Amber Robson is a Chemical Engineer who works for Environment Canada.
Back in high school she did not know what to do for a career,.
“I grew up in a small town in Saskatchewan where there was not a lot of focus to get a professional career. After high school I worked as a waitress, for three years, in various bars in restaurants in Saskatoon. While working, I met up with someone who talked about how he liked engineering. He was a civil engineer student at university and was very enthusiastic his courses and this seemed to fill him with energy. I was very inspired by his education.”
This discussion got Amber thinking about engineering and to gain further insight into this field she talked to an uncle who studied engineering as well as other friends who were in engineering. Through these discussions she realized that she did well in high school math and sciences. Amber went ahead and applied for university right away as it made sense with the skills she had. I asked her how she decided which stream of engineering to pick.
“I had an interest in the environment and areas that were suffering like oil, gas, chemicals and manufacturing, these are the core of the environmental issues. Chemical engineering provides the most opportunity to work in these areas. If there is a plant spewing chemicals then chemical engineering puts me in a position to help out.”
So why chemical engineering, and not environmental engineering, I asked? It turns out that there was no environmental engineering program at the university Saskatchewan. Also, environmental sciences, is more about the effects of destruction and that is not the area that interested her.
“It was scary at first as I had forgotten all my math skills. I tried a little, slowly at first, and gave myself time to work extra hard on those courses. The first few courses went super well and I dug in deeper for the next term. I built up my confidence and with a little bit of effort it came back quickly. The first year was challenging as I was working part time as I was on my own supporting myself. I realized that I could do this and took 5 years to finish.”
She had one summer position in Belgium to work at an academic institution to do research on bio filtration. Bio Filtration is an air pollution remediation technology – it uses microorganisms to degrade pollutions in air.
“It was amazing as I got to work with a research team and in Europe as well. I was doing research for the European scientific community that gave me exposure to another wing of engineering, microbiology.”
Amber graduated and took French language training and moved to Halifax where worked for a Civil engineering firm. She was a Lab Technologist and Site Technician and gained some experience with environmental testing which did not interest me very much.
“The kind of environmental testing I did was at a micro level, testing soils, waters and it didnâ€™t offer an opportunity to look at the grander issues. This was on a site by site basis and I worked there for six. I also started a masters in Chemical Engineering on bio fuels and it seemed like a closer opportunity to what I wanted. Around the same time I got a job offer at Environment Canada, so moved to Ottawa for this.”
At Environment Canada Amber worked in the Chemicals Controls Branch, where she worked on risk management of toxic substances, VOC (volatile organic compounds in paints, coatings, consumer cleaning products, printing industry, automotive industry. The other aspect of her job is to look at regulating content of products.
The other interesting project that she worked on was looking at road salts and working with industry on best practices to reduce the amount spread on roads in winter.
“I research how VOCs are used in industrial products, how they are manufactured, consumed. I consult web sites, talk to industry associations, industry. I also look at existing regulations from other jurisdictions. Discussions with industry have to be kept confidential as I review established processes. My department develops codes of practice and guidelines on the amount that is safe to use. New chemicals and techniques were researched and methods that were applied.”
“I started to work on green house gas reductions and then went on to work on climate change policy elements. I have now become a green gas expert!.”
In Amberâ€™s opinion, an education in engineering opens a lot of doors and being a chemical engineer is not restrictive as there are a lot of opportunities.
Amber is a fire performer and this evolved from her interest in dance and the arts.
“In university I started fire spinning taking different tools and lighting them and dancing with them. I do it part time professionally as well and this has given me opportunities to travel and do fire spinning. Itâ€™s a second job.”