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Dec 6/19 Message from CWSE-ON Chair

December 6, 2019

Of course when I heard the sad news of December 6, 1989, I didn't understand what had just happened. I was driving out of Montreal to return to my first job in mechanical engineering at Princeton in the United States. Frustrated by the lack of information and reporting in the American media, I called my father every night to find out what was happening in Montreal. My father, an engineer at Bombardier at the time, had been deeply affected, not for me according to my mother, but for the young female engineers in his advanced aerodynamic design team.

        For my part, I couldn't believe that someone could have such a rash reaction towards people exactly like me, young girls who were interested in science, technology, mathematics, and so much so that they chose to learn more by enrolling in engineering programs at university. I think it affected me a lot precisely because I spent a lot of my energy trying to erase myself in the group (5 out of 100 in mechanical engineering at McGill, and one of the only ones to persevere in aeronautics at MIT). This tragic event came to pluck me out of my anonymity: it was very personal and somewhat piercing I would say.

        Today I am fortunate, a chance that has been denied to the 14 women we commemorate today, to have had a long career in engineering and moreover I have had the pleasure of teaching and training thousands of engineering students here and in the United States. I would like to reassure you that the women I have seen in my classes have never given the impression of being there to take someone else's place! Education is a choice, a very personal choice and the doors of universities and colleges are wide open for anyone who wants to learn.

        Since 2011, I have also had the honour of managing the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Chair for Women for the Ontario region. Together with my 4 colleagues from the National Network of Chairs, and with the legacy of the previous 11 Chairs,  we have developed outreach programs for and researched youth, teachers, academics, and industry and government to increase the participation and advancement of women and all diversity in science and engineering. Engineering is using what we learn from science to design the useful, the technologies all around us — bridges, airplanes, your cell phones, X-rays and MRIs to name a few — to serve the public and society. How can this be done without the contribution of half of society?  How can we solve our most difficult social problems in our society and of our generation? Plastic waste in our oceans, climate change and much more that you know well. I propose that these problems are there precisely because of the lack of diversity in industry and government so far.

        Today we are fortunate to have the support of men in our studies and career paths, support that was probably already there in 1989, but all the more so, and perhaps even because of the Polytechnique tragedy. We thank those of you who believe in us, in our ability to participate and contribute to engineering, because what is the desire to be an engineer? It's about being useful to society, creating to serve the public.

        Five years ago, on the 25th anniversary, we launched a pledge challenge for the next 25 years entitled #IMPACT25. Tonight I have the honour of reporting some of the results of this campaign.

In industry, at Pratt and Whitney Canada, an aircraft engine manufacturer, Ms. Maria Valerio, engineer and Vice President, tells me that more than 30% of senior management are women now (up from 14%) and that the company continues to engage with young people to achieve technology entry parity by 2027. Here at the University of Ottawa, Dean Claude  Laguë  had committed to ensuring that the 1st female Design Chair in Canada would be established - Prof. Hanan  Anis was nominated and took the opportunity to revolutionize the student experience at the faculty as well as in the city's schools where our  Makermobile  visits on a regular basis.

Together, let us continue to move in the same direction, to encourage diversity and dialogue in engineering, so that, one day, balance and access become normal in engineering, and in all areas for that matter, to make a better world.

Thank you,

Catherine Mavriplis

Through outreach and professional development activities, research, partnerships, thought leadership and online initiatives, we work with industry and academia to educate on the value of diversity for innovation, to inspire women to thrive and to celebrate the contributions of women in science and engineering.
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