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Incoming Engineering Society (EngSoc) president Laura Berneaga wears the symbolic firefighter hat that is passed down from president to president. (Photo: Pam Walls)

Laura Berneaga (Year 4 MechE) is president of the Engineering Society (EngSoc), the undergraduate-student government for U of T Engineering, for 2019–2020. Pam Walls sat down with Berneaga to find out what she hopes to achieve as the head of EngSoc and how students can get more involved.

Why did you want to run for President of EngSoc?

I went out for coffee with last year’s EngSoc president Shivani Nathoo to discuss officer positions in general. I had inquired about every single one of the vice presidents; what they do, what their position covers and what their daily tasks are.

She then asked me “What about president?” to which I laughed and said no way am I doing that. But we spent the next two hours discussing in detail what the president does and what she has been working on through the past year. She prompted me to think about what I would want to see different within the community if I had the ability to change it.

All of a sudden, this role that seemed so intimidating and so difficult to achieve didn’t seem so far-fetched anymore. The idea of defining things within the community and Faculty that we could improve upon, as well as the opportunity to have impact within our community, resonated with me. So, after a three-hour coffee chat — that I had initially walked into vehemently opposed to running for president — I spent the rest of the day writing down my future campaign points.

What do you hope to achieve as president?

The two aims that I will work on continuously throughout the year— and the ones that will make me feel as if I did something right in my year as President — are tackling the funding challenges associated with the introduction of Ontario’s Student Choice Initiative (which provides students with the choice to opt-out of non-essential supplementary fees), as well as making EngSoc more approachable to students.

I want our community and society to continue running as we have in previous years, allowing our students to do what they want, without them being afraid that they might not have funding for the projects they want to start. To go hand in hand with that, I know even for me, prior to this year, EngSoc seemed like this giant and terrifying thing, so I hope to show students that we are just a set of students at the end of the day, trying to provide them with the best experience in their undergrad.

How can students get more involved with EngSoc?

There are so many opportunities to get involved with EngSoc, but the best way to find out more is to check out, or come to our office in the basement of the Sanford Fleming building, Room B740, and chat with one of the officers.

Whether you’re interested in policies, academic advocacy, financial decisions, making student life more inclusive or just being part of a design team, there is definitely something there for everyone, and you just have to look into what would be the best fit for you. Our services branch out in a lot of different directions, so why not see if one of those branches would work for you?

Any advice for first-year engineering students?

I know you’ve probably heard it a lot already, but being in university is more than just your classes and what you’re learning in your lectures.

In whatever extracurricular you may choose to get involved with, there are so many ways to grow and learn new skills, that you might sometimes not get in the classroom as easily.

Also, the act of balancing classes and other things on top of that — as well as taking care of yourself, hanging out with friends — is a skill that will help you tremendously throughout the rest of your undergrad as well as professional career. I encourage you all to explore and find ways to get involved outside of the classroom because they will benefit you in ways that you never thought would be possible.

Any final thoughts?

To the students: I mentioned this already but, at the end of the day, anybody involved in the Engineering Society is still just a student. Don’t be afraid to reach out, to ask us questions, to talk to us, to let us know what’s going on or how we can do better. We encourage this because the only way that we can improve and represent you all as best as we can is based on the feedback that we get from you all.

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