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Life of Canadian PI by Ethel Clemente Fernandez

Nancy Santoyo, P.Eng.

More than a decade in the making

by Ethel Clemente-Fernandez

     Presentation of PEng. Certificate Santoyo Family
Nancy Santoyo is presented her P..Eng. certificate
The Santoyo Family

Would you give up on your dream if it seemed like the stars were not aligned in your favour far too many times? Would you give up on your dream if it seemed that life is always knocking you down whenever you try to stand up and start over again? To Nancy Santoyo, there is only one answer : Never.

Nancy (whom I fondly call “Ate Nanz”) may have drawn out everything that she planned on doing with her life, but she learned that her journey to practice engineering in Canada was not an easy one. She had to go through a lot of setbacks, tough times, unfavourable turns of events and a lot of challenging decisions. But she did not give up, she did not forget what she aspired to be and aspired to do, even if it took her more than 10 years to finally see that P.Eng. designation at the end of her name.

Her remarkable journey of resilience and hard work will make you think twice about giving up.

The beginning

Growing up, Nancy enjoyed nature, the countryside and vastness of Batangas province where typical activities included climbing trees, hiking with friends, gathering firewood for cooking, laundry and swimming by the river banks back in the days when the rivers were pure and free of pollution.

“I do not mind hard work, but I made sure I had fun doing it and if possible, with friends,” Nancy mused. “Attending Sunday mass is a regular family activity, where at some point I was a member of a church choir, singing during the mass. Faith in God is one important factor in my life and it is the foundation of who I am in my journey in life,” she continued.

The inspiration

Nancy grew up in a big family with five sisters and four brothers. Losing her father when she was just 20, made her stronger and mature more quickly. While both her parents served as her inspiration, it was her mother, whom she considers her guiding light, mentor and soul mate, who instilled in her young mind that valuing time, hard work and education are keys to a successful life, along with kindness and generosity. She, along with her older brothers, helped their mother to ensure her younger siblings would go to college.

A father’s dream

To have an engineer in the family was her father’s dream. It was because of this dream that Nancy decided to pursue engineering.

“Engineering was not an easy path, as I don’t have a sharp mind for mathematics. However, I know that patience and hard work pays off, so I was determined to exert more effort and to rise up to every difficult challenge that comes with completing an engineering degree.”

Her father passed away before she completed her studies. And though he didn’t live long enough to see the realization of his dream, “I knew in my heart, I have fulfilled his dream,” said Nancy.

Early career

With a freshly inked bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Batangas State University, Nancy worked as a Project Engineer (Philippines) for a heavy engineering and construction company in her home province. She then accepted a job as a construction engineer in the oil and gas industry in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Her training as an outside process operator for Caltex Oil through a refinery development program, while still attending university, prepared her well for these opportunities.

New beginnings

In 1993, she came to Canada from Malaysia to join her husband, Victor to start a family. After two months as a landed immigrant, she found a job as a board developer, then quality inspector, for a printed circuit board (PCB) company and while there, she took short night courses on Autocad at Red River College. It was around this time that she was also expecting their first child.

“I remember that in early December 1994, while taking the final examination at Red River College, I was praying that I would not have my baby at the school,” she said. Her prayers were answered, as on Christmas eve, her first son, Emmanuel, was born.

The journey

After four years of working at the PCB company, Nancy moved to Standard Aero to work as a Quality Inspector. It was around this time in 1997 that she applied to get her credentials assessed by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba (APEGM). The only option back then to be considered academically qualified was to take confirmatory exams. Though she was aware that writing the exams while working full time and raising children would be extremely difficult, she still took the first test and unfortunately, failed.

“In 2001, I decided to stop trying to write the examination and just focused on raising my two young sons and work full time in the hope that the right time would come for me to try again,” she recalled.

The following year, while giving birth to her youngest son, she suffered from hypertension and heart failure, which nearly cost her life.

“I am thankful to God, I survived and bounced back to new life and normal health. This changed my outlook and perspective in life – to only enjoy the life of being a mother and wife and not to pursue my professional engineer aspirations. My family is far more important than anything in the world,” said Nancy.

