A perfect score

Engineering grad Nathan Olson's perfect 4.0 GPA stems from his desire to help people.

13 June 2018

(Edmonton) To call Nathan Olson a high achiever would be putting it mildly. Nathan, who graduates today from the Electrical Engineering Co-op Program, receives three awards for his outstanding academic achievements - including the highest academic standing in the entire graduating class.

Aside from receiving his undergraduate engineering degree with distinction, Nathan is awarded the Governor General's Silver Academic Medal, the Henry Birks and Sons Medal and the APEGA Past Presidents' Medal in Electrical Engineering.

We caught up with Nathan to ask him some questions about his experience as an engineering student and plans for his career.


Q: You received 39 grades of A+, five grades of A and two grades of A- in your exemplary academic career. Can you tell us a bit about some of these courses and how your grades correlated to your learning?

A: During the course of my undergraduate career in engineering I took many rigorous, challenging, and interesting courses. A simple glance at my transcript would indicate that I excelled in the majority of these courses, however I believe that the letter grades assigned do not necessarily reflect the amount of knowledge attained. One of the courses that I learned the most in was the implementation phase of my capstone project (ECE 491). My capstone project was on the development of MRI electronics, in which I managed a group of four engineering students to deliver a custom set of electronics for an experimental cancer treatment solution being developed at the U of A. In this course I received a grade that was lower than average, however, I found that it was one of the most useful courses in developing my skills as a future engineer.

Q: To what extent did you desire to achieve a perfect 4.0?

A: The goal of achieving academic prestige is something that motivates many students to work hard. I have never really cared about the actual GPA, but rather, I was motivated to by the desire to learn and become a better future engineer. After working in the co-op program, I quickly learned that the decisions made by engineers have drastic consequences. In many cases the safety of others is at stake, which is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. It was this responsibility that motivated me to work hard in school. The grades that followed were never my main focus.

Q: What was your favourite course?

A: The faculty offers many amazing courses taught by knowledgeable and engaged professors. This makes it difficult to select a favourite course; however, the capstone design project stood out to me as one of the most educational experiences. The mixture of soft skills and technical expertise needed for this project set it apart from many of the core courses and served as a practical introduction to working in an engineering role.

Q: What does the Iron Ring mean to you?

A: The Iron Ring is important because it reminds engineers that they have a responsibility to make ethical decisions. I find the Iron Ring especially significant to me because the obligation connects me to my dad who is also an engineer, and is a major role model for me in many ways. For me, having my dad present the ring to me was the most meaningful part of the ceremony.

Q: What was the impact of receiving scholarships on your studies and life?

A: Scholarships meant a lot to me as a student. I received four scholarships during my undergrad career - the APEGA HR Webb Memorial Scholarship, the University of Alberta Academic Excellence Scholarship, the Faculty of Engineering Academic Excellence Scholarship and the Jon Burkinshaw Memorial Rugby Scholarship. It was encouraging to be supported throughout my education by the university and external donors. Money is obviously very important to all students and I found that receiving a scholarship can help relieve financial stress and allow one to focus on their studies.

Q: What advice would you give a high school graduate about to begin their post-secondary career?

A: I would highly recommend that people going into engineering adopt a humble approach to learning and try to help people out along the way. I would also recommend that new students do the things they need to do to be mentally and physically well. It is easy to lose sight of what really matters if you get caught up in achieving good grades. If you are healthy, then you are giving yourself the best chance to excel!

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

A: One of my main hobbies was building a go cart from spare parts with some of my friends from outside of engineering. It was a great way to laugh, relax and occasionally learn something! Another project that I worked on outside of my degree was a solar initiative called Sun-In-A-Box. The goal of this project was to educate and inspire people to use solar technology.

Q: What's next for you?

A: In the future I plan to continue learning and developing my skills as a professional. The most valuable lesson I learned from engineering was that I am really not an expert in anything. Working with experienced tradespeople, operators and engineers allowed me to realize that completing my degree is just the start. I have a job in Ottawa where I will get to work with a whole host of new and exciting technologies.