge and experience gained from completing labs and group projects at SFU helped a lot with the tasks I was assigned. As the GIS student, I often found myself working with ArcMap and ArcGIS Online. Since GIS is a major component of the new maintenance system, it was crucial I maintained high attention to detail and communicated regularly with both my supervisor, the GIS supervisor, and my co-lead to ensure the data of excellent quality.
One subject I wished I had more knowledge in was engineering. The base infrastructural asset management technically revolves around engineering, so knowing more about mechanical engineering would have help me understand the work I do even more.
Being assigned as co-lead of two projects really helped me improve on my organizational, leadership, and public speaking skills. I also learned to use ArcGIS Pro as well, something SFU didn't have access to. Since the project was related to the maintenance of SkyTrain operations, I learned a lot about how rapid transit systems functions.
4. Can you share a challenge you faced in your Co-op and how you overcame it?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent a majority of my co-op working from home. The work environment was vastly different so I moved from a bustling team office to a quiet home office where communication with other team members tended to be over text, email, and skype messages. Although there isn't much that can be done about the work environment itself, I helped our manager with keeping up team spirit by giving suggestions on remote team-building exercises and games. This helped alleviate some of the feelings of isolation that came with working from home.
5. What was your most memorable Co-op experience?
My most memorable co-op experience would be the six weeks I spent on night shift collection with six other teammates. Between mid-March to the end of July, work tended to be done from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, because of the nature of overnight work, we were required to be in the office prior to going out for data collection. Though it was a tough and gruelling six weeks, we found ways to make it less taxing. Playing Catan, Big Two, and Uno during down time was a regular occurrence!
The bonding experiences shared through those weeks is something I will always cherish.
6. What have you learned through your Co-op experience?
Though I knew GIS had applications regarding transit mapping and planning, it was interesting to learn how it can also be applied to assist maintenance systems. The floor plans for all stations and maintenance shops and the guideway routes itself were all mapped out in high detail. What I and the other data collectors did was locate and input the locations of different assets that required maintenance. These data points would then help the technicians locate and identify specific assets in the future and as a result, know what equipment and materials to bring to conduct maintenance.
Additionally, I also learned that I highly enjoy conducting field work, regardless of rain or shine. It's always nice to not sit in the office for all 40 hours of the week, and there were always interesting sights to see from the guideway. My favourite sight would definitely be the view from the SkyBridge between Columbia and Scott Road station.
7. What advice do you have for future Co-op students?
Co-op is definitely one of the most fulfilling things you could do in university! It helps you with figuring out what you do and don't want to do, and encourages you to try new things.
Don’t be afraid to apply for jobs you feel you have minimal qualifications for! My major is geography and though the position was for GIS, the job description heavily implied they were looking for people with an engineering background. However, I found I had some transferrable skills so I fulfilled maybe 60-70% of the qualifications and applied anyways.