Steering students toward success

We all know a university degree tends to lead to a better job. But what if you don’t know what kind of job you seek?

That was the plight of Mehdi Bihya, a third-year bio-resource engineering student. The Morocco-born Montrealer knew he enjoyed thinking analytically, but through his experience as a tennis coach he had learned he loved working with people. “I wanted a job that would let me touch both spheres – a lively job,” he explains.

A summer position with L’Oréal Canada, secured through the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ new internship office, fit the bill. The office was made possible by a $1-million gift in 2009 from Marc Bieler, DipAgr’58, BA’64, president of Canneberges Atoka Cranberries Inc. of Quebec. Not only did Bieler develop his passion for agriculture at Macdonald Campus, he says, but a pivotal internship while there set him on his future path.

Bieler’s intent was “to give something back to help students gain practical experience and figure out what they want to do in life.” Just so, the internships “can either help students narrow down what they want to study, or tell them, ‘Okay, I definitely don’t want to do that!’” explains Internship Officer Lindsay O’Connell, BA’05. In three years, O’Connell has placed 100 students in internships. “The numbers double and double and double from one summer to the next,” she says. Some students even go on to work full-time at the company where they intern.

Bihya’s project – to develop a Clean-In-Place procedure for the twenty 10-ton chemical vessels at L’Oréal’s St. Laurent plant – dovetailed perfectly with his Engineering for Sustainability class. Not only did he have to understand these vessels from top to bottom, but as a project manager, he taught programmers to code his design and unionized workers to run it.

Though Bihya was scheduled to spend just one summer with the company, L’Oréal was so impressed by his work that they extended the internship by four more months and have since hired him on a part-time basis. “I really appreciate that L’Oréal gave me so much responsibility,” he says. “It’s very motivating. I am such a better professional now because of the internship.”