June 23 is International Women in Engineering Day! Today, and every day, we celebrate our women engineers and engineers-in-training who work across the country, and recognize all of these amazing women whose expertise expands possibilities, challenges the status quo, and provides inspiration for others.
This year, we wanted to sit down with a few of our women Engineers and find out what they had to say about their career choice and what “Women in Engineering Day” means to them. More information on each of these amazing Engineers and their projects can be found at the bottom of this article.
What made you decide to pursue a career in Engineering?
Ali: I was lucky enough to have very engaged teachers throughout my schooling, who I credit with pointing me in the direction of engineering. During my Grade 9 parent/teacher conferences, my math teacher asked if I had started to think of University. My grandfather had been an accountant with KPMG and I would constantly ask about his work. I loved math, and I looked up to him so I naturally thought this was what I was going to do. However, my teacher knew me better than I knew myself; knew my personality, my passions and asked if I also liked helping people and society, and physics. The answer was of course! She suggested I look into engineering as a possible career, and once I did I knew it was for me. It suited my skill sets and my passion for improving the built environment, people's lives and equity. In a full-circle moment, my grandfather originally wanted to be an engineer but didn't have the prerequisites from his small BC hometown and transferred to accounting.
Brier: When I was in school I excelled at math and science courses, but I also loved the arts. Later on in high school I had the opportunity to take computer drafting classes which really connected my interests between design and applied science. When I went to university, I was torn between a pure sciences degree or engineering. I ended up choosing engineering because I thought it would be easier to switch to science if I changed my mind! I never looked back.
Isabelle: I guess you could say I went with the flow. I have always been interested in the behaviour of water. I started my university career in applied mathematics, studying fluid mechanics. While continuing my education, I wanted to be more applied than the theory I was studying, which led to aerospace engineering. I found my first job in consulting working on numerical simulations of groundwater flow and worked my way to the water resources group. Following my interest in water made me realize I enjoyed finding ways for us to manage and live with water and that led me to get my engineering license later in my career.
Julie: Truthfully, I decided to pursue a career in engineering because my interests aligned more with math and physics than they aligned with medical sciences. After being in the industry, though, I realized that engineering is about problem-solving, and I have always been someone who likes to find efficient solutions to complex problems.
Tell me about one of your favorite projects you’ve worked on.
Ali: My favourite project and one that will be hard to beat is the City of Winnipeg's Southwest Rapid Transitway (Stage 2) and Pembina Highway Underpass project. I am a proud Winnipegger and the ability to work on such an influential and transformative project for our City will always be one of my favourite and proudest moments in my career. This project was the largest infrastructure project completed by the City of Winnipeg to date, and one of the largest projects for the Province of Manitoba. I was able to work on the project from the RFP development to the completion of design and construction alongside the City's representatives as the Owners Advocate for the project. Not only was the project a significant investment for the City, but it supported the future vision for the City providing long-term growth, reducing street network congestions, connecting the rapidly growing southwest quadrant of the City (including the University of Manitoba) with downtown, supporting the movement of residents from the dependence on cars to alternative transportation options, while providing direct access to intermediate neighbourhoods, AT paths and public art exhibits. I am proud to have worked with our team for over five years to build this transformative project for my City.
Brier: Definitely it is the Master Drainage Plan for an area of Calgary called Belvedere. The project included specialists that included Engineers, Wetland Scientists, Hydrogeologists, and Planners. The project integrated these specialists and professions together to come up with a wetland retention strategy for future urban development that balanced future growth with preservation of environmentally significant areas. This Plan will be used by many for years to come.
Isabelle: This is a super hard question. I have a bunch I really liked because of the challenges presented to me, but I think maybe my favourite one was designing a rain garden within a park to help manage stormwater not just for the park but also for the surrounding neighbourhood. It was a challenging engineering exercise to design the rain gardens to function appropriately, but the part that I really appreciated about it was that the aesthetics were also a critical component of the success of the project. I got to work with landscape architects who helped with the look of the gardens and helped me appreciate that what I designed as an engineer could be both functional and beautiful.
