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It’s all about mentorship

Inspiring Future Women in Science event gives young women a chance to see themselves in STEM careers.

For a teenager like Imaan Sheikh, the chance to ask questions of Lina Qamar, an engineer at Guelph-based advanced manufacturing company Linamar Corporation, was priceless.

Sheikh, a Grade 11 student from Meadowvale Secondary School in Mississauga, is interested in engineering and was able to pepper Qamar with questions during a speed-mentoring event at the recent Inspiring Future Women in Science conference at Perimeter Institute.

The annual event is all about mentorship.

Although there are more young women in high school science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classrooms today, female mentors for young women are still rare.

According to Statistics Canada, women make up less than 30 percent of people employed in a professional STEM field. That means good talent is going untapped in every sector, from industries to health care and educational institutions.

This event, sponsored by Linamar and hosted by Perimeter, is an opportunity to redress that.

Women from a wide range of STEM careers take part in a half day of talks, a panel session, and speed mentoring.

This year, 185 students joined the conference in person from 19 high schools across Ontario. Other young people in cities across Canada and abroad attended the live webcast virtually.

The conference is open to students of all genders, with the particular goal of bringing together like-minded young women with a strong interest in science to expose them to the rewards, challenges, and possibilities of STEM careers.

Qamar told students such as Sheikh about her engineering job and how it encompasses a wide range of skills. But most of all, she said, it is all about the joy of problem solving.

“That’s what engineering is about. You learn how to look at a problem, break apart all its components, and figure out how to solve it. And this is great, not just for mathematics and science, but you can apply it to everything in your life,” Qamar said.

Other young women from Meadowvale had a chance to connect to mentors that aligned with their unique interests.

Niya Shah, for example, is a Grade 12 student who hopes to go into medicine. The panellists at the event included Kristina Koslovsky, a pharmacist at Cambridge Memorial Hospital who has worked in the intensive care, medicine, and telemetry units of the hospital.

Fellow Grade 12 student Imaan Syed has an interest in exploring the mysteries of the cosmos. The speed mentoring gave her a chance to hear from Cristina Mondino, a postdoctoral researcher at Perimeter who is working to answer questions regarding the origin, nature, and detectability of dark matter in the universe.

The keynote speakers inspired and encouraged the students.

A special keynote speaker was Miss Canada, Ashley Borzellino, who is a development inspector and operator for the City of Brantford. She holds a civil engineering technology diploma and part of her role as Miss Canada is to share her story to encourage other young women to consider STEM fields.

When she graduated from Mohawk College, there were only five women in her class, and she found that there were very few women in her field when she got into the working world.

She entered the Miss Canada contest because it was “a good opportunity for me to showcase that I can be feminine, I can be a woman, and I can be successful in this industry.”

Borzellino said she loves her job as a development inspector because it is so varied. She is on development sites, overseeing municipal specs, provincial specs and regulations, and all of the underground infrastructure of projects from water mains to sanitary sewer lines and potable water systems.

She said that while it’s not always easy to be one of few women in a field such as hers, “I want to encourage all of you to just keep on striving for excellence.”

She also advised young women not to lose confidence because of how they look. “Success has no face,” she said.

Other keynote speakers who imparted advice and inspiration included:

  • Shohini Ghose, a professor of physics and computer science at Wilfrid Laurier University, chief technology officer at the Quantum Algorithms Institute, and author of a new book, Her Space, Her Time, that celebrates women from around the world who transformed physics and astronomy
  • Poh Tan, founder and chief executive officer at STEMedge Inc., an educational consultancy firm that is working towards equitable, diverse, and inclusive STEM education

Along with Koslovsky from Cambridge Memorial Hospital, the other panellists included:

  • Nanette Zhu, a senior manager at Deloitte’s actuarial and insurance solutions practice who arrived in Canada in 2000 from China barely able to speak a sentence in English, but has risen through the actuarial ranks after years of hard work
  • Alicia Richins, a sustainable impact strategist, who champions climate justice and hopeful futures
  • Haley Mayer, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering at the University of Toronto and the Hospital for Sick Children, where her research involves designing and building magnetically actuated micro-robotics for minimally invasive surgical procedures

Linda Hasenfratz, chief executive of Linamar Corporation, opened the conference with a virtual talk during which she gave the young women some solid advice.

“First, pick an area of study that interests you that you’re naturally curious about and enjoy learning about,” Hasenfratz said. “Then, do a little research to make sure there is a demand for people in those jobs. Lastly, research the earning potential and make sure it lines up with the lifestyle that you envision.”

But she added that just because a person has done the research and checked all the boxes, this doesn’t necessarily mean the decisions can’t change.

“You are going to find that there will be some right and left turns along the way. Pick something that has a lot of options and see where life takes you,” Hasenfratz said. “But don’t be too stressed about the choices. Life can and will change and that’s OK.”


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