Trailblazing grad continues work on campus

If you follow our student bloggers, the name Rosa Lin should be a familiar one. Rosa was a BCIT student blogger for the School of Construction and the Environment in 2013-2014 as she worked to complete her master's degree. Rosa has the remarkable distinction of being the first person to graduate from the Master of Applied Science in Building Engineering/Building Science program at BCIT. In fact, her work was so highly regarded by the faculty in Building Science, that they didn't want to let her leave. Instead, after graduation, she was hired as a research analyst for Dr. Maureen Connelly, director, faculty, at the BCIT Centre for Architectural Ecology.

Rosa (second from left) at the February 2015 BCIT convocation ceremony with her classmates and thesis supervisor (and new boss), Dr. Maureen Connelly (third from left).

We checked in with Rosa recently to see what her work has entailed since graduating last fall, and the path that led her to engineering in the first place. Here is what Rosa had to share:

What made you choose the field of engineering?
My grandfather was a head civil engineer so I was exposed to job sites from an early age and was fascinated by the process. I knew by grade 11, when we had to select our courses for the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, that I had enough confidence and the math/science aptitude to choose courses that would be suitable to engineering.

Why did you select BCIT for your engineering studies?
BCIT offered a very unique master's degree in Building Science, which was a good compliment to my undergrad degree in architecture (from U.C. Berkeley). I was also fortunate to get a scholarship for the master's program. The scholarship was for a research project on laneway housing, and my background fulfilled the requirements.

I was originally going to do a one year Master of Engineering but my supervisor encouraged me to do the two year Master of Applied Science (Building Science) because of my background and the scholarship incentive. At that time I didn't know anything about acoustics, but Dr. Connelly strongly encouraged me to pursue this subject, and it ended up being the topic of my master's thesis. My background experience (aside from my architecture degree) was in working for real estate developers, which gave me experience communicating design concepts with architects, engineers and construction teams. I wasn't satisfied with just being a communicator though – I wanted to figure out how a building was engineered and to get involved in the design, and I knew I needed to go back to school to achieve that.

What was your experience like at BCIT?
Extremely intense! I had to stay extra focused, and had to develop more maturity and soft skills to handle the pressure. No matter how difficult the classes, my priority was to stay focused and work hard. My previous experience at demanding schools such as U.C. Berkeley and high-pressure jobs helped me deal with the intense work load.  The great thing was that everything I was learning was new to me; this excitement about learning new material inspired me to persevere all the way through and to do my best in completing my degree.

What were your favourite aspects of the program at BCIT?
The program offered a comprehensive, well-rounded range of core and elective courses in building science subjects, and required students to conduct very unique, innovative, yet practical research projects. I also love that instructors came from industry. That meant the technology was up to date and could be applied immediately. The things we were learning were what was desired and required in the field today. The core coursework was applied and very practical; even the theoretical parts were crucial knowledge for practical application.

Did you have any instructors that had any special influence in your career path/development?
Dr. Maureen Connelly – particularly during my acoustics thesis, but also now as I work with her on ongoing research. As I worked through my thesis, I started to realize that acoustics is not only very important (and very often overlooked), but also great fun. Like learning to play an instrument, you have to invest a lot of time into learning the craft and mastering skills before it becomes fun. With Maureen's support and the opportunity to forge into new territory with my thesis subject, I ended up finding great pleasure in acoustics and it is definitely an area that I would like to include in my career path.

Additionally, I am very honoured to have a female leader/role-model as my supervisor. Maureen isn't only a wonderful mentor, but also an inspiration and living example of a brilliant and successful female professional in science and engineering who knows the difficulties in balancing her work, life, and family demands, and manages to pull it off.

What projects were you involved in during your studies?
My master's thesis was based on noise issues and acoustical health in laneway housing, which is very relevant locally. I also had the opportunity to work with people from the City of Vancouver who have the power to improve our current legislation, as one of the city's building officials sat on my thesis review committee. I am proud to say that the thesis has now been published and is a supporting document for the City as new policies are developed.

Rosa with some of the equipment used to complete her Master's thesis on laneway housing acoustics.

Some of my earlier studies included research into ventilation (HVAC) technology in commercial kitchens. I analyzed common Asian restaurant kitchens around my neighborhood and performed extensive literature review on the performance of these kitchen ventilation systems. Typically, very high power furnaces (we jokingly call them airplane engine furnaces) with enormous flames are used in wok-cooking, so I researched the air quality and environmental comfort that the kitchen staff were exposed to, and how these commercial kitchen ventilation systems should be designed (in theory).

I also conducted energy efficiency analysis of advanced day-lighting technology. There are special lights on the NE25 building here on campus that I did the analysis on, which deliver natural daylight or sunlight into deep parts of the building interior, reducing the need for electrical lighting.

Tell me about the transition from graduating at BCIT and your current place of employment.
To continue putting what I learned into practice, I felt it was best to stay on and contribute to research at BCIT. With acoustics, a lot of the technology, software, and standards are very specialized and unique, so I learned a lot of things on my own. I was forging new frontiers and often felt like an explorer. It is great to be able to keep the knowledge here and to keep developing and advancing that. Also, all Master of Building Science students at BCIT are exploring new developments/technologies, which is very exciting to stay close to and be a part of.

Aside from acoustics, I'm also very interested in daylighting, air quality, and living architecture like green roofs and green walls – all building science subjects that are integrated here at BCIT. I take great pleasure in working on the current research and sustainability projects in development and being an advocate for building acoustics and smart, sustainable architecture. We are currently putting up an Elevated Lab for student learning, with many green roof plots and green wall systems. All the plants will be irrigated by a new rainwater harvesting system, to be built by students. I will be managing these projects, which I am very excited about.

What inspires you?
Learning! I love learning about how things work, what benefits they can bring, what the challenges are and how we can improve things. I also love discovering new information and developing new technologies that others can use to improve our building environment.

What do you hope to achieve in the field of engineering before you retire?
I would love to get my PhD one day and perhaps teach. I would also be very interested in helping connect international technology institutions together in technology or student exchanges, which could be a great learning experience for students. New Zealand has similar weather to ours so we may have something to learn from their building envelope technology. Any international collaboration of this nature would be very exciting to be a part of.

If building engineering/building science sounds like the ideal career path for you, check out the many programs available at BCIT: https://www.bcit.ca/path/engineering/