Wider Horizons

Lydia Penner (Geomatics Engineering Technology 2008) heads a survey crew for Altus Geomatics in Grande Prairie. lydia pennerWithin a year of graduation, she had already volunteered for a project in Ethiopia with Engineering Ministries International, on a project to build an orphanage.

I grew up on a farm in the Goodwin area, one-half hour east of Grande Prairie, chasing cows, building fences, and driving swathers.

Of the three Alberta options for my program, Lethbridge College was my first pick. I enjoyed the city, found a great church, met some wonderful people, and had a good educational experience. I found the engineering instructors at Lethbridge College to be knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly. We had a small graduating class, and my comfort with, and appreciation for my classmates grew as we spent 30 hours a week together in the same classroom, muddling through our learning together.

The Geomatics program was my continuation of exploring an industry I was introduced to a few years earlier. I got a summer job in 2004 as a surveyor’s assistant, because I wanted a job where I’d have some physical exercise, make some good money and get a good tan. Eventually, I decided I wanted to learn to do it right.

After graduation, I returned to Altus Geomatics out of Grande Prairie. I quickly began running my own crew, madly putting the experience I had gained as an assistant together with my diploma from Lethbridge College.

We do surveys for oil companies in northern Alberta. When a company needs to build a new well site to drill on, or a pipeline to transport their product, we survey the land to position them properly, and to correctly mark the boundaries of the area they have to develop.

I wanted to use my skills for more than just my personal gain. I believe it’s important to care for those less fortunate, and to love those who are disadvantaged. I came across an organization called Engineering Ministries International (eMi), a league of Christian professionals who pool their expertise to provide professional service to existing organizations in Third World countries.

I joined fellow engineers and designers from all over North America in Ethiopia to create a community development project that included an orphanage. Our data is being used to create a 3-D representation so other professionals can determine where buildings and infrastructure will be placed.

The project made me wish I could do more. I enjoyed bringing my skills to the table, but realized as I rubbed shoulders with a civil engineer and collected data for architects and planners back in Canada that I brought only a small piece of the pie. It excited me to work in a different country and all the details related to that (border crossing, insurance, dealing with a different culture, the language barrier). It provided great exposure for me in working in a different survey application, with different methodology than I was used to at my company.

Just living in a different country for a week was an interesting experience. I found great enjoyment in the simplicity of the culture there: you “just do what you gotta do.”

We stayed in a motel that was nice compared to the living conditions of most Ethiopians we saw, and yet this was still an experience in itself. We sometimes were without power and water in our rooms, and never had hot water. We took to ordering our breakfast the night before so it would arrive more quickly.

I tried to learn a few words in the national language, Amheric, and regional language or Aromifa, enabling me to at least greet bystanders who gathered to watch me survey. I learned to count, and the children would join me in rattling off numbers. We stopped by the local school one morning and were able to give the school master some supplies, visit the classrooms, and play with the children. The school consisted of mud buildings with dark classrooms and very few resources. The children, however, were ecstatic to interact with us. They crowded in so close to touch us that sometimes we literally almost fell down.

I was able to tap into the drafting skills I developed at school and submit the data to my survey supervisor in a form that he could work with. While the program I worked with was different than the one I was trained on, the fact that I’d been trained at all enabled me to adapt to the changes in software.

The project increased my interest in international work. It caused me to remember other survey dreams I have, like going to the Far North, or Antarctica.

I was very thankful to be part of the eMi team for the project, and would be open to further opportunities with them. I don’t have immediate plans to return to another project at this time, but will consider an opportunity should one arise.

Wider Horizons
Lethbridge College
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