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Valerie Davidson

What is your current job?

My current title is Professor Emerita because I have retired from my regular faculty position but I maintain active research projects at the University of Guelph. My research focuses on technical issues – related to food safety – as well as social issues – related to the under-representation of women in science and engineering. One of my current projects is based in Uganda and it combines gender and food safety policy (very interesting). I am also active on the Board of Directors of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers as well as the WinSETT Centre Board.

What made you want to pursue a career in engineering?

It started as an interesting idea to explore – why not try engineering since it combined math and science courses that I enjoyed. However as an undergraduate I did not know very much about careers in engineering. I just knew that I was keeping my options open. As I learned more about the profession – through a combination of academic studies and work experiences – I discovered many interesting opportunities. I have never been bored.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

In my current “job” I can continue to do the best parts a professor’s job. I can focus on interesting research questions, I can work with students and researchers from other disciplines and I can travel. I also have a pretty flexible schedule. So this morning I started with a 2 hour hike along the Niagara Escarpment.

How do you celebrate National Engineering Month?

I hosted a networking event for women in engineering at a local conservation area and invited them to bring children if they wished. It turned into a family event since – not surprisingly – many women engineers are married to engineers. On March 8th (IWD) I was in Toronto for the announcement of a new “Women in Engineering Partnership” that includes Hydro One and 4 universities. I invite women engineers to come to “Purple Power” – an exciting OSPE event at the CN tower on March 26th (more information at the OSPE web site).

What advice do you have for young women who hope to pursue a career in your field?

Enjoy the technical challenges but don’t ignore other factors that are important for developing career opportunities. Network with both male and female colleagues. Don’t overdo the self-sufficiency.

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Valerie completed a BEng degree in Chemical Engineering at McMaster University, a MSc degree in Food Science at the University of Guelph and a PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Toronto. Her professional experience includes 2 years as Research Engineer at Cambrian Processes Ltd. and 3 years as Senior Food Engineer at Griffith Laboratories Ltd., Scarborough. She started her teaching career at the School of Chemical Engineering, Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, Toronto.

After she joined the University of Guelph in 1988, Valerie established a strong, interdisciplinary research program in food and biological engineering with an emphasis on the applications of fuzzy mathematics and statistical methods to process control and decision-support systems. She taught core biological engineering courses related to systems analysis and bioreactor design as well as heat and mass-transfer. She received a Provost’s Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning in 2007 and YMCA-YWCA of Guelph Women of Distinction Award in the education and training category (2004). She retired in December 2012 but maintains active research projects as a Professor Emerita.

Her current research interests focus on microbial risk assessment in food systems. Dr. Davidson leads an interdisciplinary research team that is developing “A Multi-Factorial Framework for Risk Prioritization of Foodborne Pathogens”. The long-term goal is to develop an integrated information system that incorporates four major dimensions (public health, consumer risk acceptability, industry performance, and social sensitivity) when assessing the risks associated with food borne pathogens.

Valerie is committed to the support of women in science and engineering. From 1990 to 1992, she served as a member of the Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering. In 2002 Valerie was a co-recipient of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (CCPE) Award for Support of Women in Engineering, an award that recognises noteworthy support of women in the engineering profession and engineering excellence. Valerie was named as the NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the Ontario region in 2003 and the position was renewed in 2008. The objectives of the chair program are to engage, inspire, support, encourage and ultimately, retain more women as students and professionals in science, engineering and information technology.

Valerie has been a Registered Engineer (Professional Engineers Ontario) since 1979. She was first elected to the Board of Directors of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers in 2007 and re-elected in 2012. She is also the Professional Engineers Ontario representative on the National Women and Aboriginal Advisory Committee (Engineers Canada).

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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