Karine Leblanc shares how joining ASHRAE has helped her grow personally and professionally.
My father taught HVAC classes at a technical college and was a licensed mechanical contractor. Surprisingly enough, he never pushed me toward a mechanical engineering career path, but I was always curious and attracted to the diversity of the profession. The fact that I could learn and practice plumbing, heating, ventilation, refrigeration, fire protection, and estimating—to name only a few—was fascinating. And joining ASHRAE helped my career immensely.
1. It challenged me to become a sustainable engineer from a young age.
I was first exposed to ASHRAE around age 18. One of the HVAC program classes included a student design project. I can assure you that ASHRAE’s fundamental books got a lot of good use. Not only did I get exposed to ASHRAE, but also to sustainability. Our project was a Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP). The GSHP systems last longer and are very quiet and more energy-efficient than traditional HVAC systems.
I remember my team looking at options regarding the piping length, size, depth, and material. We had to look at either designing around horizontal or vertical boreholes and decide which design would work best and give us the most efficient system. We learned a lot during this class, and the fact that it was a “real life” project was so inspiring.
2. It helped me make meaningful connections.
After graduating from technical college, I went on to pursue my mechanical engineering degree specializing in HVAC. Around the same time, I had my first official ASHRAE role as student branch president of a small committee. I started attending the Montreal ASHRAE Chapter meetings more religiously during my four years of university. Not only did I start building a social network at a young age, but I also had the privilege to hear technical presentations at all the meetings.
I was blessed with the opportunity to do an internship in Los Angeles during my last year in university. I already knew what I wanted to do in the HVAC world, but I was missing a critical key element—I was not fluent in English. I could get by with the very basics, but I could not carry a conversation. I started my internship in January 2001 and it lasted eight months. It took me half of the journey to become fluent in English. This life-changing experience would have never happened without the help of my dear mentor and the support from the management of the company. Fast-forward 17 years, and I am still working at the same place with the same owners.
3. It made me feel welcome in the industry.
Moving 3,000 miles to another country was not an easy task, but I fell in love with beautiful, sunny southern California. Not knowing anyone in Los Angeles, the first thing I did was join the Southern California Chapter of ASHRAE. At my first meeting, I was one of the few women in the room, but I was used to this after graduating from engineering school.
However, my first impression of the chapter was how welcoming everyone was. My first role in the chapter was reception chair, which was a great way to meet everyone. It didn’t take long until I became an officer and joined the board. I filled many chair positions until I became the second female chapter president (2009–2010) since 1930. At that time,I was also the youngest. Learning to be a great leader at a volunteer organization like ASHRAE is the best form of education you could ask for.
4. It taught me to be a strong leader.
Joining the Southern California chapter was just the first step. Next, I got involved in ASHRAE Region X, which covers four states: California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii. I started as student activities regional vice chair and eventually became the first female director and regional chair since 1959. The best part about being involved in ASHRAE Region X is getting to meet and inspire new members to join, learning to become a better engineer, and offering help and support in performance solutions for the HVAC industry.
We have approximately 4,500 members in our region, so I had a lot of members to represent at the board of directors at a society level. This well-respected, three-year term position within ASHRAE helped me tremendously personally and professionally. Not only did I get to vote on important issues related to making ASHRAE a better organization, I also made sure we maintained our status as a leader in the latest HVACR technologies.
5. It showed me the importance of sustainability.
I’ve learned a lot over my 17 years in the industry, witnessing the increase in energy efficiency, sustainability awareness, and the drive to create net-zero buildings. It’s all very inspiring and makes me get up every morning ready to be part of building a better world. I couldn’t accomplish this without the support of the ASHRAE community.
ASHRAE’s mission is to advance the arts and sciences of the HVACR industry, to serve humanity, and to promote a sustainable world. I feel they are doing just that. The organization is committed to cultivating better engineers and helping us achieve higher efficiency and more sustainable systems. Don’t just take my word for it—feel free to ask any of the other 57,000 ASHRAE members.
Karine Leblanc studied mechanical engineering at École de Technologie Supérieure, part of the University of Québec. She has been working as an HVAC sales engineer for US Air Conditioning Distributors since 2002. She served on the ASHRAE Society Board of Directors from 2014 to 2017 and became the first female Region X Director Regional Chair since 1959.