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Closing the gap

Memorial engineering leads in national female undergraduate enrolment

Student Life

By Jackey Locke

Memorial’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science is a national leader in closing the engineering gender gap.

According to a recent article by Engineers Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador had the highest percentage of women undergraduate engineering students in Canada for the fourth year in a row (26.9 per cent).

From left are Chelsea Howell, Taejha Young and Vanessa McLean, bachelor of engineering graduates at Memorial University's spring convocation.
From left are Chelsea Howell, Taejha Young and Vanessa McLean, bachelor of engineering graduates at Memorial’s spring convocation.
Photo: Submitted

For Dr. Greg Naterer, dean, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, that is music to his ears.

“Attracting and retaining women in engineering is, and will remain, a key priority for us at Memorial,” said Dr. Naterer. “This has been a historically challenging area for engineering schools across Canada.”

Strategic plan

Since becoming dean in 2012, Dr. Naterer has led several initiatives aimed at providing a positive and more supportive learning environment for women in engineering to reach their full potential and aspirations.

The faculty’s successes have been achieved through a multi-year strategic plan that includes partnerships with organizations such as WISE-NL, Let’s Talk Science and Girl Quest.

“Canada needs more engineers, but it especially needs a better balance of female and male engineers.” — Dr. Greg Naterer

Building upon Engineers Canada’s 30 by 30 initiative, which aims to raise the percentage of newly licensed women engineers to 30 per cent by the year 2030, the faculty has adopted a 40 by 30 initiative for women undergraduate students and a 30 by 30 initiative for women faculty members and graduate students, in partnership with the faculty’s industry advisory council, the Engineering and Applied Science Advisory Council (EASAC).

“After a detailed study of best practices across North America over a period of about a year, our EASAC committee on women in engineering, chaired by Carol Bartlett, identified four key focus areas of highest potential impact,” said Dr. Naterer.

“We then established a separate working group for each priority area to implement their action plan. I was delighted to see the high level of participation and interest to serve on these working groups from faculty, staff and academic staff members in our co-operative education office.”

Key priorities

The faculty has eight undergraduate engineering scholarships in support of women students, such as the Women in Engineering Memorial Scholarship in memory of the 14 women killed at L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989; the Howell Zygocki Scholarship for Women in Engineering, named after Rhonda I. Zygocki, one of Memorial’s first female civil engineering graduates; and the General Motors Scholarship for Women in Engineering, to name a few.

Under the faculty’s Vision 2020 strategic plan, undergraduate and graduate student enrolments have grown by about 20 and 80 per cent, over the past six years, respectively.

Within this plan, there are four areas of focus for increasing female undergraduate enrolment: the engineering image on campus; the admissions process; modifying the curriculum to attract and retain female students; and increasing the number of female faculty members — key priority areas identified by the EASAC committee.

‘A caring profession’

Given the latest statistics from Engineers Canada, the faculty’s initiatives have been paying off.

However, for Dr. Naterer, it’s more than just about increasing numbers.

“Canada needs more engineers, but it especially needs a better balance of female and male engineers,” he said. “Engineering is an exciting and rewarding career option. It is a caring profession that is improving the quality of life in our communities, which is one of the reasons women are increasingly drawn to engineering.”

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