At the Top and Looking Back
|Graduating at the top of their class in engineering are 2002 graduates Lisa Holden, Kelly Joy, Karen Horwood and Sarika Wadhawan.
What does it take to create a leader? Experience, hard work and a little faith in yourself, according to members of the graduating class in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. For Kelly, Lisa, Sarika, Cecilia, Jennifer and Karen, leadership is not a quality they all might see in themselves, but it is something that others have recognized in them. They graduated this year at the top of their class in engineering. After six long years, all their hard work paid off.
"When I first started here at Memorial, I found the course load very intimidating. The first two terms were especially challenging, but as I made the adjustment, things became easier," says Kelly Joy.
The number of women rising to the challenge of the engineering program at Memorial is increasing steadily. This year Memorial will graduate 29 women out of a class of 130; that's 22 per cent of the total graduating population, compared to 16 per cent in 2001. This reflects a national trend. According to the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers, enrolment in engineering programs across Canada has been increasing slowly since the 1980s, with the enrolment rate for women consistently exceeding the overall enrolment rate. Nationally women account for about 20 per cent of those pursuing science and engineering.
Most of the leading female students at Memorial never considered engineering before entering university. But once here they chose this demanding path, driven by their strength in math and sciences, and motivated in part by job opportunities and an attractive co-operative program. It may also have a lot to do with their personalities, as Sarika Wadhawan explains: "When I was younger, I was always the curious one. I would take things apart and then put them back together. I always needed to know how things worked."
For Cecilia Mok, especially, it was the challenge of doing something completely different that appealed to her. "I pursued electrical and then branched into computer engineering because it was unknown. It was more of a challenge to me than the other disciplines…. And I am very glad that I went for it."
"I was good at math and sciences so it seemed natural for me to pursue engineering," adds Jennifer Smith. "I found out later that a lot of my extended family are engineers, so I guess I became a part of family tradition."
Dr. Mary Williams of Engineering also knows leadership. In fact, she helped write the book - Becoming Leaders: A Handbook for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology. Some years ago when examining the whole landscape of women in science and engineering, she recognized that one of the key requirements to attract more women to the profession was to have leadership by and for women. "We know we need leaders. We know women are leaders. We want to encourage that and make them aware of their own leadership potential and help them to rise as far as they can…. In so doing, they will make it better for everyone who follows."
There is another factor at work here. Peer support. Having ended their program, these highly skilled young women say that just having other women in their class who shared in their struggles played a large part in helping them to survive. "A lot of people feel lost the first two years of university. They feel they are alone and going through this by themselves. It helps to know that others are finding courses difficult. Having that support really makes a difference to your outlook," says Lisa Holden.
Karen Horwood agrees. "We have a strong support network here. It helps carry you through the hard times and makes all the difference to your university experience."
When asked if they see any leadership qualities in themselves, most said they could see some qualities, but that they still needed work. Sarika sums it up "If you asked me before my work terms, I would have said no, [leadership] is something I have to work on. But after my work terms, I knew that was a quality I wanted to build on. So I did a couple of work terms in project management first, just to watch other people lead. And then I applied to do the technical leadership program at General Electric."
This year's graduating female students will go on to join the ranks of alumni who are making a mark on the world of engineering. They include leaders like Darlene Whalen, vice-chair of the Public Utilities Board; Karen Muggeridge, project engineer with Petro-Canada; Jane Kieley, manager of broadband systems with Aliant; and Moya Cahill, president of Pan Maritime Energy Services Inc., recently named one of Canada's Power 50. Many would agree with Mary Williams' assessment of these women's potential: "I know they are going to go out there and do a great job and be excellent engineers. Memorial University should be proud!"