CivMin Grads to Watch 2024

With U of T Engineering’s convocation ceremonies on June 18, 2024, our students mark the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

CivMin’s Grads to Watch (L toR): Charles Balkenbusch (CivMin MASc 2T4) and Grant Liao (MinE 2T3 + PEY).

Having enriched the U of T Engineering community as undergraduate and graduate students, they will join our vibrant, global network of Skule™ alumni, where they will continue to address pressing challenges around the world and inspire the next generation.

This year’s 14 Grads to Watch — selected by their home departments and institutes — embody the spirit of U of T Engineering. Their stories illustrate the creativity, innovation and global impact that define our community. Watch their next steps! 

Here are CivMin’s graduate and undergraduate student from the Grads to Watch story.


Charles Balkenbusch (CivMin MASc 2T4)

Balkenbusch’s thesis project was on the occurrence and removal of microplastics across drinking water treatment facilities in North America.

“It is the first study to quantify the amount of microplastics to 2 micrometres in size present in drinking water at multiple facilities using a consistent analytical methodology — in our case, we used Raman spectroscopy,” says Balkenbusch, who worked under the supervision of Professor Robert Andrews (CivMin) and was also a member of the Drinking Water Research Group (DWRG) at U of T Engineering.

An international student from the United States, Balkenbusch spent three years as an assistant geologist in Kansas City before coming to U of T to pursue his master’s degree in civil engineering.

Balkenbusch made the most of his time at U of T, getting involved in campus life by joining the Civil and Mineral Graduate Student Association, where he was social chair. He was also the vice-president of finance for the Ontario Water Works Association, University of Toronto Student Chapter.

“My wife and I loved living in Toronto as there is always something great to do and to eat, and interesting people to surround ourselves with,” he says. “Being a 20-minute walk to the shore of Lake Ontario was definitely an added plus!”

Balkenbusch is now back in the U.S., working at Burns & McDonnell as a process engineer for both drinking water and wastewater. His experience at U of T has impacted his personal and professional life in many ways, he says.

“I used to dislike public speaking, but after having opportunities to teach a lecture-style tutorial for four semesters, to talk to high school students about water treatment, and to present at an international conference, I learned to enjoy being in front of a group of people,” he says.

“The program helped me develop my voice and the confidence to share my ideas and opinions, and that will serve me well throughout my career.”

I would like to thank Professor Robert Andrews for his continuous support and guidance, for giving me the opportunity to join the Drinking Water Research Group and to be able to help progress such impactful research, and for providing such a collaborative working environment; Husein Almuhtaram (CivMin postdoctoral fellow) for his continuous support and guidance; the entire DWRG group for making this experience so rewarding and fulfilling; and my wife Samantha Balkenbusch for her endless support.


Grant Liao (MinE 2T3 + PEY)

Being a part of the U of T Engineering community has offered Liao boundless opportunities to explore his many interests, he says.

“I have worked on design teams, learned new languages, joined clubs tailored to my hobbies and interests, played intramural sports and developed engineering skills through immersive opportunities and relevant coursework,” he says.

One of his most enriching experiences as an undergraduate student in the Lassonde mineral engineering program was attending the Canadian Mining Games, where he led the team as co-captain in his final year.

“We were met with challenges that put our technical knowledge and practical skills to the test, while getting to meet future employers and fellow mining engineers across the country,” Liao says.

“Over four years, I ended up on the podium for five individual events. I am proud to have represented U of T.”

Liao was also the recipient of many scholarships, including the Canadian Mineral Industry Education Foundation Scholarship, the Lassonde Scholarship, the Jeffrey Skoll Scholarship, the WAMIC Wood Scholarship, an NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award, the Frank Howard Guest Bursary and the Shell Canada Limited Engineering Scholarship.

A love for travel is one of many reasons Liao was drawn towards a career in mining.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked for an international gold producer during my PEY Co-op, visiting Alaska, Nevada and Brazil while working on a variety of projects and developing my skills along the way,” he says.

“Looking forward, I am hoping to land a fly-in-fly-out engineering job within Canada. The flexible work rotation allows for time off to pursue my other interests in the mining finance space, either through technical writing or studying for a chartered financial analyst (CFA) designation.”

Until then, Liao will be taking a long overdue vacation to visit family in China and explore other countries in Asia.

I’d like to thank Professors John Harrison and Sebastian Goodfellow (both CivMin) for initially exposing me to the Lassonde mineral engineering program as a TrackOne student, and again to John for later guiding me through my summer research term. If their seminars weren’t so persuasive, I would have never discovered mining.

Story by Safa Jinje & Rebecca Cheung

This story originally published by Engineering News