It’s hard to believe that there was ever anything average about Radu Postole – engineer, sailor, polyglot, traveler. However, when he began his Integrated Engineering degree at the University of British Columbia in 2007 he insists that he was, at best, a mediocre student. All that changed when he became involved with the UBC Engineering Co-op Program. By the end of a series of co-op work terms, and as he launched into his final year of academic studies, Radu was an A-student on the Dean’s honour roll.
“While I was in the classroom, I had trouble seeing the big picture of how to apply the knowledge that we were being taught,” he says. Radu joined the Engineering Co-op Program. The hands-on experience that he gained from his first four-month and subsequent eight- and four-month work terms caused him to have an epiphany.
“After Co-op I went back to school and suddenly it dawned on me how all the academic learning is applicable in the real world. The important thing is to use that body of knowledge to create real solutions that address the pressing needs in society,” he says.
Radu’s first co-op work term was in Germany in 2009. He knew that he wanted to work in Europe and set about researching a German government recruiting database called DAAD to find a company that interested him. Co-op helped him secure a position with the GKSS research centre that works on producing lightweight, magnesium alloys to be used in the manufacturing of cars. Radu feels that this first position is the most vital in any engineering student’s path.
“The first placement is the hardest to find,” he says. “The pool is big and you’re a newbie with no previous experience.”
This also makes the first placement the most valuable, according to Radu, as it is a way of ‘getting your foot in the door’ and gaining real experience. Working at GKSS affected Radu in a myriad of positive ways. He had the opportunity to travel across Europe, work with people from all over the world and develop relationships with his co-workers thus garnering good reviews that helped him secure positions further down the line. It was also stimulating for Radu to be involved in cutting-edge research that produces lightweight cars that reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and our impact on the environment. The work, along with his interest in sustainability, fostered a life-long passion to pursue the field of alternative energy technologies.
Radu talks about the transferability of experiences that he gained while in co-op. His four-month work term in Germany helped him transfer to an eight-month work term in the Physics and Astronomy Department at UBC. He saw the posting while still in Germany, did the long-distance phone interview while sitting in a tent late at night at the edge of the Black Sea “with the sound of clinking bottles and splashing water outside” and secured the position as a teaching assistant for the next tranche of his co-op journey. UBC hired Radu because of the hands-on experience he already gained in Germany.
During his second work term at the lab in UBC, Radu designed and constructed demos to help professors explain complex engineering principles to first and second year Engineering and Physics students. He learned how to communicate difficult concepts in a clear and engaging way to students and was able to parlay his experience into securing the final four-month co-op work term. One of the professors he met while working as a teacher’s assistant was affiliated with the Structured Surface Physics laboratory. One day a job posting on the UBC Engineering Co-op web site caught Radu’s eye. It was with an alternative energy project called the Solar Canopy Project which works on drawing sunlight deep into the bowels of buildings by using arrays of mirrors and reflective light pipes. He was immediately interested.
“The professor put in a good word for me which proves how important networking can be,” says Radu. “Networking may seem like a challenge at first but by meeting people and staying in touch, you make great connections, even friendships,” he insists.
On this final four-month co-op work term Radu was able to prove himself further. He was also able to refine his hands-on and technical skills and ended up getting his first ‘real’ job with a local start-up company called SunCentral, where he helped to develop the UBC solar lighting technology into a marketed product. He has recently moved on from there to his latest position at Morrison Hershfield where he works on making buildings more efficient by analyzing heat flow in 3D and helping set new construction standards and guidelines for architects and engineers. He also volunteers with the Tetra Society of North America, using his skills to build assistive devices for people with disabilities.
Radu is a UBC Engineering Co-op enthusiast.
“The staff taught me how to shake a hand properly, write an excellent resumé, conduct a good interview. They taught me how to market myself to an employer and that there may be times when you have to compromise a bit to get a position but there is always something to take away from a work experience.”
He notes that some friends did not participate in Co-op and had difficulty not only finding a job after graduation but also discovering what they are really passionate about. Radu’s many experiences gave him the luxury of finding the field of expertise that he relishes and gives him great satisfaction. The UBC Engineering Co-op Program builds many doors for students like Radu Postole to knock upon. After that it’s up to the individual to step through the door and turn on the light.