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Every day is new and exciting: An interview with Danielle Leslie
Kristen McGillivray, Western Canada Water
Meet Danielle Leslie, a Civil Engineer in Training with Stantec Consulting Ltd. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering (while on a hockey scholarship…give it up for student-athletes). Danielle and I first met in 2017 when she volunteered as the Facilities Chair for the 2018 Western Canada Water Conference. We attended a Winnipeg Jets game together after a meeting and a bond was formed over our mutual love of hockey (we both played collegiate hockey). As we continued to work together, I was impressed with her reliability and work ethic (she also has a great sense of style and I would raid her closet any day). I hope to see Danielle continue to evolve and grow through her career and become an even stronger ambassador for both the water community and women in STEM.
Q. What was your first job after graduation? Did you learn anything that you couldn’t in a classroom?
A. I’m still working at my first job out of graduation. I was lucky enough to spend two summer terms working for Stantec in the field, so it was a great transition out of University. When I first started working for Stantec full-time, I was put into a much different role then my previous stints, whereas I was working more in design and project management opposed to fieldwork. In a way, I was always had trouble wondering why I went to university for engineering when it seemed like my career was very unrelated to solving differential equations. However, one of the most major takeaways that came to life when I started working full-time was the problem-solving skills. Yes, I had practiced these on a much smaller scale in school, however, in the “real world” it seemed like there was much more at stake: time and money. If I was unable to finish an assignment in university, it was only myself that it affected. If I was unable to finish a task at work, it would be affecting my supervisor, and in turn, the client. It all comes back to making money as a business.
When you’re in university, you practice problem-solving skills that you apply daily, however, time management and the workflow is something that is usually an unfamiliar topic that you need to master quickly in order to be successful in the business.
Q.What sparked your interest to pursue a career in the water industry? Can you describe a moment where you realized this was the field you wanted to work in?
A. Fortunately, civil engineering is a very broad discipline. I didn’t realize how specific these different lines of work would be until I started working full-time at Stantec. As I mentioned earlier, I worked for Stantec two consecutive summers and during that time, I worked for the “Community Development” sector of Stantec. I was mostly involved with on-site work related to design and construction of various sub-divisions throughout Winnipeg. It’s also important to mention that when I completed these summer terms with Stantec, this was within my first two years at university, so the study of engineering was very brief and general at this time. However, when I was working with Stantec, I enjoyed the work that I was doing daily. So really, my interest to pursue water, indirectly came from my summer job with Stantec. When it came time to apply for a full-time position, I couldn’t get hired with the Community Development sector, but was recommended to apply for the “Water” sector. At the time, I was told that it was very similar to the Community Development sector, but on a much larger scale. So, I was sold and fortunately, I was hired. To my surprise and relief, my new job that I was about to start was much more than I could have ever imagined.
Working in Water
Q. What excites you most about working in the water industry?
A. I’ve had the pleasure of working with and meeting so many great people who work in this industry. I find the work itself to be challenging and motivating, so that excites me to get up and go to work every day. One of the more important things is the people I get to work with. I enjoy being around a team setting and I like accomplishing goals and excelling in projects together. Also, I get to work with so many different people from different disciplines. Knowing that every day will be new and exciting is what I look forward to most in my career in this industry.
Q. What are some surprising misconceptions about your job?
A. Going into my job, I wasn’t sure what my day-to-day schedule would look like, but I quickly came to realize that my job is as independent or as dependent as I want it to be. I was given the great opportunity to work on so many new tasks with various projects. There are many opportunities to learn new skills while working on these projects, and depending on what you’re working on, you’re also able to find what works best for you to get the task complete. Another great resource that I took advantage of was the support from my colleagues. As a new employee, it took a little while to figure out what worked best for me to keep me challenged but to also keep me working efficiently. Another misconception is that I was worried it would take me longer to settle in and feel more comfortable with my job, as I was starting to work with all new people and work on projects and tasks, I wasn’t familiar with. To my surprise, I adjusted quickly to my job and new colleagues.
Q. How have you seen the water industry evolve since you first joined?
A. Within my department sector at Stantec (Water and Wastewater Design), many projects I’m involved with are focused on providing critical infrastructure in First Nation communities. Fortunately, water and wastewater treatment facilities and distribution systems seem to be a focus. In my three years at Stantec, it has become more apparent that the government is prioritizing providing these types of infrastructure and has put an emphasis on providing enough resources to allow the populations to have access to this infrastructure. More and more, projects of these type continue to be advertised for tender, and I believe it is crucial to provide all Canadians with clean drinking water. Wastewater treatment is a whole other animal, but one that I’ve seen evolve in my three years with Stantec.
Q. How do you respond to constructive criticism?
A. Constructive criticism is important to help us grow and learn. It’s not always easy to hear criticism, so I always keep in mind that feedback will make me a better engineer. Anything that is reviewed and commented on can be noted for moving forward and allows you to work towards perfecting your craft.
Q. Thinking about career progression, what are some of your fears? How do you respond to them?
A. As a woman, I feared my gender alone could negatively affect my career progression. In the future, I’d like to have family (which will require me to take time away from work) and I was concerned how that might affect career. In order to become more educated on how to navigate my future, I opted to meet and discuss my concerns with successful women in the industry to get their take and experience on progressing their careers, while maintaining a healthy work-life-family balance. It seems that if you are able to communicate affectively with your supervisor (so you both understand the expectation of what that work-life-family balance will look like in the future), they experienced minimal issues with balancing a family and a successful career. Their experience gave me peace of mind.
Q. What do you think the key to being a leader is?
A. I believe a leader is a person who understands, acts with integrity and inspires others. Someone who understands what it is that they want to achieve, who works hard, says what they’re going to do and follows through, is honest, and who is able to believe that others can also do the same.
Q. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
A. I’m currently working in the field, overseeing construction of a new water treatment plant. I didn’t have the chance to work on the design for my current project, but I’m able to observe it come to life from paper. Although construction is ongoing, it makes me feel proud that I’ve been able to oversee and lead the project to its current state and will continue to work on it to completion.