“[Go ENG Girl] is run by degree-granting institutions that offer professional engineering degrees - so that includes 15 universities across Ontario and us, Conestoga. So we’re the only non-university in the bunch. It’s Ontario-based … and the association that puts it together is a combination of Ontario Women In Engineering and the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers,” Cain said.
Participants had the option of attending the University of Waterloo, University of Guelph, or Conestoga College. “We started taking part last year in the planning cycle for Go ENG Girl, but this (was) the first year we’ve actually run a Go ENG Girl event,” Cain said, explaining that public libraries, emails, and alumni have been vital to marketing the event to tech-savvy young women.
The workshop is designed to spark or nurture interest in engineering and prepare girls to make informed decisions about their educational and career paths. By explaining to both parents and students the multiple careers in engineering - a field that is heavily male-dominated - the workshop provides participants with opportunities to shape their coursework to meet the prerequisites.
“Canadian numbers are about 19 per cent female in engineering degrees, and the numbers tend to be a little bit worse in technology programs and trade programs - so there’s a lot of work to be done,” Cain said. “I think a lot of girls today know they can do anything, but it still takes a lot of guts to go into a non-traditional career … and engineering takes a lot of work.”
“I think it’s important for engineering to have more women. Whenever you look at design, design changes, you design things differently whenever you have diversity in the designer - in gender, in ethnicity, background and all of that. The more diversity you have on the team, the more interesting the product,” Cain said.
Part of the reason why the gender ratio in engineering is so disproportionate is that female students are often misdirected to other areas of study, and Go ENG Girl is looking to change that. If more women are encouraged to enter the field, that would provide an equal balance of perspective on the multitude of products engineers design.
Before students dived into the hands-on project of the day, they heard from Julia Biedermann, executive dean of the School of Engineering and Information Technology and School of Trades and Apprenticeship at Conestoga, who shared her experiences getting into the industry.
With her high school guidance counselling overlooking the field of engineering, and pushing her into more traditional paths for women, Beidermann set off into university, taking math and science classes with the hope of becoming a dentist. “My parents kept telling me, ‘go into nursing,’” Beidermann said.
“There were no women engineers to look up to … (and) engineering is so broad - there’s so much you can do with it,” Biedermann said. “There was no mention of engineering whatsoever.”
When she realized that she was taking all the same courses in her program as her male friends in engineering, Biedermann made a quick trip to the registrar to shift away from dentistry. “I was a keener, but a different kind of keener … I (finally) found something I really liked and I went with it.” She concluded her talk by emphasizing how essential engineers are to shaping our world.
Girls who are introduced to these programs and career paths in grades seven to ten can make significant educational decisions - such as high school electives or college and university applications - with a full awareness of opportunities. “It really is a great career with so many opportunities,” Biedermann said.
Biedermann and Cain explained the different routes that prospective students can take, from industrial to civil engineering and everything in between. While parents stayed behind to hear more about the programs and prerequisites, the Go ENG girls were led to the cafeteria for the hands-on element of the workshop, led by engineering professor Nancy Nelson.
Nelson explained the engineering design process - ask, imagine, plan, create and improve - before the participants split off into teams of two or three. Each team was provided with pretend money with a value of $25 and told to make each egg’s protector as small and cost-effective as possible, elements of real world engineering, business planning and time management.
“We needed safe transport of eggs from point A to point B,” Nelson said to the parents, who joined the girls after hearing how they could be supportive in their daughters’ educational endeavours. Nelson explained that point A began on the second floor, and point B was a target on the floor of the main lobby, and they would be dropping the egg, rather than walking it down the stairs.
The students were given very limited resources - such as pencils, paper, tissues, cardboard tubes, tape and string - and a time limit of less than an hour to work through the design process.
Engineering professor Jane Carr attended the event to network with the Go ENG Girls and represent the supportive group she oversees at Conestoga College - Women in Trades and Technology (WITT). “This is amazing,” Carr said, as she watched the eggs drop, and only a few crack.
Go ENG Girl style events were significant for current engineering student Cynthia Charlesbois, who remembers attending several programs geared towards women when she was in secondary school.
“I went to several things at the University of Waterloo … and it was always great because you might have felt like you were the only one in your school that was interested in going, but there were so many other girls participating from the surrounding area… Coming in, I knew I’d be one of few but it didn’t bother me because there are so many girls - maybe not in this program - but around. There are other girls going through the same thing and that was something that made me feel confident,” Charlebois said.
For more information on Go ENG Girl, visit www.conestogacommunity.ca/goenggirl. Current female students interested in joining WITT, can find more information on the Women in Technology and Trades (WITT) Conestoga College Facebook page, which lists upcoming meetings, events and discussions.
Story by Laurie Snell, second-year student in Conestoga’s Print-Journalism program.