OSPE Stories - Andrea Bradford, P.Eng.

Posted on Monday, November 13th, 2017

Written by the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers

Andrea Bradford

Providing expertise in water resources management while guiding the next generation of engineers.

Andrea Bradford, P.Eng., is one of us. She’s an OSPE member who has dedicated her career to environmental work with a sharp focus on water management for wetlands and rivers. As associate professor at the University of Guelph, she is a fierce supporter of engineering as a career, and is proud of her students who continue to change the world.


OSPE:
Why did you choose engineering as a career? 

ANDREA:
When I was initially choosing undergraduate engineering I was actually considering a pathway to medicine, but I found that I really enjoyed engineering; it felt like the right direction for me. I grew up in northern Ontario, so there were a lot of connection points in my life to water. It’s interesting that as a professor I sometimes ask that question of my second year students: why did you choose to study water management? Many of us have similar experiences with camping and the outdoors that give us a real connection to the environment.


OSPE:
How has your work changed the world, in both small and large ways? 

ANDREA:
(Laughs) I guess in some circles I’m known as “the voice of the fish and wetlands”. It sounds kind of funny, but what I mean by that is I don’t always have an economic argument for what I’m doing. But I do think that the work I’m doing promotes engineering, and as a result, more wealth for society in always making sure we are not causing the degradation of ecosystems. I do that through really all aspects of my work; my research and service activities, and then of course teaching. I may be atypical for an academic; I think most of my colleagues might point to publications or something like that as their key contributions, but I think mine is more the training I provide. I’ve been at the University of Guelph for 15 years and I think I’ve made a difference by training the next generation of engineers to have a deep technical knowledge of the field.


OSPE:
Engineering is a precise vocation, and as you say, deep technical knowledge is key. But engineers bring more to the table than just that. Innovation, creativity, and integrity also play a role. 

ANDREA:
For sure. Yes. I make sure my students understand how vital it is to not simply design to code, but also how important it is to be able to identify when standards may not be high enough to protect society and the environment. Or in some cases where standards or codes might be limiting to the most creative or innovative solution, that they know enough and are confident enough to provide the strongest solution.


OSPE:
It sounds like your work makes you optimistic for the future. 

ANDREA:
I am. Our students here at Guelph really do want to change the world, especially the ones who are choosing environment and water. They want to work both locally and internationally. They’re not jaded at all, they think they can accomplish anything, so they’re really positive and so it’s nice to be in a position to support and nurture that positive approach, and help them achieve their potential. 


OSPE:
Have you been able to steer government policy?

ANDREA:
Yes I have, in a number of ways. Certainly my students who have gone on to successful careers have been influential in terms of advising policy, so I take some measure of satisfaction in knowing I helped them learn about our field. I have also participated as an expert witness in various hearings, and my reason for doing that is to raise the bar in terms of standards. I also think it’s important to provide the tools to support improvements in policy so this is part of my ongoing research program. 


OSPE:
How does what you do affect people’s lives on a day-to-day basis? 

ANDREA:
Water is a blessing but it can also be a curse, right? So what I do is develop approaches to maintain clean water supplies while also protecting the public from floods. This kind of work has a huge impact on people’s lives, not just day-to-day but long term as well. I also do a great deal of work in the area of urban water systems, around green and natural infrastructure, which help make our water systems multifunctional. They can clean our water while protecting us from floods. At the same time, they provide areas for people to go for recreation, which in turn helps improve the health of urban citizens, so the work we do is far reaching in terms of affecting the population and society as a whole.

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