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Building a new life

September 7, 2012

Building a new life
Mr. Robert Yip offered congratulations to Robyn Barr, recipient of a student award established in memory of his father Charles Yip.

Can a concrete canoe float? Will it win a race on water? Why would anyone even try?

These are the kinds of questions that intrigue Robyn Barr, who’s entering her final year of Western’s bachelor of engineering program. “I know the whole idea of a concrete canoe seems a little strange, but it’s possible,” says Robyn.

As a member of the Western Engineering Concrete Canoe Association (WECCA), Robyn and the team designed and built a canoe with lightweight concrete and fine mesh – with the goal of racing it against other Canadian university teams this past May in Moncton, N.B.

“We created a great canoe, but when we pulled it out of the shipping box, it had a large crack down the side,” remembers Robyn, who earned the Charles Yip Memorial 125th Anniversary Alumni Award, endowed at Foundation Western. Established by Mr. Henry Yip to honour his father Charles, the award is granted to a third-year engineering student based on need, academic achievement and extracurricular involvement.

Her teammates repaired the crack with duct tape, and still raced, even though they knew that tape and water don’t mix. “We had to bail a lot of water during the final race,” she says, with a chuckle.

But Robyn is no stranger to the school of hard knocks. A high school dropout, she managed a bar for five years. Knowing she wanted more out of life, Robyn quit her job, with no real plan of what to do next. “It was risky but the best decision I ever made,” she admits.

“If I didn’t have this assistance, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

She enrolled in an adult high school in London, Ont. (the G.A. Wheable Centre), and focused on advanced math and science courses, receiving her diploma with a 92 per cent average. Robyn, however, struggled to believe she would have the opportunity for a great education. Yet she persevered and soon immersed herself in Western’s civil and structural engineering program at the age of 24 – while still working part-time.

Earning an engineering scholarship last year meant a lot to Robyn. “It was such a great help because I could really focus my energy toward school and on my goal of becoming a structural engineer,” she says. “If I didn’t have this assistance, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

That makes Robyn so thankful for those who donate to Western. “When donors give to make a difference in a student’s life, that’s such a selfless act,” she says. “Without that kind of support many graduates wouldn’t do what they’re doing right now.”

As for the future, Robyn has big ideas. She might help build a highway or a high rise, a roller coaster or a concert stage. Whatever she does, Robyn has learned a lot from a little duct tape and a generous donor – when everything works together, anything can stick.


This article appeared in the 2012 edition of Student Awards Recipient Report
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