September 26, 2020

BY LAURIE SNELL

Save your eggs – that was the message to a room full of young women at the Go ENG Girl event on Oct. 19. The workshop was created to inspire young women to stay in school and follow their passion and curiosity for engineering. However, above and beyond the usual preaching to stay in school, the girls quite literally had to save their whole, uncooked eggs from a two-storey fall using their well-crafted, impact-proof designs.

Go ENG Girl, presented by the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, began with Karen Cain, chair of the engineering and information technology program, welcoming the parents and participants. “If you’re the type of person who thinks ‘hey, I can fix that,’ then engineering might be for you,” Cain said.

The workshop is targeted toward young girls in Grades 7 to 10, to get them excited about potential careers in engineering – a field that is male-dominated. With hands-on activities, parent sessions, student exhibits, tours, alumni and guest speakers, the girls had the opportunity to explore the many ways in which engineering shapes our world and how they can get involved.

Julia Biedermann, executive dean of the School of Engineering and Information Tech and School of Trades and Apprenticeships at Conestoga College, was the guest speaker Saturday morning. Shifting from an aspiring dentist to successful engineer, Beidermann’s journey into engineering did not begin until midway through university, when she realized she was taking the exact same courses in a science program as her male counterparts in engineering programs were. “There was no mention of engineering whatsoever,” Biedermann said, reflecting on the lack of guidance from her high school counsellor. “I was a keener, but a different kind of keener … I (finally) found something I really liked and I went with it.”

Part of the reason why the gender ratio in engineering is so disproportionate is the lack of direction that female students receive, and Go ENG Girl is looking to change that. The ultimate goal is that generations from now there will be far more women in the field, to provide an equal balance of perspective on the multitude of products engineers design. “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. However, young girls are often directed toward careers such as nursing that are traditionally more female-dominated, despite having an interest in math, sciences and technology.

By introducing these programs and career paths to Grades 7 to 10, the girls can make significant educational decisions – such as high school electives or college and university applications – with a full awareness of all opportunities. “It really is a great career with so many opportunities,” Biedermann said.
Biedermann and Cain explained the different routes the prospective students could 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 portion of the workshop, led by engineering professor Nancy Nelson.

“We need safe transport of eggs from point A to point B,” Nelson said, adding that the distance from point A (the second floor) to point B (a small red circle on the ground floor) involved dropping the egg, rather than walking it down the flight of stairs.

Before the girls began, Nelson explained the engineering design process – ask, imagine, plan, create and improve – before they could split off into teams of two or three. The teams were each given pretend money with a value of $25, and were told to make each egg’s protector as small and cost-effective as possible – elements of real world engineering and business planning.

With volunteer Adam Bridgman acting as both banker and salesman of the limited resources – such as pencils, paper, tissues, cardboard tubes, tape and string – the prospective students were also given a time limit of less than one hour.

Huron Heights Secondary School student, Macy Asher, said her parents are strongly encouraging her to get into engineering. “My mom was at the school and she saw the sign and was like, ‘I signed you up,’ and now I’m here,” Asher said. The 15-year-old, who hopes to start her engineering career at the University of Waterloo and later transfer to Conestoga College, found the Go ENG Girl event to be a lot of fun. “It was really informative,” Asher said.

“It’s actually amazing how few eggs cracked (or broke) … this is great,” engineering professor Jane Carr said excitedly, after each team took their turn dropping eggs in the main lobby. Carr, one of the few female engineering professors at Conestoga College, attended the event to represent the student group she oversees – Women in Trades and Technology (WITT), a supportive and educational group for current female engineering students.

Also on hand to provide information for parents and prospective students was Teresa Lee, employer relations consultant at Conestoga College, who works directly with engineering students in finding co-op placements. “We do have a lot of supportive services offered for when you’re in the program,” Lee said, adding that there are multiple benefits of co-op terms, such as networking, income, work experience and the ability to remain engaged in the Conestoga community.

For more information on Go ENG Girl, visit www.conestogacommunity.ca/goenggirl. Female students currently at Conestoga who are 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.