Urban Studies Program

SFU alumnus Darren Proulx finds career success combining engineering and urban studies know-how

November 28, 2023

SFU Urban Studies alumnus Darren Proulx has had an exciting career in which he’s used both his knowledge of mechanical engineering and urban studies to be successful. In 2022, he worked on the award-winning Tank Hill Emergency Restoration Project in British Columbia and he’s currently working on the On-Corridor (OnCorr) Project in Ontario.

After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Alberta, Proulx landed a job as a project engineer for an oil sands company. However, after several years with the business, he started having doubts about his career trajectory.

“While it was good experience learning how to do project management and interface with all the disciplines and produce deliverables, it wasn’t where my passion was,” says Proulx.

He decided that SFU’s Urban Studies Program aligned with his values, so he applied to the Master of Urban Studies Program and began his studies in 2012. In the two years it took Proulx to complete his master’s, he learned concepts and techniques that would help him in the years to come. For example, his thesis paper focused on the Washington Capital Bikeshare trip pattern analysis and ArcGIS visualization around high frequency transit and separated cycling lanes.

“It really helped me learn the kind of stuff I’m doing now in terms of network planning, just knowing how to work with data, and visualizing it,” says Proulx.

Also, after taking an ethnography course with Professor Emeritus Noel Dyck, he developed a better understanding of different learning styles and cultural perspectives. This has helped Proulx in his role as a project manager. For example, he sometimes he finds that explaining concepts with visuals is more effective than just doing so orally.

Proulx says that good project management and collaboration were two key aspects to the success of another project he worked on with AECOM – the Tank Hill Emergency Restoration Project. In 2022, severe storms destroyed road and rail infrastructure near Lytton, British Columbia. After only eight weeks, the Trans-Canada Highway at the Tank Hill underpass was restored. As the engineer of record for the sign and pavement drawings, Proulx noted that many people worked long hours on the project, but also worked effectively together.

"This was an emergency project, so people threw their egos out the window,” he says. “Internally, from AECOM, the project won an award for collaboration.” 

For the last seven months, Proulx has been working at Hatch on the OnCorr project.

“We are redesigning the Lakeshore lines along Lake Ontario from Union Station all the way to Burlington Station in the west, all the way to Oshawa Station in the east,” he says. “This includes electrifying the lines, converting to two-way service, and increasing the frequency from 30 minutes to 15 minutes. This is big–the largest rail infrastructure project in North America.”

On this project, Proulx is working on the Union Station construction staging and needs to use his knowledge of mechanical engineering, architecture, and urban planning to be successful.

Proulx says he is also happy to see how successful former classmates have been since graduating from the Urban Studies Program.

“My cohort was a very close group,” he says. “A lot of people that were in my cohort have been rising through the ranks throughout B.C., so it’s good to see them being successful. I was in the thesis class with Jonathan Coté. It’s interesting that I critiqued a mayor’s thesis, not many people can say that.”