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Grad profile: Engineering solutions for fellow students

Posted by Theresa Anne Salah on May 27, 2024 in News
Phoenix Doucet-Bernard. (Provided photo)
Phoenix Doucet-Bernard. (Provided photo)

This article is part of a series focusing on the grads of the Dalhousie Class of 2024. Spring Convocation runs from May 21 to 31 in Halifax and Truro. Read all our profiles here in one place as they are published, and for more information visit the Convocation website.

Phoenix Doucet-Bernard's journey through the Mechanical Engineering program at Dalhousie has been one of advocacy and a deep commitment to community.

Graduating from Dalhousie's undergraduate program this week, it’s those experiences he’ll carry forward as he begins a new chapter in his life. This one beginning at CBCL Limited. 

Building on the experience gained during his co-op terms, Phoenix's new position with the Halifax-based company involves working with Indigenous communities across the Atlantic region to evaluate and enhance their water-treatment systems. The position allows him to give back to the communities that mean so much to him.

“Membertou First Nation helped me fund my university experience, and to me personally, it feels like I'm giving back to my community and honouring what they invested in me,” says Phoenix, who is of Indigenous heritage. Born in Nova Scotia, he spent his youth between Cape Breton and Bedford. After high school, he applied for the Membertou Post Secondary Support Program, which enabled him to pursue an engineering degree without financial stress.

“I was very fortunate that Membertou paid for my university experience, and because I was getting that privilege, I thought I should use that time to improve the lives of those who had to pay for it.”

And that’s exactly what Phoenix accomplished during his time at Dal Engineering.

A commitment to advocacy

Although the first year of his degree was abruptly disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the shift from in-person classes to online learning sparked the beginning of a new journey for Phoenix. Recognizing the need for better communication and support for students struggling with the transition to online education, he began championing for his fellow classmates.

“I got very used to talking with professors to get simple things like office hours or information about exams. Soon, classmates began turning to me to ask questions on their behalf,” he explains. “And that started me down the track of student advocacy.”

From there, he joined the Dalhousie Engineering Society (DUES), first as a Senate representative and later as vice president of academic affairs. Throughout his time, he worked tirelessly to address student concerns and implement meaningful changes. His efforts included pushing for smaller bursaries to assist students balancing coursework, part-time jobs, and advocating for policy changes within the department.

“During my time in student politics, I successfully implemented significant changes to student-feedback processes and the procedures for escalating academic issues,” he says. “I worked towards an environment where student concerns and issues could be properly addressed, and working with faculty, possible solutions could be worked towards.”

“I’ve always tried standing up for the ‘little guy’ and push hard to make sure people have what they need and what they deserve,” he adds.

While his advocacy efforts were driven by his experience of gratitude to his community, he also hoped to do more to represent other Indigenous students at Dalhousie. 

Advancing access to engineering

Last Fall, Phoenix was invited to join a new advisory council formed to support the Indigenous stream of Dalhousie Engineering’s new Inclusive Pathways of Engineering Careers Program. The program, launching in September, aims to remove barriers and increase access to an engineering education for Indigenous youth.

“I want to see more First Nations people in engineering positions, people from my community,” says Phoenix, adding that he knew few students in the engineering program who had identified as Indigenous.

“I was lucky, I never felt alone on campus, and I recognize that is a privilege,” he adds. “I had some of my best friends to turn to when times were tough. That’s a privilege some don’t have.” 

He’s hopeful that will soon change.

Phoenix says he’s excited about the future. With his new role at CBCL allowing him to balance his professional career with ongoing community advocacy work, he looks forward to the impact he can have on Indigenous students at Dal.

“There’s a lot of work to be done but I think that the advisory council that Dalhousie has is very promising,” he says. “There are a lot of people who are very wise, very knowledgeable and I’m glad to be able to sit amongst members and have peers on that advisory council who represent my community and my family.”