Meeting Place: Children of Engineering Alumni Follow in their Fathers' Footsteps

By Bev Fast

In the spring of 1975, three friends graduated from the U of S College of Engineering and set out to make their mark on the world - Dale Fish and Jim Wassermann in agricultural engineering, Elwood Scott in civil engineering.

It was a time of change and upheaval. The war in Vietnam was ending even as new conflicts were erupting elsewhere, OPEC was flexing its new-found muscle, Canadians were enduring double-digit inflation, the environment was a hot issue and the Altair 8800 microcomputer was ushering in the age of the personal computer.

"I came from rural Saskatchewan, which was quite conservative, and the U of S was a revelation to me," Dale remembers. "There were so many different viewpoints, so many new ideas. It opened my eyes to the world."

More than 30 years later, it seems so much has changed and yet so much has remained the same. There's war in the Middle East and renewed concerns over energy and the environment. Canada is enjoying a booming economy and computers have become an integral part of our society.

Now a new generation of College of Engineering students are tackling challenges in agriculture, energy, infrastructure, the environment and more. In an interesting twist, this new generation includes Dale's son Mark (BE'07), Jim's daughter Trista and Elwood's daughter Ashley.

Mark, Ashley and Trista in front of their fathers' 1975 Graduation photo

Mark, Ashley and Trista in front of their fathers' 1975 Graduation photo

What makes three kids of three U of S College of Engineering alumni choose the same career at the same university?

"I didn't push engineering on my kids," says Jim Wassermann, "but I did push the U of S because I was confident they would come out with positive experience and be well equipped to take on any career they chose."

Dale agrees. "My wife and I didn't tell our kids what they should do, but we did encourage them to get as much education as they could. I think that had an influence. " He also has a daughter, Melanie, who's a graduate of the University of Regina Faculty of Engineering.

It seems that while early exposure to engineering and knowing someone in the profession are factors, interest and aptitude are the motivators behind choosing engineering - for both generations.

"There's no way my dad being an engineer wasn't an influence on me," Ashley Scott says. "He exposed me to what engineering was all about. But my main reason for choosing it is that it's an exciting, challenging career. There's a lot of innovation and it leaves you room to be creative."

The idea of being a builder and innovator also appeals to both generations. "I've always liked big buildings and structures. When we went to museums I was always looking at the ceilings instead of the stuff inside," Trista Wassermann says.

Her dad admits to having some qualms when she announced her decision. "I was a little nervous. I said this is the real deal, you have to work hard. Well, within two months of her starting, I knew she'd done the right thing. She's probably more of an engineer than I ever was."

Elwood was more surprised than anxious. "In her first year at the U of S, Ashley was in Arts & Sciences. She's very artistic so I thought that was the direction she'd go. When she said she was going into engineering, I thought, great! She's analytical, well-organized and has a keen sense of the way you put things together - she'll make a good engineer."

The fact that each man has a daughter in engineering shows just how much things can change in 30 years: in 1975 there were few women in engineering. They are pleased with the progress they see in their College. "We were the Baby Boom generation and we didn't have the stereotypes our parents did. Our attitude was equality - if you wanted to do something, do it. We taught our kids that too," Dale says.

Ashley and Trista are currently in third year civil engineering (Mark graduated last spring) and have developed a bond similar to the one shared by their fathers. Dale was the common denominator in the early three-way friendship. He and Elwood had known each other since grade school, and both had started at the Regina campus before transferring to the U of S in Saskatoon. Jim and Dale were agricultural engineering classmates; they solidified their friendship after graduation when they signed on with CUSO and found themselves teaching at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, though at different campuses.

All three have since made their careers in Saskatchewan. Jim went to work with the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI) and is currently vice-president of Saskatchewan operations. Dale spent 17 years farming in southern Saskatchewan before moving to Weyburn to manage the Federated Co-op Feeds mill. Elwood was hired right out of university by the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) and has thrived on a steady diet of new challenges.

Each has a unique perspective on the influence the U of S had on their lives. Elwood discovered his professional niche at the U of S - hydrology. "C.D. Smith was one of my profs. He was an icon. He'd come into our hydrology class for a two hour lecture with no notes, just chalk. And he'd fill board after board. He was phenomenal."

For Dale, the U of S was an introduction to a wider world. It was a chance to meet new people and make new friends, develop new knowledge and new ways of thinking. "I was grateful for the opportunity to get my degree there, and for the opportunity to give back."

Jim says the U of S had a definite, positive influence on his career, but his favourite memory of the University is the iron ring ceremony, which is unique to engineers. "It was the icing on the cake after 5 years of hard work, when my friends were out partying and I was studying. You put that ring on your finger and it's a constant reminder of what you've accomplished and what you can do in the future."

Beverly Fast is a freelance writer in Saskatoon who has written for the Green & White, Western Living Magazine, and The Commuter.