From mature student to junior engineer 

By Dawn Wiseman

Jason Rhee (foreground) continued to play rugby when he returned to Concordia for his second degree. Magnifying glass

Jason Rhee (foreground) continued to play rugby when he returned to Concordia for his second degree.

Sometimes the first decision isn’t the right one, as Jason Rhee discovered after graduating in biology in 2003.

“[At the time], my specialization, ecology, wasn’t in huge demand,” he said.
Rhee found a job as a part-time tutor in the adult education sector of the English Montreal School Board. Because he had a science degree, he was also able to teach science and math on a part-time, substitute basis. Working outside his chosen field led to some soul searching about the direction of his life.

While his view has shifted, Rhee just couldn’t see the application and relevance of his biology studies.

“Engineering was my salvation,” he said. “It was the direct application of things learned, a way to get things done, not just talk or read about them. I felt strongly that I could somehow bridge biology and engineering, and that's how I chose environmental engineering [as a second degree].”

At first, returning to school as a mature student was not easy.

“It was a humbling experience. I thought I had maybe made the wrong choice; maybe I didn't belong in university again, or I should have just found another job and worked it. Most of my friends my age were done and pursuing careers and here I was back in school. It was definitely difficult to come back and do calculus after four years. I was in way over my head. That first year was tough. Luckily, things got better.”

Rhee also learned about balance. He rejoined the Concordia rugby team, which he had played for during his biology days, and continued to work, but in second year he cut back on work hours by applying for student loans and bursaries.

In the summers, he sought out work in engineering. One job took him to Edmonton for four months with an environmental and geotechnical engineering consulting firm.

“Edmonton isn't as appealing as Europe or South America, but the experience to uproot, find relevant work, and the chance to learn and explore more of western Canada suited me fine.”

Now that he’s completed his studies, Rhee has moved to Edmonton more or less permanently to work for Golder Associates. “I'm a junior geotechnical engineer,” he laughed.


Concordia University