March 2006 ISSUE


From the Great Big World to the Grade 3 Classroom

Public Relations Coordinator


Heinz Unger, P.Eng., and a fellow hiker enjoy the great outdoors. An environmentally sound lifestyle and volunteering for APEGGA are just part of professionalism for this active APEGGA member.

Heinz Unger, P.Eng., is no ordinary volunteer. From travelling the world, to building his own highly energy-efficient home, to standing in front of 30 Grade 3 students for an APEGGA classroom presentation, Mr. Unger has done plenty.

Originally from Australia, Mr. Unger arrived in Canada in 1970 and became a member of APEGBC. He came to Alberta in 1976, first landing in Edmonton and then several years later moving to the Calgary area.

 “Although I had worked and lived aboard most of the time during 1976-2000, I always maintained my APEGGA membership,” says Mr. Unger. One reason? So he could continue to volunteer for a variety of APEGGA activities.

While in Edmonton, Mr. Unger was on the Members Committee for APEGGA, which allowed him to give back to the Association and to promote the importance of a self-governing profession. Soon after that he became involved in Outreach.

“It’s an opportunity to contribute to our profession by promoting engineering as an attractive career choice, and also by showing that engineering can be a lot of fun and exciting,” says Mr. Unger.
The volunteer work was “a chance to make up for my earlier lack of involvement. Now that I’m living in Alberta full time and do consulting work part time, I have much more time to give.

“There’s certainly an urge to give something back to society and the profession for all the opportunities that I have had.”

Mr. Unger finds it refreshing and rewarding to spend time with young people aged six to 18. “I learn a lot from the enthusiasm and curiosity of our youth, and meeting young people connects me to the future. It’s also wonderful to think that I could help the older high school students with making that important decision of what to study.”
But a good volunteer has to be a good professional. One of the biggest engineering challenges Mr. Unger faces is keeping up to date with the rapidly evolving state of the profession.
“There are so many new developments, applications, products and insights that it is difficult to keep abreast.”

Professional development courses and doing research for classroom presentations are how Mr. Unger meets this challenge. “It’s great to have to go back and research and learn or relearn things before making a technical presentation — these kids have the most challenging questions!”
And Mr. Unger is rewarded for all his efforts. “After doing a classroom presentation on rocks and minerals in a school in Cochrane I received this beautiful card made and signed by all the kids thanking me for my presentation. This is what makes volunteering worthwhile.”

He wants to inspire students the same way he was inspired in university. “One of my university professors in Vienna was a real inspiration since he was so enthusiastic about structures and bridges. He had a way to make engineering really interesting and exciting, and one of his approaches was to take his students on many field trips to construction sites. We even visited a recently collapsed bridge, since he thought that one can learn much more from a failure rather than a success.”

It was then that Mr. Unger discovered his true passion for engineering. He travelled the world as an engineering consultant and then became a technical and environmental specialist with the World Bank. It was during this time that Mr. Unger traveled to Bhutan, a small Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas.
“It had not been opened up to the Western influences until the 1960s. The people are still mostly unspoiled, the landscape and scenery are magical, and the respect for the environment and community life is great — in other words, a little bit of a paradise.”

Mr. Unger also has a strong interest in sustainable living and housing. Since moving to the Calgary area, Heinz and his family built an energy-efficient home. The home includes a composting toilet, solar domestic hot-water heating, rainwater collection and grey-water treatment. He also volunteers with the Alberta Wilderness Association to help with their efforts to protect and save some of the wild spaces left in Alberta.

When Mr. Unger gets to spend some time relaxing at home, he enjoys reading books on engineering works from thousands of years ago, such as J.G. Landels’ Engineering in the Ancient World or The Ancient Engineers by L. Sprague de Camp.

“I love to visit places like the pyramids, the large aqueducts, old temples and other structures, and then consider the engineering that would have been applied to the design and building of these structures.”