Tales From A Co-op Student

McMaster Engineering’s co-op and internship program gives students the chance to learn and develop the skills that they have practiced in classes over the course of their degrees. These workplace opportunities extend the curriculum and give students practical engineering experience. That being said, a person’s chosen field of study may not be related at all to the industry in which they find themselves. While that might be considered a disadvantage to some, it lets people explore their options under circumstances not usually afforded to them. In my case, this translated to my learning about aerospace engineering as a student from an electrical engineering background.

Between May 14th, 2018 and August 23rd, 2019, I was given a fantastic internship opportunity to work at Bombardier Aerospace, and later De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited. In that role, I had the chance to learn about the inner workings of the Dash-8 Series of planes. You may know them as the planes you use when you fly on Porter, WestJet, or Air Canada Jazz.

During the course of my internship, I was a part of the Maintenance Engineering team that is responsible for supporting the maintenance of all airlines flying the Dash-8 Series. Think of it like you would car maintenance. You have scheduled times where you should do your oil checks, tire rotations, and engine checks; the same principle generally applies to planes, albeit in a far more regulated medium.

When it comes to airplane maintenance, airlines occasionally need support in interpreting their issues and analyzing appropriate solutions, which is where they would ask for a specialist opinion, which ended up being me, the person with no aerospace engineering background. As you can imagine, there is naturally going to be a steep learning curve in a transition like that, going from circuits and power and mechanics and aerodynamics, and there were points where I was severely out of my depth. That being said, my undergraduate path taught me not only how to analyze electrical systems, but also how to learn, unlearn, and relearn the necessary information to find the right solution for whatever problem with which I am tasked.

I think the best example of this adaptability came from a situation faced by a government support airline. This group was going to be flying a plane into a hurricane-affected area to provide emergency support supplies and services to the people affected. I was contacted to assess the possibility of providing an extension to certain maintenance which needed to be done on the plane, and which would have grounded it for multiple weeks.

There is no class which could teach you how to properly consider all the factors in this scenario. If I was able to help this airline get an extension on their maintenance schedule and if the plane were to meet with an accident, then I could be held liable for poor engineering judgement. However, if I did not act, then dozens upon dozens of people would not receive necessary emergency supplies. I think, after all my classes, and all my experiences up to that point, that was the first time I realized the weight placed upon those in the engineering profession, and the trust placed in our work. That moment is one that has defined my understanding of engineering, and I can thank my co-op experience for teaching me lessons that no classroom ever could.


Written by: Linford Rodrigues

Edited by: Rica Yacon