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Life of Canadian PI by Ethel Clemente Fernandez

A dream that never went away

Engineering student at 29

by Ethel Clemente Fernandez

Jennifer Adriano, B.Sc.Computer Engineering, University of Manitoba
  Visiting UofM
Jennifer visits the UofM, just five days after arriving in Canada

Have you ever thought of going back to school as a mature student, but inner fears prevented you from doing so? True, picturing yourself as the oldest person in class is not that exciting, and neither does having to keep up with the demands of school, especially if you have family or work responsibilities. Whatever the reasons may be, perhaps you simply need inspiration to finally take the plunge and go for that university degree you’ve always longed for.

One such inspiration could come from the current vice-chair of the Filipino Members Chapter-Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba (FMC), Jennifer Adriano who, at 29, went back to university to pursue that childhood dream of becoming an engineer. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering at the University of Manitoba (UofM) at the age of 34.

Jen, as she is fondly called, actively volunteers for FMC, and strongly supports women in engineering. She currently works as an Application Development Engineer EIT at New Flyer Industries. I spoke to her recently.

How would you describe your childhood?

My parents tried to give everything that they could when I was growing up, especially my mom, so I grew up as a spoiled brat. Moving to Canada by myself really changed my perspective.

What did you do in the Philippines before coming to Canada?

I was a call centre agent at HSBC, after working as an operator at Nidec Philippines.

When did you come to Canada and how was your first few months?

I arrived in 2009 with the help of my father’s siblings. My first few months were focused on paying my parents’ debts. I was lucky enough to get two jobs within two months of arriving. I was a data processor at Great West Life, now Canada Life, during the day, and phone interviewer at Ipsos Reid at night.

What motivated you to pursue engineering at the age of 29?

I took up engineering when I was 16. I always dreamed of becoming one. I couldn’t finish my degree in Manila due to financial issues, but that dream never went away. I decided that I need to fulfill my dream because I know that my salary at that time would never be enough for me to be able to send money back home and buy a house in the future. The first few challenges were fulfilling the requirements to apply as a mature student. I knew I would never be able to get any credits transferred from my time in Mapua Institute of Technology (MIT). I was only there for two and half years, which was only enough to fulfill grade 11 and 12 in Canada.

How was the application process?

I remember having to take CanTEST to show that I can write, read, and speak in English. I prepared for that exam by attending free English night classes from the University of Winnipeg. (

My acceptance as a mature student at the UofM Faculty of Engineering didn’t come easy. I was asked what tangent pi/4 is and I didn’t know the answer, because we learned in degrees instead of radians in the Philippines, and honestly, I was out of school for nine years at that time. Because of this, I was almost sent to take pre-calculus. I didn’t want to do that because I already took Calculus twice in the Philippines (in high school and in college). Fortunately, my good grades from the two years of Engineering during my time in MIT were enough to satisfy the requirements for a mature student.

Can you share some insights into your educational journey and how you balanced studies with other responsibilities?

I worked part-time at Home Depot Polo Park while attending university. I got through the five years because of my dream. I always told myself, “Go for that dream. If you think five years is too long to finish an engineering degree, you will turn 34 anyways, so might as well have that degree when you turn that age.”

I learned to sacrifice. I only went for one trip in my five years in school. I planned my days well. I made sure to do my homework and do well in quizzes. Those small points add up. I always chose to study for exams instead of working more hours. It wouldn’t make sense if I had to repeat a course because I put in more hours working a part time job.

What advice would you give to others who might be considering a career change or studying engineering later in life?

Go for it and be committed to it. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it.

How do you envision your future in engineering, and what goals do you hope to achieve?

I still want to get my professional engineering license and continue to bring awareness about women in engineering even after the 30 by 30 campaign is over. I know I wouldn’t have finished my degree without the help of family and friends who offered to drive me to grocery stores and lend me money when I was struggling to pay my rent. So, I am very grateful to have such a strong support.

Ethel Clemente-Fernandez is a professional engineer registered in the province of Manitoba. She is an active member of the Filipino Members Chapter - Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba (FMC-APEGM).