University of Calgary

In profile: Talented American teen begins international journey in Calgary

UToday HomeMarch 25, 2013

“Every professor I’ve had has been amazing so far,” says Keith van der Meulen, 18. Photo by Riley Brandt“Every professor I’ve had has been amazing so far,” says Keith van der Meulen, 18. Photo by Riley BrandtAt just 18, Keith van der Meulen has his feet firmly planted in two countries, he wants to lend a hand in other countries — and he has his eyes on the world.

As a first-year student at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering, the possibilities seem unlimited.

Born in Canada and raised in the U.S., van der Meulen says he has an “international perspective” he’d like to expand on here.

He hails from a town north of Seattle in the U.S. — as it happens, the country with the greatest number of research collaborations with the University of Calgary, and one of the six countries identified in the International Strategy as a “region of emphasis.”

The first-year engineering student arrived in Calgary via a Seymour Schulich entrance award, based on his community service, entrepreneurial activities and academics.

“Every professor I’ve had has been amazing so far,” says van der Meulen, who was attracted by the quality of teaching here and the opportunities for engineers in the energy sector. Schulich funding “opens up so many possibilities” to widen his engineering knowledge, he says.

Services offered by the Undergrad Studies Office and the Leadership and Student Engagement Office helped the teenager smooth his transition to campus life. He made new friends after enrolling in the university’s Emerging Leaders Program.

His academic interests are broad. While he is going into mechanical engineering, he’s intrigued by the university’s Department of Geomatics Engineering, which he describes as “one of the top in the world.” Keeping his postgraduate options open, he’s also looking at engineering fields such as mechatronics and robotics that will be essential in developing future unmanned interplanetary travel.

He’s waiting to hear about a research grant to help design a microbial fuel cell that converts energy created in sewage treatment into electricity. “The end game,” he says, is to “help developing countries turn costly sewage treatment into a break-even proposition, or at least neutral in terms of carbon footprint.”

Outside the classroom, van der Meulen’s various interests are opening new possibilities. The community service that helped him win the Schulich scholarship included setting up and running a company called Foster Bikes to refurbish bicycles for children in need ( and volunteering on a park trail-building crew. He has continued his efforts in Calgary, but the community benefiting from his services has grown wider. He volunteers for Engineers Without Borders, which he says is all about “creating systemic change” to help developing countries.

Along with his other past accomplishments, van der Meulen went to the U.S. nationals with his high school rowing crew. With the Oval nearby, he wants to try speedskating, which he likens to rowing on ice. “There’s something addictive about going really, really fast and then gliding.”

Speaking of movement, he plans to take advantage of study abroad and overseas internship programs for engineers — one of the highlights of the Schulich experience — after he hits third year. “I’d like to see as much of the world as I can.”


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