The journey from apprehensive new student to distinguished alumna

Kirsten Peck speaks to those gathered at the Distinguished Alumni Awards ceremony in February. (UVic Photo Services)

Kirsten Peck left her small hometown with some trepidation to pursue a degree in engineering at the University of Victoria. She didn’t have a lot of money, held a diploma from a high school that hadn’t offered certain key courses, and had never met an engineer. And, as one of four women in a graduating class of 125, she entered the challenging Electrical Engineering program as part of a minority.

Yet UVic’s supportive campus, strong academic program and integrated paid co-op work terms, along with Peck’s own talent and hard work, meant she had everything she needed to flourish.

“As a small-town Vernon girl, who didn’t come in with the same education as everyone else, UVic set up a foundation that allowed me to grow into who I was capable of being,” Peck told those gathered at the UVic Distinguished Alumni Awards ceremony in February.

“I was really thankful for the welcoming, close nature of this campus – it really allowed me to thrive.”

After graduating in 1993, Peck joined BC Hydro as an Engineer in Training. In the years since, she has held several roles at the Crown corporation, in areas such as risk management and generation asset management.

For the past seven years, she has led BC Hydro’s large engineering business unit, comprised of about 650 technical staff, where she has been accountable for the engineering associated with more than 350 complex refurbishment and growth-related capital projects on the utility’s electrical system. On the very day of the awards ceremony, Peck had started a new position as Senior Vice President, Safety and Chief Compliance Officer.

Not only has Peck clearly excelled in her career since leaving UVic, she has also made a point of staying connected with the campus.

“I think it’s really important to give back to your community – and giving back to UVic is part of that,” said Peck, who has been a guest lecturer for first-year engineering students, spoken with young women in the field, and hired numerous UVic students for co-op terms.

In fact, Peck co-sponsors both the co-op training and Engineer-in-Training programs at BC Hydro. She plays an important role at the provincial utility in supporting entry-level engineering talent and in helping internationally trained engineers integrate into the BC workplace.

BC Hydro hires about 25 co-op students per term across the business, some of them inevitably from UVic, as well as about 10 Engineers in Training.

When she’s not working, Peck coaches women’s soccer, sits on the board of the Fraser Valley Dirt Riders Association, provides weekend respite care for a delightful foster child and spends time with her family – many of whom also have ties to UVic. Her son is currently in third-year Engineering, her daughter and sister graduated from the Child and Youth Care program, and Peck was also married in the Interfaith Chapel.

Those strong ties, along with the happy memories from her time as an undergraduate student, made receiving one of the 12 Distinguished Alumni Awards of 2020 so meaningful.

“This is a really special honour,” Peck said. “UVic is a very special place for me – it’s part of my family.”