A Tune to Praise Branch Participation and Mentorship

Engineer-in-training Arun Thomas was living in Vancouver, B.C., and working in a role in which he felt he was no longer growing. After a brief mentoring experience, he knew his career would benefit from longer-term guidance. “I was looking for a mentor who would be around for more than six months, be available, and remain committed,” he explains.

When he interviewed for an Engineer 1 position with the Town of Peace River, he found the best person to fill the position—and according to his boss and mentor, Jim McCuaig, CD, P.Eng., FEC, FGC (Hon.), director of engineering and infrastructure with the Town of Peace River, the feeling was mutual. “You just know when you click. I was comfortable with him right away. His civil engineering and bioengineering degrees would lend themselves well to the water and wastewater sides of the role.” They also connected over a shared a love of musicals—Thomas contemporary shows, and McCuaig the classics.

Moving to mentorship

Moving from Vancouver to Peace River was an act of faith for Thomas, but he knew he would gain a breadth of knowledge and career growth through his mentorship with McCuaig.

When Thomas had to undergo surgery a few months into his role, he nervously informed McCuaig. “For him, there wasn’t a second thought,” says Thomas. “He has a huge focus on the human component—it’s a priority.” He says this focus on putting people first was a significant reassurance he was in the right place.

Branch mentor epegTogether Thomas and McCuaig have completed a multitude of projects for the Town of Peace River, including a neighbourhood renewal that included pavement overlays, sidewalk replacements, and the demolition of a hot tub to allow for further engineering review.

Thomas explains that the opportunity to work on all facets of the project, including the writing of the request for proposal for the demolition, was an enormous growth opportunity. McCuaig provided guidance throughout the process, always making the time to answer Thomas’s questions and create learning moments.

McCuaig challenges him and has helped Thomas put his perfectionism in perspective and have confidence in his work. The role and the mentorship have enabled him to see various solutions to any problem he confronts. “The primary thing is that I felt I wasn’t coming into my own,” Thomas says about his previous position. “But in this role, with this mentorship, I feel as though I’ve grown already, and there’s so much I can do with this position.”

When asked why mentorship is so important to him, McCuaig says he does it to give back. “Someone mentored me in this same way,” explains McCuaig. “I always strive to lead by example and to inspire people.”

A branch of support

It wasn’t long before McCuaig invited Thomas to meet another group he’s passionate about—APEGA’s Peace Region Branch. McCuaig has actively participated in APEGA’s branches since 2004. He’s performed many roles with different branches during his career, including member-at-large, branch chair, and past chair, including for the Edmonton, Vermilion River, and Peace Region branches.

McCuaig’s enthusiasm passed to Thomas, who planned the Peace Region Branch’s 2023 Science Olympics, raising more than $10,500 in sponsorships and engaging plentiful volunteer participation, resulting in 82 registrants from five different schools. He’s even volunteered to be the 2023 branch executive vice-chair.

“I’m very hopeful for him, and I’m ecstatic that he stepped up to the vice-chair position and has the support of the rest of the branch,” says McCuaig, who is moving on to a new consulting business in Edmonton. McCuaig explains that although he may be leaving Peace River, he knows Thomas will succeed, especially with his energy, his enthusiasm, and a supportive branch community. McCuaig will miss the science nights, his favourite branch events, but he’s excited to explore other opportunities with APEGA to continue contributing to the self-regulation of his profession. “It’s a responsibility to maintain high standards to protect the public at the basis of our work,” he says—standards he generously passes on to the next generation.

A song to carry on

Thomas has no fear of losing the mentor he’d gained, as McCuaig continues to mentor other engineers in companies that he’s worked at in the past. “Once you’ve established that relationship, it doesn’t stop,” says McCuaig, who explains that his mentees often turn into his peers—something he considers a source of pride. McCuaig was even Thomas’s iron ring special presenter at his Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, a very meaningful moment for them both. When asked how important it was to him, Thomas says to consider it this way: “I always lose rings, and I still have mine!”

Thomas hopes he can one day mentor others in the same way he has been mentored, passing along the gift of knowledge McCuaig has given him. He’s passionate about helping people understand how post-secondary education enables them to deconstruct their world in order to improve it.

The passions that Thomas and McCuaig share for engineering, participating in the sustainment of self-regulation, and listening to a good musical ensure they’ll continue to sing one another’s praises as they work together in mentorship on their journey as professional engineers.