July 30, 2021
"Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story." - Josh Shipp
The ISA Edmonton Section is pleased to share featured member, Ana Stefanova's, automation journey - winner of the 2021 President's Leadership Award - in this featured member story.
"Ana started her involvement with ISA Edmonton Section 3 years ago. She is not only keeping our ISA Edmonton Student Section NAIT Chapter in great shape but also spurned revival of the U of A Chapter. She also provides fresh ideas and input to the board on a regular basis. Thank you Ana, this is well deserved award." - Arthur Kloc, ISA Edmonton Section 2020/2021 President
Ana is currently our ISA Edmonton Section Student Section Liaison (for NAIT and U of A), and our ISA NAIT Student Section Co-Advisor. She's been involved with the Student Section for several years now... she spearheaded the 2019 Student Industry Tour, and more recently, helped launch a new podcast initiative when the pandemic struck. We reached out to Ana to hear more from her about her career, how COVID-19 has affected it, and her involvement with the ISA Edmonton Section...
Why automation? What made you choose this industry?
I took mechanical engineering at the university in Skopje, Macedonia where I was born and raised. Pneumatics, Hydraulics and Automation sounded interesting and offered flexibility in terms of what kind of work one can do after graduation, and in what industry. During my final year of undergraduate studies I was involved in a research project to develop experiential techniques to capture phenomena occurring in gas-solid fluidized beds. I stayed in this research field for many years after graduation, pursuing a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, while working as a consultant on a national energy balances project for OECD in Skopje, Macedonia, and later a doctoral degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where I also worked as a teaching and research assistant. As opportunities presented, I found myself specializing in instrumentation engineering. Experimental research requires a great deal of finding innovative and creative solutions to measure and control variables being studied in a lab or a pilot plant, usually with the purpose to develop or verify a mathematical model that describes the real world and can be used for simulations, equipment and process design, troubleshooting and optimizing operations in industry. I was designing experiments, selecting and calibrating instrumentation, developing sensors and customized probes, assembling and programming control and data acquisition systems, as well as developing algorithms for processing large amount of data. When the opportunity came to teach at NAIT in the Instrumentation Engineering Technology program, it was a perfect match with my expertise and my interests.
What’s it like to be a woman in automation (an industry largely made up of men)?
I don’t feel that being a woman had any significant impact on my professional interactions, at least not in the industry I work in, research and education. Automation has a wide application and there are many different areas of specialization, allowing both men and women to be successful based on their skills and interests. However, I continue to see low number of female students in my classes. This large gap may be due to the misconception that instrument engineering technologists find employment in heavy industries only, such as oil and gas. Instrumentation and automation go hand in hand, and we have graduates working in environmental monitoring, food processing, beverage production, hospitals, etc. NAIT had an all-female team win gold on the provincial, and silver on the national mechatronics skills competition in 2019, and I would strongly encourage women (of any age) interested in technology, that have good analytical skills and want to solve practical problems, to pursue a career in automation. The Instrumentation Engineering Technology program, as well as other programs at NAIT and the University of Alberta offer a good start. Thanks to ISA Edmonton, female students in the instrumentation program at NAIT can apply for the Donna Jackson Women in Technology Award after their first semester.
Who has made the biggest impact on your career to-date and inspired you work-wise?
My mentor was Dr. John R. Grace. He was a renowned expert in fluidization, a recipient of Order of Canada, and many other prestigious awards in the field of chemical engineering both nationally and internationally. He took me under his wing when I started my Ph.D. studies in Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of British Columbia in 2000. I was very fortunate to have him as a mentor, he was the most kind and graceful person who genuinely cared about his students. The advice he gave me when I started teaching at NAIT will always guide me in my career as an educator. I am thankful for his gentle push to publish our research and that we were able to complete our last journal article together in 2020. He passed away recently, on May 26, 2021, and I will miss him dearly.
What is your current position/job title at NAIT? What does a day in the work life of Ana look like?
My role as an instructor in the Instrumentation Engineering Technology program at NAIT is to facilitate learning, participate in the program curriculum development and course design. Outside the scheduled lecture and lab times, I am creating lesson plans, learning resources and activities for practice and assessment (in the lab, classroom or online), meeting with students and colleagues, monitoring students’ progress and providing feedback. I also spend time (mostly outside working hours) on keeping on top of new technologies and trends in instrumentation and maintaining contact with local industry, mainly through the opportunities for professional development provided by ISA Headquarters and the ISA Edmonton Section.
The typical work day changed drastically for many people in spring 2020. We, at NAIT, moved to working from home and teaching online, which was a major shift. During the 2020/21 school year I was teaching courses that were delivered fully online, and with an in-person lab component. I needed to find different way to deliver lessons, engage students, provide students remote access to computers in our labs, and modify the learning resources and evaluation activities for an online format. It was a very intense year and I realized how much I miss the in-person interaction with students.
When and why did you start getting more involved in the ISA Edmonton Section?
My involvement as a volunteer for the Section is owed to my former colleague, Aaron Boser, currently the President Elect for ISA Edmonton. I was new to Alberta when I started my job at NAIT and on Aaron’s recommendation I started attending ISA Edmonton technical events. I could see the value that the local Edmonton section brings to members and when Aaron introduced me to inner workings of the section board and the people who do so much behind the scene to make things happen, I wanted to help. I got officially involved on the board as an ISA NAIT Student Section Co-Advisor, following Aaron’s footsteps in 2018, but I try to help wherever needed.
You’ve been involved with the ISA NAIT Student Section for several years now… why is this something you’re so committed to?
The Instrumentation Engineering Technology program at NAIT has strong ties with ISA, dating since 1966, when the student section was chartered. It is one of the oldest student sections in North America and I am very proud to be part of it. In my role as an advisor I am committed to providing opportunities for our students to develop leadership skills and connect with industry professionals in their field of study. With our program being only 2 years long, there is a frequent turnaround of executives on the student section board. I am there to provide guidance for the new student executives and support their initiatives. It brings great satisfaction to watch the dedication, enthusiasm, and the creativity of the students on the board. I hope they enjoy the experience being part of the NAIT Chapter and will stay engaged with ISA as professionals.
What accomplishment are you most proud of to date when it comes to your volunteer efforts with our Section?
My volunteer efforts with the Section are mostly driven from a student engagement perspective. My favourite accomplishment is the Student Industry Tour of Northern Alberta in June 2019. I had a great time planning the tour with Aaron and ISA NAIT Student Section executives. With a group of ISA student members from NAIT and the University of Alberta we visited Dow Chemical, Pembina Pipeline, Syncrude, NWR, Packers Plus and the Western Manufacturing Technology Show (WMTS). Bob Bahniuk, a long term ISA Edmonton volunteer, with many years of experience in the field of instrumentation technology, joined us for the trip. It was amazing how welcomed we felt at all the sites we visited and the enthusiasm with which our hosts shared their knowledge and experience. The students learned a great deal by touring the inside of operational plants and control rooms, but also from the stories they heard from Bob while traveling between destinations. I am hopeful the conditions will soon allow for us to organize a similar tour again with support of our industry partners and sponsors.
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