Nfld. & Labrador

Engineering hope: Why this man is striving to be a role model for Indigenous kids

Electrical engineer-in-training Brian Pottle encourages young people to pursue their education and fulfilling careers.

Exciting career, family tragedy compel Brian Pottle to be an inspiration for others

Brian Pottle is an electrical engineer-in-training at Solace Power in Mount Pearl. (CBC News)

A 26-year-old man with an exciting career in tech has two messages for young people who are Indigenous: embrace your individuality, and never consider suicide.

Brian Pottle knows what he's talking about. He has experienced both bullying and the pain of his brother's death.

"I feel a sense of responsibility to help enable other Inuk children, or Indigenous children in general, to just apply themselves," said Pottle, "and hopefully get out and experience the world and see what's out there." 

He feels compelled to set a good example by encouraging young people to pursue their education and fulfilling careers. He's also participated as a speaker at forums on suicide prevention. 

Young people check out the robotic creature and drone that Pottle, right, brought with him during a visit to Makkovik, Labrador, in early March. (Provided by Heather Angnatok)

The electrical engineer-in-training originally from Postville now lives in St. John's and works for a cutting-edge tech company, Solace Power.

The shiny new open-concept office in Mount Pearl, with its focus on state-of-the-art wireless power, is radically different from the life he knew in Postville and Rigolet on Labrador's coast, where he spent chunks of his childhood. 

But Pottle sees some parallels. Being an engineer-in-training, he says, is all about problem-solving. And Solace Power wouldn't exist without innovation.

Science is a lens through which I can view the world with greater clarity.-Brian Pottle 

Pottle says Inuit on the coast of Labrador are also resourceful. 

"Things that are old and are breaking down — snowmobiles or what have you — you have to find ways to procure parts or fashion or modify parts to get these old things into the future," said Pottle. 

In contrast, he's now part of a team that's working to bring the future into the present. Wireless power has endless possible applications — for instance, a soldier being able to charge electronic gear merely by sitting down in a chair or a surgeon being able to charge medical devices just by setting them down on medical carts. 

'You don't have many role models growing up on the coast'

Pottle is proud of being both Inuk and an engineer-in-training. 

"You don't have many role models growing up on the coast," said Pottle. 

When he was studying at Memorial University, he thought he was set to become the only engineer from Postville. But Pottle says he found out later that two brothers became engineers before him. They moved away, and nobody talked about their achievements much. 

For that reason, Pottle is making his own accomplishments more visible. He takes a wireless power system with him when he travels to the north coast of Labrador to show young people what he does, and to get them thinking about what they might do when they grow up. He also lets them play with a robotic toy he put together. 

Pottle holds a robotic toy that he takes with him whenever he goes back to Labrador for a visit. He uses the googly-eyed toy to encourage Indigenous children to focus on education. (CBC News)

"Science is a lens through which I can view the world with greater clarity," said Pottle, who reads physics books for pleasure. 

Pottle says he paid for his love of learning as a child; other children made fun of him and bullied him. 

"I developed a thick skin out of necessity, which helps me now to be an excellent engineer-in-training who is able to persevere in the face of a very tough challenge or tight deadline," said Pottle. 

'I will never be able to forget when I found out'

The most devastating challenge was on May 27, 2014. It was 10:45 a.m., and he was late for a class at Memorial University.

His father called with the news while he was trying to park: Pottle's 21-year old brother Dylan had taken his own life. 

"I will never be able to forget when I found out," said Pottle. 

Brian Pottle, left, and his brother, Dylan Pottle. Dylan died in 2014, just after his 21st birthday. (Sherry Vivian/CBC News)

When it happened, he had already been encouraging young Indigenous people to dream big about their careers. Dylan Pottle's death became an additional stimulus. 

"My brother's suicide had emboldened me to kind of take on this leadership role that needs to be taken up in order to be a good role model," said Brian Pottle. 

He started accepting invitations to speak at Indigenous forums and conferences.

He was a keynote speaker at the National Inuit Council's Youth Summit in Nain, Labrador last summer.

Participants clapped when he told them he's in the engineering field. 

Suicide need never be an option. There are always better ways to go about life to find ways out of these darkest times.- Brian Pottle 

"Suicide need never be an option," he went on to say. "There are always better ways to go about life to find ways out of these darkest times."  

That statement also received applause. 

In 2016, he went to British Columbia as a panellist for the International Forum on Life Promotion to Address Indigenous Suicide.

He was a guest speaker at the Labrador Inuit Youth Symposium in Postville, Labrador last spring.  

He also spoke at this year's symposium in Makkovik in early March.  

"I did feel I owed it to the memory of my brother to get through my own fear of public speaking," said Pottle.

Pottle was a guest speaker at the 2018 Labrador Inuit Youth Symposium in Makkovik in March. (Provided by Heather Angnatok)

While he was there, Pottle also let the participants check out his robotic toy and a wireless drone. 

Puts pressure on himself 

Pottle is married, and a father. He likes to play guitar and sing but admits finding blocks of time to tune up is rare. 

He also acknowledges that he puts a lot of pressure on himself in his drive to be a role model. He says he wouldn't be able to take on so much without the support of his wife, Megan Pottle. 

But don't expect him to stop anytime soon.

When he has time, Pottle likes to tune up his guitar and kick back. (Sherry Vivian/CBC News)

He continues to squeeze in extra courses at Memorial University. 

Pottle admits there were times he felt overwhelmed while he was studying engineering at Memorial University.  

He remembers having homework and lab reports to do but not enough time to complete them. Pottle says he figured out ways to reduce stress and always knew that he could leave university if the pressure was too much. 

"What I've learned is that being yourself, being true to yourself, who you are, is how you're going to live a happy, successful life," said Pottle. 

That's one of his key goals — to communicate to others that he believes there's always a way to cope with adversity.  

About the Author

Ramona Dearing has worked as a reporter, host and producer at CBC's St. John's bureau.