Parisa Fazeli was an engineer long before she knew what the term meant. As a child, she would collect the discarded matchboxes from the family’s gas stove and pack them with soil from the backyard. Next, a splash of water before stowing them away to dry. “In my head I was making bricks, hoping someday I would have enough to build a little house for my dolls,” said Parisa. “I never wanted to be a doctor or a teacher. I always knew I would like to be someone who does something in a building.”
Many years later, Parisa enrolled in the Civil Engineering program at Buali-Sina University in Hamedan, Iran, graduating in 2011. Shortly thereafter, she was ranked in the top 3% of participants in her master’s degree entrance exam and was admitted to the Building and Housing Research Center-Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology in Tehran. Parisa completed her Master of Science in Civil Engineering in 2014 and was able to apply her thesis research in friction dampers to real-world project work during her first co-op placement. By all accounts, she was on track for success in her field.
In 2015, Parisa’s career journey became unexpectedly complex when her husband decided to pursue international schooling. “I hadn’t planned to come to Canada, so I didn’t know anything about English,” she explained. Parisa spent her first two years learning the language and studying for a proficiency exam. “I was always told that if I want to find a job in my field, I have to have a Canadian degree. So once I had my certificate in language, I was desperately looking for a position and considered maybe another master’s degree or a PhD so I could find a job.”
In a chance social gathering, a friend mentioned they had a connection with a long-time WalterFedy employee and offered to make an introduction. Soon after, Parisa began job shadowing with the structural engineering team two days a week. What started off as an opportunity to observe life at an engineering firm within the Canadian context soon turned into a part-time employment offer. “It happened really organically,” said Russ Parnell, Senior Engineer at the firm. “She was always asking for more involvement and showed initiative to invest in herself. I have a lot of respect for Parisa’s willingness to take on challenges and what she’s overcome to get here. We’re growing because of her skills and unique background. She just needed encouragement to believe in herself.”
“I love my coworkers and I love the environment,” said Parisa. “I feel very comfortable talking to my leader when I have a question, and I know they aren’t judging me. Everyone is supportive and helpful.”
Now a full-time designer on the structural team, Parisa has worked on projects for the Waterloo Region District School Board, University of Guelph, and Conestoga Cold Storage. “Conestoga Cold Storage was my first real job. Over the past 20 years WalterFedy has done many projects for Conestoga Cold Storage, so the work is fairly typical,” she said. “But when I went on site and looked at it from the outside, and saw the 140-foot building, I thought – wow that is massive! At first, you are terrified, but then you feel really proud.”
For Parisa, the best designs bring the whole project team together. “Maybe you are sizing a beam or a column. It is easy because you have a formula, so you just calculate a number. But how is it going to work with the rest of the design?” she says. “When you collaborate with other disciplines, it makes a huge difference. You have to think about how you are going to affect other parts of the design as well, and how [contractors] are going to build it,” she said.
When she’s not collaborating with her team, you can find Parisa channeling her creativity into baking and world cuisines.