She eventually recovered and went back to work. She remembered that while working, “I felt that the dream of becoming a P. Eng was still strong within my heart and mind. So, in 2004, I applied for another assessment and was assigned 10 engineering courses (in-lieu of confirmatory exams) at the University of Manitoba (U of M) that had to be completed by 2011.” Nancy successfully completed the first course, but a change in work schedule suddenly left her with no choice, but to discontinue studies.

Three years later, in 2007, the desire to get her engineering designation returned when she moved to a new role as Configuration Control Specialist (an engineering related role). For the third time, she contacted APEGM and sought an extension of the completion due date. Her employer gave her the opportunity to go back to university and continue her dream of becoming a P. Eng.

“I set my goal and worked hard to take advantage of the opportunity given to me. I took one course each term while working full time,” she said.

She was halfway through completing the assigned courses when she was yet again faced with health challenges that would require surgery with a minimum six weeks to recover. Knowing that the extension period would lapse with her time away from university, she wrote a letter to APEGM to extend the due date for another term. Showing the progress of her time at university, APEGM granted the request.

In 2013, she completed all the assigned courses and was deemed academically-qualified by the association and was invited to register as an Engineer-In-Training (EIT). Successively, she met all the EIT requirements within a year, thus, in 2014, after over a decade of pursuing a dream, she finally got her Professional Engineer (P. Eng.) designation.

The ride was rough and the journey was long, but the immense feeling of fulfillment was all worth it, not to mention that the designation paved the way for her immediate promotion to Production Engineer at Standard Aero.

“My journey to becoming a P. Eng. was long and hard, but with dedication, commitment, hard work along with blessings and help from God, my family and friends outside and inside work and with strong conviction and faith, everything became possible,” Nancy beamed. She added, “becoming a P. Eng, has given a sense of fulfilment in life, I valued the education I earned from the Philippines and made it stronger and a valuable foundation of who I am now. I’m happy that the effort and investment of our parents getting us educated in the Philippines was not wasted. Becoming a P. Eng. has given me the opportunity to set an example to my own children, that education is important and can be earned no matter what status, age, race, you are. I hope my long journey will inspire others that it is still possible despite all odds in life.”

Giving back

Not one to waste “spare time,” and one who believes in giving back, Nancy currently volunteers as a member of a new committee, Specified Scope of Practice License, at the association and mentor at the Committee Increasing Participation of Women in Engineering (CIPWE). She’s also actively involved in St. Edward’s Catholic Church, Ministry of Liturgy and St. Peter Catholic Church, Ministry of Liturgy and has also served as an executive officer to the Filipino Members Chapter from 2014 to 2018.


She attributes much of her success to her family, Standard Aero, Craig Thorn (supervisor and mentor) and friends at U of M, who are now engineering interns.

“I thank them for all the help during tough examination days. Without them I would not be able to do it. Also, I encourage others to do the report and complete the journey to P. Eng., to start another chapter in their lives - serving and growing with the profession and to mentor others.”

Parting words

For assessment candidates: “If I managed to do it, anyone can do it! Believe, have faith and never give up! No one will do it for you, except yourself. Act if you can as time will pass and what we do in the passing of time defines who we are tomorrow. I live by these words, ‘Be grateful for all blessings in life. Thank those who were with you on your journey in life. Accept challenges with a positive perspective and give back.’ Believe that ‘The measure of success is not in never failing but in rising whenever we fall.’”

For new EITs and P.Engs: “Being a professional engineer is a continuous process of learning, sharing, growing, mentoring, volunteering and service to others. Being a P. Eng. alone does not define who a person is, but the good character that goes with being a P. Eng. does.”

By anyone’s measure, Nancy is an extraordinary example of resilience, determination and hard work. Despite facing overwhelming odds, she never gave up, she never quit and she succeeded in chasing her dream.

Ethel Clemente-Fernandez is a professional engineer registered in the province of Manitoba. She is an active member of the Filipino Members Chapter - Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba (FMC-APEGM).