Mihskakwan James Harper is calling from Paris. And even through the hiccuping long-distance signal, the joy in his voice is clear. It’s the joy of someone who’s doing exactly what they were meant to do.
“I’m living my best life, eating all the pastries and learning the wonderful language,” jokes Harper [BSc(ME)/17], minimizing the fact he’s in the middle of exam week at Paris’s prestigious École Polytechnique, where he’s getting his master’s degree in renewable energy.
“I do have a big dream to be part of the movement on climate action.”
This UM alumnus’ grand plan to engineer a more sustainable and environmentally conscious world is one he began crafting as a forward-thinking 12-year-old in Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation in Alberta.
The foundation of that dream—along with an emerging interest in decarbonization in the mobility sector—was built at the University of Manitoba when Harper was a thriving Engineering Access Program (ENGAP) undergrad, leading an engineering team in the International Shell Eco-marathon Americas.
The competition challenges students to design, build and drive the most energy-efficient car. Theirs was the only Canadian vehicle to make it on track.
“The whole thing was just an eye-opener for me, to prove to myself that I could actually do something amazing.”
Harper credits ENGAP—which is “not just a program, it’s a community”—with being integral to realizing his potential. The initiative offers academic, social and personal supports to Indigenous engineering students. More than 80 are enrolled (the most to date).
“ENGAP was foundational to my entire success, personally and professionally. I owe a lot to the program,” he says.
His gratitude extends to Gerry Price [BSc(ME)/70, MSc/72, LLD/17], a benefactor of ENGAP and mentor to UM engineering students including Harper himself through an internship at Price Industries.
“It was nice to have that opportunity, to have him extend that to me. I’m pretty grateful.”