Science Horizons intern: Becca Connolly

When she was a child, Becca Connolly expected to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a teacher. Instead the Prince Edward Island native combined inherent talents for engineering and business and is now a project manager at Island Water Technologies Inc. (IWT) in Montague, PEI.

Established in 2013, IWT has a distinctly environmental bent. Its focus is on next-generation solutions for water technologies with the goal of maximizing efficiency while minimizing energy use, especially the fossil-fuel kind. The company’s two main products are REGEN, a solar-powered mobile wastewater treatment system, and ClearPod, an energy-efficient system that improves the performance of septic systems.

I got to marry my engineering and business skills – a full circle moment for me.

- Becca Connolly, project manager, Island Water Technologies Inc.

Becca ConnollyBecca was hired at IWT through the Colleges & Institutes Canada Clean Tech Internship Program supported by Environment Canada’s Science Horizons funding. During her internship, she split her time between REGEN design work and researching U.S. market potential for ClearPod. With a first degree in business administration from the University of Prince Edward Island, she had worked in benefits administration and payroll for several years in the Maritimes and British Columbia. But while she enjoyed these jobs, she felt her learning curve had plateaued. “I wanted something more tangible that allowed direct contact with the customers,” she says. Career aptitude training unveiled a flair for engineering, a career she had never considered.

A fan of David Suzuki’s television show, The Nature of Things, she had become alarmed by emerging environmental issues, such as climate change. She was also concerned by the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The environmental side of engineering intrigued her. “I wanted the opportunity to be part of the solution – to be on the inside,” she says. “I realized that engineering is about more than building roads and bridges. I wanted to be part of finding and designing environmental solutions.”

Becca went on to graduate in environmental engineering from Dalhousie University in Halifax. She credits the internship funding for getting her a job in this field. “Island Water Technologies is a small start-up company and this program assisted them financially to hire me right out of school,” she says. “I was able to learn a lot and show them I am a good fit with the company. Without the program, I am not sure they would have been able to hire me when I was looking for a job.”

It gave us the opportunity to hire Becca when we might not have been financially able to and really get to know her and see how well she fitted in with our company culture. She is now a core member of our team assisting in multiple levels of the company. So we were very fortunate.

- Jack Ambler, vice president of engineering, Island Water Technologies, Inc.

Built into 20-foot and 40-foot shipping containers, REGEN wastewater treatment systems are very mobile. When solar-powered, they can operate off the electrical grid. Because they are easy to move and to set up, they are suitable for remote locations, small rural communities, mines, and for disaster relief and humanitarian operations. The units can handle effluent for 50 to 300 people, treat wastewater aerobically, through filtration and disinfection.

The sale of the first 20-foot REGEN system was to the Canadian Forces Base in Gagetown, NB. Becca Connolly helped train military personnel how to use the unit. A 40-foot version, which can handle substantially more wastewater, is planned for an isolated mine in Algeria. It will replace a wastewater lagoon.

Becca had planned to return to PEI with or without a job when she completed her degree. “Many in my graduating class had several months of unemployment before they were able to find jobs,” she says. “I was very thankful to find employment in environmental engineering in the province where I wanted to live.” She also appreciates the mentorship provided by her supervisor Jack Ambler, vice president of engineering at IWT. “My educational background prepared me for some aspects of the job, but the majority I learned on site.” Ambler says the internship program was equally valuable to the company. “It gave us the opportunity to hire Becca when we might not have been financially able to and really get to know her and see how well she fitted in with our company culture,” he says. “She is now a core member of our team assisting in multiple levels of the company. So we were very fortunate.” IWT went on to hire three more interns through the program. Two are now full-time employees.

Becca continues to work on REGEN design and testing. She also identified three U.S. states with good potential for ClearPod sales and helped secure approval for the product in two of them. “I got to marry my engineering and business skills – a full circle moment for me,” she says.

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