Last term, five Waterloo Students headed to the Marriott Hotel in downtown Toronto for the 2009 National Conference for Women in Engineering (“NCWIE”). The conference, held annually by the Canadian Federation of Engineering Students, and hosted last year by the University of Toronto, is dedicated to enhancing opportunities for women in the traditionally male-dominated fields of engineering, science, and technology. This year, the conference focused specifically on equipping women with the tools to “Design the World to Come”.
NCWIE had a wide range of events, such as an IBM Panel Discussion, a networking and career fair, and professional development activities, such as enhancing professionalism through “The First Seven Seconds”. NCWIE also had stimulating round-table discussions, with topics ranging from factors that affect women’s decisions to study engineering, to the reasons behind the professional and social inequalities in today’s society.
However, it was the inspirational speakers at the conference that truly made NCWIE shine. Almost two dozen speakers lectured on subjects such as engineering and business, the research and teaching track, the impact of engineering on society and the environment, and more.
A notable speaker was keynote speaker Diane Freeman. As a wife, a mother, and a professional engineer, she is an excellent role model for female engineers. She has a wide list of impressive accomplishments, including her role as a City Councilor, the President-Elect of Professional Engineers in Ontario, founder of the Butterfly Learning Centre – a non-profit childcare center in Waterloo, and the secretary of the Air and Waste Management Association in Ontario. Ms. Freeman gave a stirring speech about her initial struggles with the engineering profession, and how she broke through her glass-ceiling.
Another inspirational speaker included Milica Radisic, who gave a speech about the status of women scientists and engineers in the research and teaching track. Ms. Radisic—an Assisstant Professor at the University of Toronto, who received her Bachelor’s of Engineering from McMaster University, followed by her Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—also gave us her story of the struggles with the tenure track, especially as a wife and a mother of three children. Nevertheless, she confided that balancing an active research program and a family, though tough, was definitely doable.
I personally found NCWIE to be an amazing experience—it gave incredible insight into the world of engineering. I was always someone who found engineering to be a little daunting, but listening to the dozens of success stories (with their personal struggles) was both captivating and very motivational. However, it was especially nice to see the male delegates from many schools who were just as determined as their female counterparts to enhance opportunities for women in engineering.
NCWIE occurs annually, and I would highly recommend anyone who is interested in stimulating discussions of women in engineering (and a great networking experience!) to attend. After all, women might still be the minority in engineering, but we’re a minority that will have an undeniable impact on the world in years to come.