This month The Professional Edge chats with Alena Sherwood, P.Eng., an electrical engineer working for PWA Engineering.
Tell us about your personal and professional background.
I was born and raised and have lived almost my whole life in Saskatoon. I went to Walter Murray High School and to the University of Saskatchewan.
Why did you choose engineering?
In high school, I wasn’t specifically looking at engineering but I wanted something that involved math and science as those were my strong subjects and engineering seemed to be a good fit.
Did you have engineers in the family who influenced you?
Not at all. My family is mostly lawyers. My parents are both lawyers. One of my brothers and my sister are lawyers. Both my grandfathers were lawyers and I have an aunt who’s a lawyer. So professionally I’m a bit of an oddball in the family.
What was your first job after college?
I first worked for an engineering firm in Yellowknife doing building electrical design for new construction. I was still quite green and learned a great deal about things like AutoCAD and site inspection. But I only worked there for few months before coming back to Saskatoon in 2003 to work for PWA. I’ve been with them ever since.
What was it like to live in Yellowknife?
It was basically like any other North American city except for the long days in summer when the sun hardly set at all. You would see people playing tennis at 11 pm. Aside from that, it reminded me of being in lake country in Waskesiu.
What is your greatest accomplishment as an engineer?
I did the electrical design work for a new school and I was invited to the grand opening. Walking around, I overheard teachers talking about how they appreciated the attention to detail – how the light switches were well designed and the electrical outlets were all in convenient places. That was a proud moment for me because that’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about – making sure buildings are designed to fit the needs of the people who are using them.
What are your interests outside of work?
I volunteer for the Stonebridge community association, where I’m currently the president. I’m also very involved in a local organization called FEAT – Female Engineers, Architects and Technicians. It’s a lunch group that lets us try out different restaurants while also networking and mentoring with our female peers in the technical professions.
Have you ever met anyone famous?
My brother is friends with Brent Butt. He’s wonderful person.
Was your brother Brent Butt’s lawyer?
No, this is my other brother who is a standup comedian, so they met on the comedy circuit.
What is your favourite vacation spot?
Waskisiu. My parents have a cabin there so that is our main vacation spot. My other favourite vacation spot is Disneyworld. I’m a total Disney nerd and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been there. I love planning the trips because the park is so overwhelming that you need a solid plan to optimize the trip.
Who is your favourite Disney character?
Eeyore. His temperament appeals to me.
What is your favourite book?
A Pattern Language is a book on architecture, urban design and community livability with contributions from a number of authors. Architecture and community design are side interests of mine since in my work I need to think a great deal about the layout of buildings and rooms. The book talks about designing public spaces so people will actually use them, so people feel truly engaged and drawn to those spaces.
What do you do for continuing professional development?
I watch a lot of webinars especially about lighting. I regularly attend conferences as well as on-site and off-site training for new systems. I’m also involved in mentoring grade 12 students who are considering going into engineering.
Who has had the greatest influence on your life and career?
My main mentor in my professional life has been Jeremy Halls, P.Eng., the president at PWA. He’s taught me everything I know about design. I am also inspired by Tara Reichert. P.Eng. and Carleen Bartel, P.Eng., the two women engineers who founded FEAT.
In my personal life, my husband has been a great influence. He’s also an engineer who works for Cameco. He has always been very supportive and I’m inspired by the work he does and how he has become a successful professional. I also owe a great deal to my mother. Even though she is a busy lawyer, she takes time off to help look after my two young boys which has given me the freedom to succeed in my own career.BACK TO TOP