Smart and socially conscious

   The flock of politicians competing for public office this month might well be thankful that Brian Peach is not yet in the race. The 23 year old Mount Pearl native is too busy working on a master's degree in mechanical engineering and teaching first year students at Memorial University to contemplate a run this time around. But he's not ruling out a role in public office in the future.
   The O'Donel High graduate recently received a Global Engineering Certificate, just the latest honour in a long line of accolades and scholarships, but indicative of his interest in using engineering to make the world a better place.
   How smart is Peach? During his undergraduate studies in engineering, he maintained a 96.2 per cent average over the five years of study. His best year of university saw him earn a 98.8 per cent average.
   Those marks were good enough to garner the Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Newfoundland and Labrador's Award of Excellence for being the highest achiever in his graduating class of some 200 engineers. He's also been on the Dean's List, and is the winner of the 2015 Governor General's Academic Medal for the highest average in his university, bringing him into the ranks of past medal winners at other universities including Pierre Trudeau, Tommy Douglas, Robert Stanfield and Robert Bourassa. Peach, who is the son of City of Mount Pearl Chief Administrative Officer Michelle Peach and Memorial University engineer Don Peach, also won the $15,000 A.G. Hatcher Memorial Scholarship for having the "highest academic merit" at MUN. Peach would no doubt have collected a small fortune in other scholarships and prize money, but his winning of a $25,000 alumni entrance scholarship when he finished high school pushed him to the limit of the $5,000 per year cap that the university imposes on scholarship recipients.
   And while, Peach enjoys investigating the mechanics of what makes things tick - his thesis is examining how ice builds up on windmill turbines - he is a big picture guy with an avid interest in using the benefits of engineering for larger purposes. Not too surprising perhaps, since his first inclination was to become a teacher.
   Peach noted that to become a teacher, you have to get a degree in just about anything first and then top it with a teaching certificate. He decided to follow the lead of his high school physics teacher, Dave Furey, who had obtained a degree in engineering before doing his teaching degree.
   "I knew too that with the engineering program you get all of these co-op work terms and stuff so you'd have a good idea by the time you finish engineering if you like doing engineering," he added.
   It turned out Peach enjoyed doing engineering just fine. And being a student in the graduate program qualifies him to teach undergrads. "So it's funny how it all worked out," he said.
Peach is not only teaching a first year course in engineering to some 150 students, he is also helping to develop it. Called 'Thinking like an engineer,' the course is supposed to help the students see how engineering differs from the pure sciences.
   Peach said engineering is a good program to pursue for all sorts of reasons. "You feel like you have this better connection with the world and how things work," he said.
   He also likes the sense of social obligation that comes with the profession. Peach uses the example of Engineers Without Borders to illustrate the point. Less known than Doctors Without Borders, EWB is sometimes seen as a group that builds wells in third world countries. But Peach said it's more than that. It's figuring out how to design and build wells with local parts that local people can fix and maintain afterwards when the engineers pull out. "It's a far more bottom up approach," he said.
   Peach was offered a job at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in northern Ontario when he graduated with his engineering degree this past year, but opted to pursue his master's degree instead. He's not quite sure what the future holds in terms of work, when he graduates with his master's degree in 2017, but it's likely it will be connected to engineering and maybe even public service.
   "I've always been interested in politics," Peach said. "It just seems like a great way to be a more productive member of your society."
   Peach sees a way in which the worlds of engineering and politics can connect - by teaching people to properly use the resources and technology at hand to improve society without wasting resources. "Engineers, I believe, need to step out more into the public realm to engage with normal, everyday people to try to get them to buy into how we can fix problems, whether it's environmental problems or social or economic problems," he argued. "There are all kinds of ways that engineers can influence that."

Posted on November 4, 2015 .