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Considering embarking in the SAHC journey?

9 January, 2020 4 min reading
Sandryne Lefebvre, EIT, Conservation Engineering Officer, Heritage Conservation Services (Government of Canada), Canada

Considering embarking in the SAHC journey?

Considering embarking in the SAHC journey? I highly recommend it!


I started considering the SAHC master’s program when one of my co-workers in a group specialized in heritage conservation made a presentation on her SAHC thesis. She was speaking so highly of the program and of the knowledge she had gained in conservation. At that time, I was still half-way through my Bachelor of Engineering in Architectural Conservation and Sustainability at Carleton University (the only conservation engineering course in Canada at the time), but as soon as I was completing my last year I knew I had to apply to this program hoping that it would answer most of the questions unanswered during my bachelor. This is a decision I will never regret since so many of these questions were answered and to questions I didn’t think I had at the time.


The SAHC program is an experience of a lifetime that you will always remember. With this degree, you do not only get to obtain up to two diplomas from two different universities, but also friends and connections from all over the world. SAHC allows lovers of historical constructions and monuments to gather together and to exchange in order to build knowledge on the matter with the support of experienced conservation specialists. With fewer than 30 students, the program really helps create a sense of unity between the students leading to one big family. The program encompasses every aspect of conservation including history, material properties, non-destructive testing techniques, structural analyses, reinforcing designs, seismic analysis, and much more. The program is divided in 6 courses in addition to an integrated project in which you will be working in a team to combine all the knowledge acquired throughout the courses and also, the thesis work. 

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During the course work happening at the University of Minho in Guimarães, Portugal, lectures are normally in the morning and the assignments are in the afternoon. Assignments are mixture of in class, in lab and on-site work which always keeps it interesting. Through mainly group assignments, you will get to learn from each student (architects as well as building, structural, civil and conservation engineers) based on our strengths and areas of expertise. You will get to discuss on the best approaches to solve the problems presented to you as an interdisciplinary team. 


I have learned so much from both the lectures and my fellow colleagues. At the end of some of the assignments, teams will also have to present their work highlighting their objectives, their challenges, their problem-solving techniques and their results through oral presentations and written reports. Presentations will allow you to gain comfort and confidence in presenting in front of an audience which is a skill I am grateful to now have. 

For the thesis, I moved to Prague in the Czech Republic where I wrote and defended my thesis at the Czech Technical University in Prague. My thesis was on a historic riveted steel bridge in the city of Rapotin where a historical bridge was going to be brought to its failure for research purpose. My thesis work focused on creating a set of drawings of the bridge, on its modelling using a finite element modelling software and then on calibrating the model with material, load and dynamic testing results through the installation of a monitoring system. Once the model was calibrated, the bridge was then strengthened to better control its failure and the whole calibration process was redone on the strengthened model. Finally, from that calibrated model, the estimated load and failure mode of the bridge was estimated and the real bridge was loaded up until failure. The model results were then compared to the actual results and the model calibrated and validated. This thesis was such a great and effective way to apply everything I had learned during the course work and to develop even further knowledge.

Now that the course work is completed and my thesis defended, I am back in Canada where I am currently working for the federal government at the Heritage Conservation Services as a junior conservation engineer. Canada being a young country, I hope that the knowledge I have gained with the SAHC program will be of good use to safeguard Canada’s built heritage and that I will have a positive impact in the work I do.


To you, who is reading this, SAHC is not only a master’s degree, it’s an experience, but most importantly, it is one big family with roots located all over the world. You will get to make so many new friends and to experience their celebrations and traditions making this experience even more enriching. I am grateful that I had the chance to partake in this journey and it is a year of my life I will always cherish and never forget. I hope this testimonial inspires you in embarking in the SAHC journey!


SEE ALSO: My experience as a SAHC Student

Click here if you want to know more about SAHC advanced masters