Kristen Facciol

Profile posted Feb 2012

Kristen Facciol, a recent graduate of Engineering Science’s Aerospace Option, talks to us about how a childhood experience, the Option choices in Engineering Science and opportunities for extracurricular involvement helped her follow her dream of working in space robotics.

With an encouraging algebra teacher and two high school teachers as parents, Kristen Facciol always knew that engineering was an excellent career path for students who, like herself, were academically strong, dedicated to and interested in math, science and technology. Engineering Science was a good choice for Kristen, who knew she wanted to take engineering but wasn’t one hundred percent sure which discipline was for her. EngSci gave her the chance to make a considered decision after being exposed to each discipline. The EngSci atmosphere both challenged and enriched Kristen’s experience: “First year was not at all what I was expecting! I think it was the diversity of the material that made it difficult for me and not so much the content itself. It was quite stressful, but a very valuable learning experience. Once I adjusted to the new environment, it was a lot easier to deal with.”

After working through the foundational courses of first and second year Engineering Science, two Options stood out to Kristen: Biomedical and Aerospace. In trying to decide between the two, Kristen thought both about their respective curriculums – which one had the courses that interested her most? – and also about what she could be doing with her degree after. These considerations led Kristen to choose Aerospace: “I went to space camp around the age of twelve and got to be part of a simulated mission doing the Hubble Telescope repair. That was when I first learned about the Canadarm. From this point forwards, I had an interest in space robotics. It was robotics specifically that attracted my attention [to Aerospace], and since I knew I wasn’t going into space, I figured the next best thing would be to send them there. Not to mention the fact that I’d be able to call myself a rocket scientist after I was done!”

Despite the stress of adjusting to the EngSci curriculum and choosing an Option, Kristen, like many Engineering Science students, didn’t spend all her time studying. She helped out at recruitment events, participated in Engineering Science’s Leaders of Tomorrow group, and was a F!rosh leader. However, her major extracurricular involvements came with the U of T Space Design Contest and Skule Nite: “The U of T Space Design Contest was a really great opportunity to introduce high school students to the discipline. I was able to share my passions and interests with them and perform somewhat of a mentoring role while organizing or running the event, to different extents each year. It really helped further my interests in the industry and put a fun twist on what I was doing in school.”

Skule Nite, the annual UofT Engineering musical and comedy revue was, in Kristen’s words, “exhausting, overwhelming and sometimes frustrating, but I could never trade it for anything in the world.” Like many EngScis, Kristen has fostered a lifetime passion for music, and her outgoing personality attracted her to the performance and comedy aspect of Skule Nite, in which she participated in her third year: “Being in a musical is something I have always aspired to do, and do hope to do again someday, and a musical sketch comedy revue?! Even better! Yes, a lot of my time was dedicated to this, but you have to make time for the things you love – and this happened to be it.”

Alongside all this extracurricular involvement, Kristen pursued her childhood interest in space robotics. The Space Systems Design course, a core requirement of the Aerospace curriculum, was the catalyst for getting her current position with MDA Space Missions, who ran the course that year. Throughout her time in EngSci, Kristen learned more and more about the projects that the company was and is involved in, and she capitalized on her networking skills alongside the opportunity offered by the course: “I loved the course and made some valuable connections that I sincerely believe helped me get the job.”

Since starting with MDA two and a half years ago, Kristen has been working on the next stage of the project that first grabbed her interest and fostered her dream of a career in space robotics: “I have been a part of the Systems Engineering team that is working on the Next Generation Canadarm (NGC) project for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). I was fortunate enough to start on the project shortly after the proposal was submitted and will remain a part of the team that sees it through to completion this year.”

Kristen’s position at MDA allows her to work with many groups on a variety of tasks: “I work on everything from requirement development and traceability through to software development and hardware testing. Having the opportunity to work on a program of this nature and see it through from beginning to end has been an incredibly valuable experience and has introduced me to several disciplines through the systems group. I had the opportunity to work in human factors to design a graphical user interface, put together interface control documents for mechanical, data and electrical interfaces throughout the system, as well as work directly with the developed hardware to perform system testing. Now, in the final phases of the project, I have been largely involved in the integrated system testing.”

Kristen’s story shows that extracurricular involvement, networking skills and most of all, pursuing what you love, are all part of the puzzle of finding your career path after graduating from Engineering Science. As Kristen says, “Really consider what you’re interested in pursuing post-graduation. Talk to people in the different options to hear about their experiences and what they have and haven’t liked – you can’t get this information from reading course descriptions. Most of all, do what makes you happy!”

Check out the Next Generation Canadarm project at the Canadian Space Agency’s site.

Profile by Erin Macnab