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Celebrating women in engineering

January 7, 2014 — 

EngineeringBlogPics-WallOpenRecently the engineering community in Manitoba bore witness to an amazing step forward. The outgoing female president of the Association welcomed the incoming female president.
Dr. Marcia Friesen, P.Eng., FEC (Class of 1995) is the Association’s 4th female president, but the visual of her receiving the official gavel from Ms. Dawn Nedohin-Macek, P.Eng., FEC,(Class of 2002) was one that has been a long time coming.

“I’d love to live in a situation where being a woman in engineering is not unusual at all, and even if it were unusual, that this difference would not be an occasional liability,” says Dr. Friesen, an Assistant Professor in Design Engineering and the Director of the Internationally Educated Engineering Qualification program at the University of Manitoba. “We’re not there yet, and change is difficult, especially to those who don’t see anything lacking in the traditional engineering ethos.  However, I’m confident that the arc of engineering history will continue to bend toward equity (adapting a well-known quote).”

Dr. Friesen is also featured on the “Celebrating the Women of Engineering” celebration wall recently unveiled in the atrium of the Engineering & Information Technology Complex at the University of Manitoba. The wall, unveiled during Homecoming festivities, displays the timeline of the continuously improving gender balance in engineering, and acknowledges all the women graduates of the U of M’s engineering programs.

“When the celebration wall was unveiled in the Engineering building in September 2013, I noticed that many women in attendance went up to find their name in the list of all the female graduates of the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Engineering inscribed on the wall,” says Friesen.  “Two things struck me.  First, it was a beautiful example of women – whether alumna or students – finding something that reflected them.  A sense of welcome and belonging is critical, and many other artifacts and photos around the Engineering building can possibly make us think, “that could be my father or grandfather”, whereas this wall can allow women to potentially see their current and future selves in the images and text.  Second, I noticed that my own name was just past the one-third point in the list on the wall.  It was only 19 years ago that I graduated – we were already in the internet age, for goodness sake! – and I had always assumed that more women had graduated before me than after me. I found the reality sobering, and I was glad to see how many female students have come through U of M Engineering since that time.  When I speak to younger female engineers and recent grads, I am struck by their optimism and I am grateful for the positive experiences I hear them expressing as they build their careers.”

The wall, which features the name of every female graduate of the Faculty of Engineering as well as a milestone timeline, is intended to celebrate the past and current accomplishments of women in engineering as well as to encourage current and future female engineering students that while they may still be in the minority, they are not alone.  There are many pioneering women who blazed the trail before them and are now an important part of the engineering community.  University of Manitoba graduates have been the leaders, innovators and pioneers that have contributed to the development of Manitoba and Canada.

“I am proud to be a woman in engineering; but mostly I’m proud to be an engineer,” says Nedohin-Macek, Executive Assistant to the V-P Transmission at Manitoba Hydro. “I love to see the look of “ah ha!” when I solve someone’s problem with an elegant process or solution. There are many strong women in the profession, and I think it is important for young girls see these successful women and for them to know that as engineers they too can have exciting, meaningful careers that will make a difference in the world.”

“The climate towards women in engineering is definitely changing,” says Veronica Marriott, Vice-Stick of the University of Manitoba Engineering Society. “Every company I have had the privilege of speaking with seems to be very eager to hire female grads and I imagine this was not the case a few decades ago. That’s why, to me, the most exciting thing about being a female engineer is having so many role models to look up to. These women, who are now well established in the field, were pioneers. They paved the way for the rest of us, and they are the reason so many companies are eager to hire female grads. The reputation they have created for us in the workplace has broken down a lot of the preconceived notions some had about a woman doing a “man’s job”. Engineering may still be a male dominated profession in terms of numbers but females are leading the way and one day I hope to join them.”

Marriott and other female students at the Faculty of Engineering have become strong ambassadors for the program and for the profession as they take on an increasing number of leadership positions in student government and student societies. So why are there so few women enrolling in the Faculty of Engineering? Female enrollment in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Manitoba is currently 19% of the student body. That is up from only 14% in 2008. Robyn Koropatnick, P.Eng., FEC, (Class of ??) Past APEGM President and Senior Project Manager at Teshmont Consultants has an idea.  “I think we need to focus on increasing awareness of the profession in general,” says Koropatnick. “We need to stop promoting engineering by asking kids “are you good in math and science?” The kids who are (who likely have funny calculus equations on their shirts) are likely already considering engineering. We need to start promoting the profession by asking specifically what kids are interested in pursuing, and explaining the engineering related attributes!”  Nedohin-Macek agrees.  “I think we need to do a better job at promoting all disciplines of engineering,” says Nedohin-Macek. “Young women need to see how engineers impact and improve society.”

The U of M Faculty of Engineering is taking several concrete steps aimed at developing full representation of women in engineering. Prominent among these is continued support of the Faculty of Engineering WISE (Women in Science and Engineering)/Kid-Netic Energy program that encourages girls at all grade levels to consider careers in science and engineering. This program reaches more than 20-thousand youth every year throughout Manitoba, making it one of the largest science and engineering outreach programs in Canada. Since its inception in 1990 this program has helped increase female participation in engineering programs at the University of Manitoba from less than 14 per cent to 19 per cent during the last five years.

In November the Faculty of Engineering hosted its annual “Engineering IS for Girls” outreach event. Each year approximately 100 high school girls come to spend an entire day at the Faculty of Engineering. They meet current female engineering students, professors and professionals for hands-on activities, discussion and tours that highlight the diverse opportunities an engineering degree offers.

“There are areas of engineering where it is obvious that the voices and priorities of a range of people are needed in order to design an effective outcome,” says Dr. Friesen.  “I think that all of our collective engineering works benefit when we include the broadest possible range of perspectives within the engineering expertise that tackles the problem.  Engineering in Canada will only get better as the voices of more female practitioners, more Aboriginal practitioners, and more newcomer practitioners express the experiences, priorities, and needs of these communities both within the culture of the profession and in our engineering  products.”

Founded in 1907 the success and growth of the Faculty of Engineering has been directly linked to the success and growth of the province of Manitoba. Our graduates have been the leaders, innovators and pioneers that have contributed to the development of Manitoba and Canada. From our first female graduate in 1946 to our most recent trailblazing graduates, women have achieved great things with an engineering degree and have made a positive impact in the world. Increasing the number of women in engineering makes our profession more reflective of society. The women listed on this wall have made outstanding contributions to the engineering profession. The names of future female graduates will be added to this wall as they shape their careers and help to create the engineering leadership of tomorrow.

Dedicated September 27, 2013

–           from the “Celebrating Women in Engineering” wall in the EITC atrium

 

 

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