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Meet Vincent Popovich, Faculty of Engineering valedictorianJune 12, 2020

"I can safely say that the person I was in first year, and the one I am today, though similar, are extremely different." Get to know our Class of 2020 valedictorian, Vincent Popovich

Name: Vincent Daniel Popovich

Hometown: Dundas, Ontario

What is the degree and subject you pursued?
Materials Sciences and Engineering and Society

What made you choose McMaster?
My parents met at Mac; my Dad was pursuing a Phys. Ed degree, and my mother a Drama major. They settled in Hamilton after they got married and growing up a stone throw from a top-class institution definitely influenced my decision.

When my brother went to university, he chose McMaster and he became ingrained in this incredibly positive culture. Family has and always will be one of the strongest motivators for me.

However, when I was applying for school, I did not want to just follow in my family’s footsteps. So, I explored. I looked at all of the options--there was even a time when I considered going out of province for school, but eventually it came down to a conversation I had with my brother. We essentially talked about all of the connections to McMaster that would make my experience better, not worse. He and I are very similar; we share all our interests, friends, and experiences, which ended up being a strong factor in choosing this school.

The other major factor was the fact that Mac possesses general first years for both science and engineering programs. I knew I wanted to pursue STEM, but as a student coming out of high school I had no idea what these programs actually entailed. I needed time to learn that for myself, therefore the general first year was essential. In the end, I knew I was going to McMaster--the campus honestly just felt like home, and when the time came to apply for university, it was a no-brainer.

What will you be doing after graduation?
Come September 2020, I will be returning to ArcelorMittal Dofasco, which is where I completed a co-op term in the Product Characterization group of the Research and Development team. This time around I will be fulfilling the role of Process Engineering Coordinator within the Hot Mill business unit.

Do you have any advice for current and future students?
Thankfully enough, when I was starting first year, I had several close friends both starting first year with me and finishing up their degrees. Thanks to them, I received a lot of excellent advice throughout my first year. However, I think the most important piece of it was the cliched “Be yourself." Everything in your life is dependent on how you see yourself and being the truest representation of that person will allow you to find likeminded individuals, or goals to strive towards.

You will always feel uncomfortable trying to be someone you are not.

How has McMaster shaped the person you are today?

I can safely say that the person I was in first year, and the one I am today, though similar, are extremely different.

Through school and student groups I have become a much more confident, comfortable person. Most importantly, I am comfortable with who I am. There are countless little interactions that have led to this development, but they all showcase interactions where I was challenged, whether it was class, or friends, or personal matters.

Every single instance of school has allowed me to broaden my own perspective on life and helped me to create empathetic connections to everything around me. I owe all of that to McMaster, and the people I have met there.

What events did you enjoy the most at McMaster/Hamilton?
Two things stick out so pointedly in my mind. First, taking part in Welcome Week Move-In for four years as an Engineering Welcome Week representative. This has been a highlight of the year, every year I have been in school. Helping first years and their parents feel comfortable with the concept of school is incredibly important, which I have enjoyed being a part of. Some of the people I have met through Move-In have turned into life-long friends; but mainly it is the small interactions with others on campus where someone says “Hey--you were there when I moved in, can I ask you a question?” Being able to make them feel a little better about school has been an amazing experience for me. On another note, my efficiency-focused engineering brain absolutely loves the jigsaw puzzle of logistics that is moving in thousands of students in two days.

The second thing that sticks in my head is taking part in three Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race (GNCTR) events. McMaster Engineering has a team that competes every year, and through this competition I have met an incredible group of people. I would not trade these events for anything.

What is your definition of success?

I think success has got to be tied to happiness, and that if you have found yourself happy with where you are, then you have been successful on your journey, regardless of how long it has taken to get you there.

Over time, some other goal may come along that will make you happy. Pursuing and achieving it would be considered a success in my opinion.

How has McMaster helped you create a brighter world?
I really hope I have helped create a brighter world, but it is hard to see one’s own impact on that kind of thing, so I am not sure. For me, I have met most of my closest friends through Mac. Some of those people I have known prior to McMaster, however our relationships have grown due to our time spent here. When I think of them, I smile and think about how lucky I am to have shared the past six years together. I know that my world is definitely brighter because of them and McMaster. That is all I can really ask for!

Who is your favourite professor?
Over the years I have had a couple of professors, so it is really hard to pick just one; therefore, I have to narrow it down to three. The Engineering and Society department has been one of my biggest supporters since year two, and I would feel regret if I didn’t mention Cam Churchill, Brian Baetz or Greg Zilberbrant in this category. All three of them have challenged, mentored, and taught me a myriad of different things and I don’t think I would be the person I am today without these individuals.

To them, thank you. Thank you for helping me to realize my own potential. Thank you for pushing me onwards, and always being available for a chat if needed. Stay in touch!

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

I think if I could have one superpower, I would take someone like Wolverine’s regeneration powers. I have extremely bad ankles and knees from years of sports injuries, and I hurt them literally walking down the street. The ability to heal quickly would be really helpful.

If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be?
In a dream world, I would love to give living in Scandinavia a try. I love winter and its seasonal sports, so spending some time around a Norwegian fjord or Swedish mountains would be pretty unreal. A close second would be the Rocky Mountains, a place like Canmore, Alberta.

Realistically though, I would like to live wherever my friends and family are. They are the biggest draw to a location which luckily happens to be right here in Hamilton, Ontario for the time being.

What have you been doing to self-care during the COVID-19 lockdown?
We have a full household over here at Chez Popovich. My brother moved home, my girlfriend moved in, and my parents are both here as well. I have a lot of entertainment options for much of every day which has been awesome.

Outside of that, I have been trying to keep up with the home workout trend, which is going pretty well. It gets challenging to work up the motivation some days, but when you have enough people telling you to do it, it generally sticks. I have also dabbled in cooking more meals, which can be really enjoyable.

What’s the hardest part about working virtually for you? The easiest?
I do not actually have very much work to do, as I am a new graduate who has not started working yet. I think the hardest part has got to be not wasting away an entire sunlit day playing video games. The easiest? That would be wasting an entire sunlit day playing video games.

What would you advise others as we transition to a new normal?

Stay calm, stay smart. Think before you act. Think rationally about the situation we are in. This is uncharted territory, so we must act cautiously and with togetherness. I know this is general advice; however I have zero experience with this scenario, same as the rest of us.