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Holly Johnson

“My #AeroPassion is learning new things every day.”
Holly's Biography

Holly Johnson was born and raised in the Toronto area, and while growing up she remembers being fascinated with how things work, and all things space! She followed these passions to pursue her Mechanical Engineering degree at the University of Toronto from 2005 to 2010. During this time she completed a 16-month Professional Experience Year at MDA’s Robotics and Automation division in Brampton, Ontario, where she worked alongside the mission support team for the Canadarm robotic system on the Space Shuttle program. After graduating from U of T in 2010, Holly joined MDA as a full time member of the engineering team. Over the past 5 years she has worked as a Systems Engineer on projects that range from developing an MR-compatible neurosurgical robot, to concept studies that aim to define the future needs of space robotics. While not at work, Holly is either headed to a warmer climate, a country music concert, or the local rink with the ladies on her ice hockey team.

I currently work as an Engineer in the Advanced Systems group at MDA’s Robotics and Automation division in Brampton, Ontario. The majority of my work involves providing engineering support to front end of the business initiatives such as proposals, concept studies, and working on the early phases of future projects. As a Systems Engineer in this dynamic environment, I enjoy the fast-paced nature of the work which requires not only technical proficiency, but strong communication skills.

MDA is a world leader in space robotics, known best as provider of the Canadarm to the Space Shuttle Program, as well as Canadarm2 and Dextre to the International Space Station. Going forward, MDA is working to develop next-generation automation capabilities to meet the future needs of planetary exploration and on-orbit satellite servicing, while leveraging its experience in safety-critical systems to provide terrestrial solutions in areas such as medical robotics and nuclear servicing.

I love that my role provides me with exposure to the earliest phases of upcoming projects, giving me a sneak peak of what’s to come! I have the amazing opportunity of working at the forefront of Canada’s next generation of space robotics, and doing this while working alongside the industry’s best and brightest minds is extraordinarily humbling and exciting.

One of the great things about working at MDA is that I’m continuously exposed to new industries, fields, and customers. While most projects involve the common challenge of designing a safety-critical solution to operate in a harsh environment, the range of applications vary from space robotics, to medical tele-operation, to servicing a nuclear reactor. For someone who has always been interested in learning how things work, this dynamic landscape makes each new project very enjoyable to me.

While Canada’s space program has resulted in many spin-off benefits here on earth, I experienced the impact first-hand while working on a medical robotics program that directly improved Canadian’s lives. The neuroArm system is an MRI-compatible neurosurgical robot that contains a pair of image-guided manipulators, enabling a surgeon to tele-operatively remove a brain tumour while they are situated at a workstation outside of the Operating Room. While the medical team performs intraoperative scans to monitor incremental progress, the two manipulators follow the surgeon’s commands to carry out the operation with increased accuracy, precision, and dexterity. Developing a system that has positively affected the health and well-being of many Canadians is definitely a rewarding experience.

I believe engineering is a team sport, and the diversity in skills and backgrounds of each member makes the team stronger and more capable. Women have unique strengths and propensities that add value to an engineering team, and I am fortunate to work in an environment where my strengths are recognized as a key asset to the teams I am a part of. I hope my shared experiences will inspire girls and women to set their own course and define their own future, and by continuing to develop my leadership skills, I aim to be a positive role model to anyone with a passion to be an engineer. My career path was not pre-defined at the onset, but rather the outcome of a sequence of decisions made over time. The opportunities that arose with each decision were well beyond what I could have imagined. If I can provide young girls with a glimpse of my path, my hope is that they will be inspired to align those small decisions along the way with their true passion.

I encourage aspiring women in aerospace to ask lots of questions and learn from your colleagues. Tap into the wisdom of those that have more experience than you – you’ll be amazed at what you can learn by talking to people.

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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