The earth-loving chemical engineer

Queen’s graduate and military contractor Brian McConnell says he decided to go into engineering to help the planet

Bryon McConnell decided to return to Kingston to pursue his environmental dreams.
Bryon McConnell decided to return to Kingston to pursue his environmental dreams.

When Bryon McConnell, Sci ’93 and MSc ’95, came to Queen’s with a love of the environment, he had no idea he would end up working for the Department of National Defence.

McConnell pursued a degree in chemical engineering because he wanted to acquire the skills to affect environmental change.

“I had come to Queen’s wanting to work as an environmental professional of some sort,” he said. “I was very concerned about pollution and wanted to make the world a better place.”

But, McConnell’s career plan wasn’t without a few detours.

“It seemed to me that chemistry would be the way to go,” McConnell said. “[But by] about third year I sensed that I simply wouldn’t have the level of knowledge that I thought I would have at the undergraduate level.”

To complete his skill-set McConnell did a course-based master’s degree in chemical engineering, graduating from Queen’s in 1995.

From there, McConnell said, he had planned to do an environmental doctorate at the University of California Los Angeles. But his budget dictated otherwise.

“I had been paying my way through school by doing a summer search-and-rescue program [with the Coast Guard],” he said.

After the 1999 Exon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the Coast Guard became concerned with Canada’s oil-spill contingency plans. This opened up a new position, providing McConnell with the opportunity to work full-time.

“I spent a bunch of time in the documents library, learning all about the Coast Guard and its oil spill program. … I applied for the job, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was the only one who passed the written exam and the only one they interviewed … so I got the job,” he said.

During McConnell’s time with the Coast Guard, the department was transferred from the Ministry of Transportation to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. This gave McConnell the opportunity to move from working on the Coast Guard’s external environmental issues program to a position working on internal environmental issues such as those facing the fisheries industry and the ocean.

McConnell said despite enjoying his work with the Coast Guard, he realized after being passed over for a promotion, that he wasn’t progressing professionally. He and his wife decided to move from Sarnia back to Kingston.

“It became apparent to me that I didn’t have an upward career path,” McConnell said. “[My wife and I] wanted to move back to Kingston, so I began working my network of contacts.”

His networking paid off.McConnell has worked at Kingston’s military base for nine years and is now the manager of site operations for Defence Construction Canada.

Defence Construction Canada provides contractors and construction project management for the Department of National Defence. It also ensures all environmental aspects of a construction project are taken care of.

Environmental project management includes completing all necessary environmental assessments, adhering to the principles of sustainable development and due diligence.

McConnell attributes his success to keeping an open mind.

“You simply couldn’t look at what I was doing [in university] and think that I would end up here. I certainly was never enamoured by construction,” he said. “After being here I realized that it was a good fit because I am doing what I wanted to do in terms of improving the environmental footprint of organizations.”

McConnell said anyone looking to change his or her career path needs to ask themself important questions about where he or she wants his or her life to go.

“What is it I want to do with my life? What is it I want my life to look like? Get real about that and then pursue it to make it happen. … Because there’s enough opportunity to do it.”

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