(May 23, 2002, Gazette)
Photo by Chris
After six long years they finally have the
ring. Engineering graduates (L-R) Sarika Wadhawan, Lisa Holden, Kelly
Joy and Karen Horwood have a lot to be happy about. For them, the ring
that all Canadian engineers receive upon graduation is a symbol of their
committment to do the best that they can in their chosen field.
It comes as no surprise to Dr. Mary Williams, Petro-Canada Chair for Women
in Science and Engineering, that many of this years graduating female
engineering students finished at the top of their class in their chosen
One of the reasons that you might find women at the top of their
class is that they tend not to choose engineering unless they are really
good students, she said. These women have worked very hard
and their success is well deserved.
Dr. Williams hopes the news will help encourage average high school students
to consider engineering as an option, as well as make the public more
aware of how successful women who pursue engineering can be.
asked about their experience here at Memorial, a sample of female
graduates had a lot to say:
I enjoyed the work terms, met a lot of great friends who
made it easier to deal with the challenges of doing engineering. We
were all in it together and we helped each other along.
Lisa Holden, B.Eng. (mechanical), Mount Pearl, NF.
Sometimes you doubt your abilities when the program you are
doing is so new, like differential equations where math is all symbols
and no longer numbers. It feels like starting over. But as you learn,
your confidence grows. Sarika Wadhawan, B.Eng. (electrical),
St. Johns, NF.
I took a leap of faith and decided to give engineering a try.
I discovered it was for me and felt at home almost immediately.
Cecilia Mok, B.Eng. (computer), St. Johns, NF.
I put a lot of time into doing well in my courses and on
my work terms. My success means a lot to me. Kelly
Joy, B.Eng. (mechanical), Harbour Main, NF.
The best part of engineering is that I found something I really
like doing. Karen Horwood, B.Eng. (civil), St. Johns,
This year in Memorials Faculty of Engineering
and Applied Science, 29 women will graduate out of a class of 130. Thats
22 per-cent of the graduating class as compared to 16 per cent in 2001.
The number of women pursuing engineering has been increasing since the
1980s, but there is still a long way to go before reaching what Dr. Williams
terms critical mass.
This means that if 33 per cent of a group are women, then whenever two
or more of that group work together, there is a better chance that at
least one of them will be a woman. It is only at this point, that female
engineers will no longer be considered a minority.
If we do nothing, we will continue to have a very slow increase
and it will take years and years before we actually achieve a good representation.
Instead, we should continue to be active on all fronts. We have to pick
the influence point and keep working on that, said Dr. Williams.
For a long time, organizations such as Women in Science and Engineering
(WISE) have been encouraging people to see that women are underrepresented
in science and engineering. More active recruitment in high schools, where
the critical decisions are made for university, is needed. This will help
to ensure that students are aware of engineering as an option, and it
will also give them a better understanding of what an engineer does. Sending
undergraduate engineering students out into the high schools to talk about
what they do and why it is exciting has shown to be the most effective
The female students who do consider engineering as an option have a lot
of things in common. They are all strong in math and sciences, they find
the job opportunities promising, and they have a curiosity for how things
work and fit together. Like all students, they find the engineering program
challenging and long.
But as Kelly Joy points out, When you think about most other university
students, they dont have two years of work experience by the time
they graduate. This gives us an advantage and it is more beneficial in
the long run.
As for being aware that they were in a minority, none of the several students
interviewed found this to be an issue. For Cecilia Mok, the only female
student in the graduating computer engineering class, it was a little
intimidating at first. There was a bit of an adjustment. But I learned
a lot along the way and never felt any prejudice towards me.
According to Dr. Williams, Our students are typical of students
all across the country; they are not explicitly aware of the gender factor
in their own experience. First of all, they are busy trying to do engineering,
which is a full time job whether you are male or female. Secondly, they
have been women all their lives, and chances are they have always been
the smart one. The biggest challenge is getting them to understand what
the baseline is and how they are different from the baseline.
For many of the graduates, they plan on pursuing involvement with WISE
now that they are finished school. They all recognize the importance of
encouraging and promoting engineering to young women. As Ms. Mok points
out, There was no barrier to prevent me from studying engineering,
but in my experience it certainly was not encouraged. I would like to
change that. If I can show people that I did it, then they can see that
it is achievable for them too.