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(July 13, 2000, Gazette)

New Frontiers, New Traditions conference

Rewarding for all

By Susen Johnson

Over 240 delegates jammed the Battery Hotel last weekend to take part in a prestigious national conference co-hosted by Memorial University’s NSERC/Petro-Canada Chair for Women in Science and Engineering and the local community group WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) Newfoundland and Labrador.

New Frontiers, New Traditions: A National Conference for the Advancement of Women in Engineering, Science, and Technology brought together students and industry leaders from across Canada, the United States, and Sweden to discuss new research concerning gendered learning styles and working in science and technology fields; to celebrate women’s contributions to these fields; and to promote opportunities in these areas.

“It’s been a tremendous success,” said conference chair Carolyn Emerson. “Delegates could not stop saying how terrific the conference was and how special this place is, and the feedback on the presentations themselves was equally positive.”

Session topics ranged from emerging trends in retention rates of girls and women science and engineering fields, to strategies for balancing work and family life and promoting yourself, to an introduction to “the virtual family”—a java-based game designed to interest more teenage girls in computer programming.

Keynote speakers included Petro-Canada’s vice-president of western canada development and operations, Kathleen Sendall; Kathy Penney, the regional vice-president of Jacques Whitford Environmental in St. John’s; and American computer engineer Gloria Montano of Compaq Computer Corp. in San Francisco.

Ms. Sendall related that while her experience as a woman in engineering has been an overwhelmingly positive one, the main challenge has been not male attitudes, but isolation — often being the only woman in the boardroom. She added that it is important for girls and women to accept praise without reservation or guilt, because “we do all women a disservice when we fail to graciously accept recognition and celebrate our accomplishments.”

Ms. Penney shared that as an accomplished student she “just assumed” when she left Botwood in 1977 that she would probably never have the opportunity to return home, except for the occasional visit. However, citing the success of the Newfoundland economy in recent years, Ms. Penney was pleased to note that that situation has changed and that now, “Newfoundland and Labrador is the place to be. The business community is really going to take off in the next 10 years here, providing us with incredible opportunities to set new precedents and do things in a new way.”

Ms. Montano cited the rising number of female engineers in the U.S. to emphasize that the next “big wave” to sweep through the North American economy will be the influence of women on technology.
“Any way you cut it, a quarter of a million women who are fearless in the face of technology is a force to be reckoned with.”

She added that the theme of the conference was appropriate given the threshold women are positioned on in terms of having an impact on evolving technologies.

“With all that potential, it is now time to apply ourselves in a very big way.”

Ms. Emerson agreed that the conference title reflected the fact of emerging opportunities for women and men in science and engineering, and was pleased that conference attendance was considerably higher than projected estimates.

“There are so many exciting new directions that women can forge and explore and benefit from; this is our chance, collectively, to make the world the place we want it to be, to the benefit of as many people as possible. Technology is evolving everyday, so it’s a great opportunity to generate the New Traditions that will make science and engineering interesting and rewarding for all.”