Being a Returning Student: from Anxiety to Excitement

Hello! My name is Patricia and I am halfway through my third year at the University of Waterloo, taking civil engineering. I recently began my second co-op term with the Calgary district, having completed my first term in the fall of 2016. I am very fortunate to be returning to the same project, the Market Mall Renovations and Expansions. Returning to work for PCL and with the same project team has put a lot of my pre-work-term jitters to rest. It has made the transition from school to work much easier.
Baraniski-Patricia-Blog.jpgOn-site at the Market Mall Renovations and Expansions site​. 
Beginning any new co-op job can be stressful. Like many students, before working with PCL I had no previous construction experience. Many doubts ran through my mind before my first day last fall. What if my supervisor asks me a complicated question about steel or concrete? What if they expect me to be a whiz at understanding mechanical and electrical drawings? At the time, I had just finished my second year, and my classes had covered only the basics. Real world applications had been only briefly discussed. But I shouldn’t have worried. My lack of construction knowledge didn’t affect my ability to contribute to the team. Being motivated and working hard can go a long way in showing that you want to learn and gain experience. Everyone on the site was always willing to answer any of my million questions or explain to me what was happening on-site. So even if you think it is a dumb question, ask it anyway! It’s better to ask and participate than to sit in the dark.
When I started my work term last fall, the thought of being a woman working in a predominantly male industry made me nervous at first. While there have been big steps towards gender equality over the years, stereotypes do still exist. I had noticed them in interviews with other engineering companies, so I did have a few concerns before starting at PCL. What if I was the only girl on-site, and what if I was judged because of this? I’m not a girly girl by any means, but would I be accepted? For the first half of my term, I was in fact the only female on-site. But all of my coworkers were extremely respectful and treated me as an equal. My gender does not in any way impact my knowledge and ability to do my job. I am also able to look at things from a different perspective, which enhances the project.
So even though the first day had a stressful start, over the term I came to grow and learn. The entire team contributed to my positive experience. Because of them, I can read drawings, handle safety paperwork, submit RFIs, and price out changes, and have gained many other useful skills. My confidence is much higher than before, thanks to my project manager last term. He gave me the opportunity to lead a meeting with the client and, even though it didn’t go perfectly, was able to show me all the ways I could improve. Starting my second term with PCL has been different from the last term. This time, I was eagerly waiting to arrive on-site and see all the progress that has happened in my absence. On my first day, it was nice to be greeted by familiar faces, and I was able to be involved in the project right away. I went to a trade meeting within 30 minutes of arriving! I was also excited to see that my district started the “Women of PCL Calgary” initiative, to further motivate the women in construction. Returning to work for PCL for a second co-op will give me the opportunity to further develop my knowledge and skills. I hope to gain more experience working with concrete structures and scheduling. And, of course, explore the Rockies in the summer! So whether you are just starting for the first time or are a returning student, good luck on your work term, my fellow PCL students! Learn lots and have fun!

Patricia Baranoski
Engineering Student


  • Patricia, having you back is so wonderful. Your insightful comments on gender equality and mentoring are great. You are part of a tremendous team and I am sure they are enjoying having you on-site again.

    Maureen Heal


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