Curtis Charlton

Curtis Charlton

"Any working experience prior to graduation is worth its weight in gold."

Fourth-year Chemical Engineering | Union Gas Limited

Watch a video of Curtis Charlton discussing his internship experience.

Where are you completing your internship/SECOP placement? Why did you select this company?

I’m currently completing my internship at Union Gas in Chatham, Ontario. I wanted to work for Union Gas for a few different reasons. First off, it was voted one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers for 2011, which means it is an industry leader in attracting and retaining employees. Recently, we won it again for 2012. Secondly, I’m from around this area. I live about 20 minutes away and went to high school in Chatham. Being from around this area, I knew how much Union Gas benefitted the community and that it was a great company to work for. Moving back to my hometown from London also helped save money since I didn’t have the necessary expenses that occur from living away from home. Also, Union Gas celebrated its Centennial in 2011, so I knew it was a very stable and well-established company with a rich history and promising future. Lastly, my mother, father, grandfather, and a few other ancestors have all worked for the company at one point in their lives. So, working for Union Gas would allow me to follow in my late father’s and grandfather’s footsteps.

What do you hope to gain from this internship/SECOP experience?

I hope to gain some engineering experience that I will be able to apply in my final year of the degree at Western, whether it is through the Capstone project, or just a small assignment for a course. Any working experience prior to graduation is worth its weight in gold and being able to put more than one year of engineering experience down on a resume will definitely help when looking for an eventual career. Also, I hope to gain some good contacts of industry members that could potentially lead to a career in this company, or another one. Working on an internship gives a great insight on which tasks you like and dislike, which allows you to better choose a career upon graduation. Lastly, I hope to gain better communication and interpersonal skills that are not necessarily taught in the classroom. Working in a company as big as Union Gas requires you do deal with more than just engineers, you’re dealing with sales, environmental, and a variety of other people. When dealing with a variety of different groups, you learn how to communicate more effectively to each individual.

How are you applying knowledge and skills you learned at Western Engineering?

My role at Union Gas is not overly technical; however, I consistently use the communication and team skills that I’ve learned at Western Engineering. All of the projects at Union Gas require a team of at least 15 people from various groups and you have to work together to achieve a common goal. This is similar to a lot of the assignments, labs, and projects at school. One of the motto’s I’ve learned from Western is “Engineering is a team sport;” if that mentality wasn’t there, then these skills would never be learned and I wouldn’t be able to apply them to a work setting. On a few of my tasks, however, I have to use thermodynamic, mass, and heat transfer knowledge. The nature of our business is flow through compressors and pipe, so having a background in the above courses has helped me understand how much volume can flow, what the pressure needs to be, and a variety of other properties of the gas flowing through.

What type of roles/experiences have you had at your current placement?

My actual role at Union Gas is a Project Development Engineer; however, my duties extend well beyond that. Project Development at Union Gas is just that, developing a project. My group looks after the potential costs throughout the duration of a project, which includes estimating, tracking, and reviewing. We also oversee all projects to ensure they are running smoothly and following along the project lifecycle. Union Gas recently implemented a SharePoint-based Project Management System that is now used throughout the company. I was hired to manage this system through training, maintenance, and to make sure users are utilizing the system to its full potential.  The workload of the above tasks is rather sporadic, so I usually branch out to other departments for a little more work. I have worked in the System Planning department where I used a hydraulic modelling program to determine the most fuel-and cost-efficient way to run the two compressor stations in all seasons of the year. I have worked with a leadership group on a company-wide initiative of enterprise asset management. I have helped with a Work Resource Strategy, which shows the departments that require assistance through 2016, and more importantly to me, will show which departments require engineers-in-training for the 2013 graduating year. Also, along with the STO Intern, who is from Western, I have worked on a Capital Expansion study. This required us to drive approximately two hours away to a small community in Perth County to discuss fuel consumption needs with large commercial and agricultural customers, to determine if Union Gas should provide this small town with natural gas.

How has the internship/SECOP enhanced your learning experience at Western Engineering?

The internship program has definitely helped enhance my learning experience. An internship has provided me with 16 months of hands-on work experience. It has opened my eyes to possibilities outside the classroom; it has shown me what I would like out of a company for a future career. It has allowed me to apply some of the knowledge that I’ve learned in the first three years of my degree to a real working environment. It has provided me with a multitude of industry contacts that will hopefully allow me to get a jump on a career compared to students graduating without any experience.

What insights have you gained from this experience that will help you make decisions about your future career?

This experience has shown me quite a bit about what I would like out of a future career. It has shown me that I don’t want to work in an office all day, I want to be out in the field, or on a job site at least a couple times a month. Each type of work is equally important, but the experiences you can obtain from being out in the field teach you so much more. It has taught me that I like the idea of a smaller company, or at the very least, a smaller office. I work in an office of about 30 people off-site from our Head Office and it’s a very relaxed and family-type atmosphere. We have barbeques when it’s nice out; we often have events where everyone gets together. It definitely helps out the morale of the group. This experience has taught me that I would like to work for a company that provides the opportunity to move roles easily and often. This creates a varied work environment where you are always learning something new and exciting.