From Engineer to ‘Wood Nerd’

Wood Products Processing student Melissa Vincent hugging a dog

Undergraduate student, Melissa Vincent, shares experiences from joining the Wood Products Processing program

A country girl at heart, and a UBC Forestry graduate hopeful from the 2022 Wood Products Processing program, Melissa Vincent plans to leave her mark on cities as part of the growing industry of tall wood buildings, such as the iconic 18-storey Brock Commons Tallwood House on the UBC campus.

“Wood is a good structural material because it stores carbon,” says Melissa. “The direct competition to tall wood frame construction is concrete buildings, which add more carbon to the atmosphere along the entire manufacturing process.”

Hailing from Aldergrove, BC, Melissa grew up on a hobby farm complete with pigs, chickens, turkeys, a dog, a cat and fish. After jumping into an engineering degree at the University of the Fraser Valley, “not fully knowing what I wanted to do,” Melissa heard about the Wood Products Processing program at UBC Forestry: “I knew right away that it was for me.”

The move “has been a nice mixture of technical aspects, shop drawings, along with machine, building and furniture design, as opposed to the desk work I faced as an engineer,” Melissa shares.

Her studies have exposed her to timber design and building frameworks, including an architecture class that involved peeling back the layers of light-frame construction homes: from the wood frame to insulation, drywall and the full building envelope.

Her favourite class was wood anatomy and identification, which zoomed into wood cell structures to give students the know-how to identify different types of wood at the molecular level.

“Sometimes people bug me about being a wood nerd; but, I like that I can now identify why, for example, one type of wood will give an even coat of finish or why certain types of wood last longer in wet conditions.” To maximize her co-op experiences, Melissa ventured into a variety of fields.

Starting with Westeck Windows and Doors, she learned about product development, how to reduce the amount of heat loss from fittings and different cladding options. At Precisionwerkz, she helped design and build the manufacturer of high-end woodworking’s showroom and updated their computer-aided design standards along the way.

“Now, having a shop drawing be even an eighth of an inch off matters to me!”

Her final co-op placement was a surprise favourite. Taking on the tasks of creating naming conventions, standard work procedures and completing daily tasks as a maintenance planner with Western Forest Products in Cowichan Bay, Melissa realized that she doesn’t mind jumping into the deep end of a demanding position and pushing herself to try something new.

“I would highly suggest people get out of their comfort zone because I would have never expected that the sawmill experience would have been my favourite,” she shares.

After graduation, Melissa plans on moving back to the Vancouver Island farm where she formed friendships during her most recent co-op placement to work in the industry for a while and enjoy time with her old roommates and lots of animals.


Led by our very own Development and Alumni Engagement Office, and shaped by valuable feedback from our alumni community, the Spring 2022 issue of Branchlines showcases the dynamic and multifaceted fields of forestry. 

Posted in: , , , ,

Related Articles