Kirsten Krajnc

Civil Engineering, 3rd-year undergraduate student

Krajnc stands in a lab, wearing a lab coat and protective glasses. She holds a small steel column in front of her.
In UVic’s structure lab, Krajnc holds a steel specimen column that has been tested for strength on the Monotonic test frame machine behind her, which is capable of generating 200 metric tons of weight. (Photo: Armando Tura, taken before COVID-19 restrictions.)

As a teenager, Kirsten Krajnc says she had no idea what engineers did and in Grade 11 was all set to pursue a degree in environmental sciences.

At the time, her father was doing a government job swap at Indigenous Services Canada (ISC). The stories he told her about the high-impact work ISC engineers were doing turned her academic plans upside down.

Krajnc did a lot of research and rushed around to change courses at her high school in Delta BC so she could get into engineering. One of the main reasons she eventually chose UVic was for the hands-on experience provided through its co-op program.

“I wish I had known about engineering and understood it when I was younger,” she says. “The whole problem-solving aspect of engineering is so cool.”

Landing a job at Indigenous Services Canada

For her first co-op while at UVic, Krajnc was thrilled to get a position at ISC in Vancouver, working alongside the engineers who focus on community infrastructure. In one project, ISC needed to determine how 60 remote coastal bands would have the food and medical supplies they needed in case of a tsunami. ISC hired private companies to calculate the danger zone of such an event and where emergency supplies would need to be stored.

“I had to summarize the companies’ reports and turn their highly technical language into more everyday language,” she says. “It was so interesting and challenging, I really loved it.” Her report on her co-op term at ISC was eventually nominated for the Vancouver Island Engineering Societies Work Term Report Award.

Once back at UVic, a friend invited Krajnc to the First Peoples House on campus for a mixer with Gwaii Engineering. The Victoria company was so impressed with Krajnc and her experience at ISC that they offered her a co-op.

Taking on challenges at Gwaii Engineering

In a sense, she got two co-ops in one: Gwaii Engineering and Islander Engineering are two related companies, both housed in the same downtown location. Islander provides environmental and infrastructure engineering services for all types of clients, while Gwaii accepts a much broader variety of multi-faceted projects, but specifically for First Nation communities.

Krajnc got to do work for each company. At Islander, she focused on finding mitigation strategies as part of storm water management plans, which are needed when a new building changes the way water drains.

“It was a huge learning curve,” says Krajnc. “The amount I learned on the technical side was crazy!”

At Gwaii, her work involved creating a very large and detailed spreadsheet outlining all the types of grants available to Indigenous groups in BC.

“Gwaii is not a typical engineering company – they want to build long-lasting relationships with Indigenous communities to help make their lives better,” Krajnc explains. “Gwaii tries to help with anything, even if it’s outside of their usual services.”

A highlight of the co-op was when a supervisor at Gwaii asked her to travel by float plane to Sechelt to attend a career fair for Indigenous high school students. The same young woman who had known next to nothing about engineering a few years earlier, was now telling young people what it’s like to work in the field.

Advice for future students

While her co-ops provided amazing work experiences, life as a university student hasn’t been without its challenges. When she first started her degree, she was aware of being part of a minority as a woman in engineering. And Krajnc says she found first year challenging. The advice she’d give new students just starting out is to hang in there.

“I was scared going into first year and I let what people said about engineering worry me,” she says. “But you don’t have to be scared. There are a lot of resources to help and you don’t have to finish your degree in four years – you can go at your own pace.”

When she selected her program area, Krajnc found her niche. She says she loves being part of the Department of Civil Engineering – its newness and focus on sustainability.

“I never knew that asphalt and cement could be so cool!” she says, with a laugh.

Life off campus

While attending UVic, Krajnc’s greatest source of fun outside of school has been living in a big old house with seven roommates, all who happen to be male. The group cooks together, watches basketball, plays board games and goes bowling.

“It’s like living with a bunch of brothers, it’s the perfect living situation,” says Krajnc. “We have so much fun. For Halloween, we dressed up as Snow White and the seven dwarves and each of my roommates wore a toque with his dwarf name on it.”

Living through the pandemic

But, like just about everyone, Krajnc’s plans changed once COVID-19 restrictions came into effect. The co-op job she had lined up for summer 2020 at the Municipality of Delta’s utilities engineering department had to be cancelled. So, instead she’s living at home in Delta and taking some UVic courses online, while working part-time alongside her best friend.

“It’s certainly not the summer I had envisioned, but I’m trying to make lemonade out of lemons and am feeling very lucky to have this time with my best friend, Emma,” said Krajnc. She says she may return to Victoria in September even though her courses will be online in order to study with some of her UVic roommates and replicate a “school” environment.

“I am disappointed that I won’t be able to see all my peers come September, but I understand the university has our best interests at heart and made the right decision overall.”

Making an impact in the future

Krajnc doesn’t know precisely what she wants to do after graduation, but she does have a sense of how she wants to make a difference.

“I hope to make an impact in terms of the environment and also to influence and encourage girls to go into STEM,” she says.

Not long ago, she gave her cousin’s four-year-old, Monroe, a book called “Rosie Revere Engineer.” Monroe, nicknamed Roe, has since memorized the story and says she wants to be an engineer when she grows up, just like Kirsten.

“I’ve seen that I literally have made a difference in a four-year-old’s life. I’d like to make a difference in others girls’ lives too,” Krajnc says. “To be able to be a role model for Roe or for other girls makes me so happy. I’m really passionate about that.”

2020Jun18 AT

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