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Leading the Change

Posted by Stephanie Rogers on March 28, 2019 in News
Natural born leader Sarah van den Heuvel.
Natural born leader Sarah van den Heuvel.

By Emma Geldart

A natural born leader and second year engineering student at Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture (Dal AC), Sarah van den Heuvel (Class of ’19) is determined to advocate for fellow engineering students.

“I want to be able to help engineering students like myself get as much as possible out of their educational experience,” Sarah explains.

For Sarah, the journey of becoming an environmental engineer is more than just the classroom experience. Sarah has embraced student life at Dal AC and has stepped into a leadership role to help engage her peers. A go-getter herself, Sarah is determined to help other students embrace the extracurricular activities that are available to them. As co-president of the Engineering Society, Sarah works to better the society for fellow engineering students and help her peers to understand the benefits of getting involved outside of the classroom.

“I believe that by making engineering students aware, encouraging them to take advantage of opportunities and making such opportunities accessible is my way of investing in future engineers and hopefully making the environment we live in a better place,” Sarah explains. “Being involved on campus is truly enriching and incredibly rewarding,” she adds. “I have learned so many life skills and developed both as a leader and young professional through my involvement on campus.”

Sarah was one of four team members who recently returned from Ontario after claiming the top spot at the annual Canadian Engineering Competition (CEC). The team competed against seven other teams from across Canada in the Junior Team Design category.

“We were very excited when we qualified for the CEC at Waterloo and even more excited when we came first place at the competition to defend the national title for the third year in a row for Dal AC!” said Sarah. “It was such an amazing experience and I am so proud of my teammates.”

A recipient of the Atlantic Farm Mechanization Show Undergraduate Scholarship, Sarah’s leadership extends beyond her extracurricular involvement Sarah also works hard to set herself as an example for women in engineering. In the past, engineering could often be perceived as a male dominated industry. But that is slowly changing with the help of women like Sarah.

“I certainly notice more males within the industry, in my classes and at the conferences I attend,” Sarah explains. “I wouldn’t consider it a male dominated industry though, because women are on the rise and fully capable of doing all the same things, maybe even better. I really do try my hardest to make myself an example for women in engineering and to break any associated stigmas.”  

As an aspiring environmental engineer, Sarah hopes to better the environment in which we live and work. She hopes to help create a sustainable future for the environment. Environmental engineering combines scientific and engineering principles to protect human health, protect nature's beneficial ecosystems, and improve environmental-related enhancement of the quality of human life.

“My favorite part of engineering is the endless possibilities of what engineers are able to do,” Sarah explains. “There are endless possibilities waiting within engineering if you are willing to work hard.”

Growing up on a small hobby farm in Antigonish, N.S., Sarah developed a passion for animals, the environment and agriculture. With this passion in mind, Sarah always envisioned herself as veterinarian. It wasn’t until she got a taste of the everyday tasks of a vet that she reconsidered her career choice.

“I was in grade eleven and I offered to help my riding coach give one of the horses a needle and I realized that I didn’t quite have the stomach to be a vet,” Sarah laughs. “My mom actually suggested engineering because of my strengths in math, sciences, and problem solving. I love to be outdoors and am interested in field work, so environmental engineering was the clear choice for me.”

Now set to graduate this May, Sarah is ecstatic to continue her engineering journey at Dalhousie University in Halifax next year. After completion of the diploma program at Dal AC, engineering students have the option to complete an additional three years of studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax to earn a Bachelor of Engineering degree. Their studies also include the opportunity to gain valuable work experience through three co-op work terms.

“I’m very excited to do the co-op program and get real-life experience in several work places to see where my true skills and interests are,” Sarah says. “I am hoping to have the opportunity to work outside of Halifax, maybe even outside of Nova Scotia and Canada, so I can really experience and learn as much as possible.”