Industry Advisory Board: Anna Robak

Anna Robak, WSP Canada
Anna Robak is Director of Research & Innovation at WSP Canada.

The Civil Engineering Industry Advisory Board (IAB) is an integral link in supporting and strengthening the Department’s relationships with key industries, fostering increased collaborative research, enhancing student experiential learning opportunities and increasing industry engagement.

Our IAB is comprised of a group of experienced industry professionals who are all committed to the advancement of our students, faculty and the Department.

We recently caught up with IAB member Anna Robak who is the Director, Research & Innovation at WSP Canada.

What do you specialize in?

My role is promoting research and innovation across all disciplines in science and engineering. It’s an exciting job, because I get to learn about all kinds of fascinating things that our people are researching from enzymes all the way through to structures. I’m also helping people find ways of making more research and innovation happen, and that could be by bringing together research partners or helping them find funding.

What are some projects you’re working on right now?

My background is in asset management, which is all about understanding how an asset’s condition will perform over time, how demand for it changes over time, and therefore how much money you must invest to keep that asset serving the people.

Prior to joining WSP Canada, for 15 years I was advising clients on asset management all around the world.

One project was with Parks Canada. We helped them develop a prioritization system to know which of their billions of dollars of assets they should invest more in so that they wouldn’t crumble, and they could keep serving Canadians’ desire to connect with their heritage and with the outdoors. That prioritization system that we advise them on is still in use today, which is fantastic and I’m proud of that.

More recently, WSP just submitted an NSERC Mission Alliance Grant with University of Toronto Prof. Chi-Guhn Lee from the Centre for Maintenance Optimization and Reliability Engineering (C-MORE). In this project, we want to see corrosion through layers of paint on large structures.

There’s this technique that some mathematicians at the University of Nottingham Trent developed a few years ago, and they use these different mathematical algorithms and hyperspectral cameras to see through layers of old paintings.

We want to use the same technology to see corrosion on large structures across an entire asset portfolio. This means people wouldn’t have to climb up these structures now for inspections and the work environment would be a lot safer. Also, we would be able to understand a lot more about the depth of corrosion that we can’t see with the naked eye.

Why did you want to join the IAB at U of T?

I’m passionate about advancing engineering practice. I wish it could move faster than it does, and I wish could bring research into practice more rapidly. The big reason I wanted to join the IAB was to help make those stronger connections so that we can make that sort of conversion happen more quickly.

How can faculty and even students take advantage of the IAB?

They can reach out to me or anyone else on the IAB. We are very passionate about connecting research partners and finding ways to amplify research. Contact any one of us because we probably have contacts among us who could help you find the right pathway. Whether you’re a researcher or a student trying to better understand how to get into industry, that’s the kind of thing that we’re here to help with.

If you weren’t in the engineering space right now, what do you think you would be doing or what was your backup career?

I must admit I’ve always loved programming. I love the challenge of programming. I haven’t done it in ages though…Before university, I wanted to be an urban planner. Before that, it was a doctor. And before that, a ballerina.

What’s something very few people know about you?

Probably that I did the Ironman about 15 years ago in New Zealand.

Learn more about the Civil Engineering Industry Advisory Board and its members

By David Goldberg