Female role models win Canadian Engineering Scholarships worth $15,000

Two University of Waterloo students were awarded Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation (CEMF) scholarships.

Clarisse Schneider, a second-year software engineering student was awarded the $5,000 Allstream information and communications technology engineering undergraduate scholarship. The Vale scholarship was awarded to Alison Scott, a MASc candidate for chemical engineering. The scholarship includes a $10,000 award and an internship with Vale, a global mining company.

Scott’s research in polymer reaction engineering, under the supervision of Prof. Alex Penlidis, deals with research on controlled radical polymerization, crosslinking systems, and a type of water-soluble copolymer systems.

The CEMF was formed and incorporated in 1990 following the events in Montreal at École Polytechnique that resulted in the death of 14 young women. The initiative to establish CEMF was taken by Claudette MacKay-Lassonde, then-president of the Professional Engineers of Ontario.

Both Scott and Schneider were required to produce a speech on why they became an engineer. The winners of the scholarships are also required to share their experiences with high school students around Ontario.

When asked about her involvement as a leader and role model for younger students, Scott said, “I just realized partway through  my degree that there aren’t very many female role models in engineering and it became really important to me to become one of those role models for other people.”

Scott is also heavily involved with the Engineering Science Quest (ESQ) Girls Club, which engages girls from ages four to nine through activities designed to dispel stereotypes about engineers and scientists, and aims to inspire girls to pursue education in engineering and science. They meet once a month on Saturday afternoons to explore different topics with the help of a female role model currently working or studying in science or engineering.

As for Schneider, she is looking to get more heavily involved with the ESQ Girls Club, and is also an ambassador and director for the UW shadow program, where high school students apply to follow university engineering students for a day and see what the program is like.

 Scott and Schneider shared an experience that made them pursue a degree in engineering at UW, both mentioning the importance of having good role models in the science and engineering fields, as well as pointing out the sense of community and belonging in the engineering faculty.

“I had a chemistry teacher in high school who kind of motivated me and got me interested in chemical engineering, and that helped me decide what to do with my life,” Scott said.

For Schneider, that decision was made after visiting the UW campus.

“The primary reason I chose Waterloo was because I wanted to specialize in software engineering right away … but one of the turning points was when I came to visit the university during You @Waterloo Day. There were a lot of software engineer guys, and they were kind of spread out in the PAC, and I would go talk to them and my mother would go to the other group and drill them with questions … but I got to learn a lot about the program and about what Waterloo has to offer, and after going to a Women in Engineering event after, I was sold,” Schneider said.

“What I think is great about the scholarship is that it encourages women to get out and network … it allows the winners to not only pay for their education but, as you see, it also encourages them to go and speak to the high school students and make those one-on-one connections,”  Schneider said when questioned about the significance of scholarships targeted to women in the field.

“Alison and I are also going to New Brunswick in a week and we are going to be meeting women in the field, getting to know other women who are involved with mentoring high school students … that networking is what’s more important than the scholarship itself, the offering of what comes with the scholarship that is the most unique part of the program.

“Since this scholarship is targeted at girls who are already in engineering, I don’t think it’s supposed to encourage applying to the program; rather its about encouraging women to stay,” Schneider said.

For Scott, this scholarship is important because it promotes equality and awareness towards positions for women in the engineering field.

“I think it promotes an awareness; I don’t think anyone will necessarily go into engineering because there are more scholarships for women; that might be an incentive for some people, but it wasn’t for me,” Scott said.

Scott also believes that these types of scholarships create a camaraderie among male and female engineers, instead of dividing them.

“The whole point of women in engineering, in my mind, is not to say that women engineers are better than men — that’s not the point at all — but it is to promote that camaraderie and equality, and encourage men and women to work side by side like equals.”

Having unconditional support from the university, as well as counting on the help of Penlidis, was essential for Scott in accomplishing her academic goals and attaining the CEMF scholarship. 


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