Julie: My favorite project was one of the first projects I truly led at Dillon, and it was a small project to review inflow and infiltration data in a wastewater flow monitoring manhole. I looked into the data and was able to identify a calibration error in the flow meter, which resulted in higher measured flows than actual flows. This truly felt like detective work where I looked through past reports from another consultant, contacted the flow meter supplier, and worked with the client to identify and rectify the error. This helped inform a better design associated with a new flow monitoring manhole with a permanent flow meter.
What would you say to someone who’s interested in Engineering, but not sure where to start?
Ali: To me, the main cornerstone of being interested in pursuing a career in the engineering field is to be passionate about making a difference in the world, your community, making life better for people, and protecting the natural environment. Finding the areas you are passionate about improving or the areas in which you are interested in the processes is a great place to start. For example, from a young age I was always interested in the transportation network. I thought riding public transit was a fun outing for my family to take me on. I asked questions about why at some intersections you had to step down off the sidewalk and at others, there was a ramp (circa the 90s where curb ramps were starting to be incorporated into the design). Look at what makes you excited about learning or even what you find frustrating and want to improve. These feelings may give you an idea of where in engineering you would be the most passionate about. But continue to talk to others and learn about other areas, and keep an open mind once you start school.
Brier: I took a general year of Engineering school for my first year. I did not settle on Civil Engineering until I was in my second year and even then I thought I was going to be a structural engineer! If I were to offer some advice, I would say that the spark of interest in engineering is meaningful. Don't worry about what a 'typical' engineer looks like, or even what a 'typical' engineering career path is either. Go into it looking for something that you care about. Bring in your interests from other fields or courses of study or hobbies.
Isabelle: There is no one path to what you want. Engineering is a really big concept and exploring the different facets can lead you to something you didn't realize was a good fit for you. Ask tons of questions, and don't be afraid to stand out.
Julie: A career in engineering can be very diverse given the types of services that are often expected of us. For example, consulting engineering is very different from a power engineer working in the nuclear industry. If you are aligned with biological, chemical, mathematical, or physical sciences, you will likely find your place in the engineering industry.
What does “International Women in Engineering Day” mean to you?
Ali: INWED is an important day for me and the greater women in the engineering community in Manitoba, Canada, and abroad. It provides the opportunity to celebrate and profile some of the amazing women who are still trailblazing through a profession where we are under-represented. It acknowledges the work that still needs to be done within the engineering community toward a more diverse and gender parity profession. In Manitoba, we are still at 20.1% percentage of newly licensed engineers who were women (as of Dec 31, 2020) and nationally at 20.6% percentage (Engineers Canada, Percentage of female-identifying newly licensed engineers between Jan. 1 2020 to Dec. 31 2020). It is days like INWED that has women in engineering visible for young girls and people, in general, to know women are in engineering, that women want to be in engineering, and that we will continue to work towards a more inclusive society, university programs, and profession.
Brier: Historically, the profession of engineering did not have much diversity. International Women in Engineering day is an opportunity to broaden our idea of what an engineer looks like, talks about, or what a typical career path is. It is about allowing everyone to identify an increasingly diverse group of mentors that inspire us. The practice of engineering is open to more than people who wear ties, short-sleeve button-up shirts, and hard hats. The best engineers that I have known have brought their own uniqueness into the profession.
Isabelle: International Women in Engineering Day, to me, means that there are enough women now that we have a collective voice in the industry to celebrate our presence here, as engineers and leaders in the industry. There is change happening in engineering and there is more openness to diversity. I think having this day is one facet of that.
Julie: International Women in Engineering Day to me is a way to recognize women in a male-dominated field, and it is especially important for those in the industry that don't believe there are any disparities between men and women or other minority groups.
Ali Campbell, B.Sc., M.Sc., P.Eng.
Ali is a transportation engineer with experience in transportation engineering, transportation systems planning, urban design and environmental impact assessments. With a background in civil engineering and a specialty in transportation engineering, she has experience and knowledge in alternative project delivery modes including Design-Build and Public Private Partnerships, construction administration, transit planning and design, active transportation, signal timing, traffic safety and transportation's effect on urban form. She is currently the Winnipeg Office Manager and Transportation Engineering West Operational Team Manager managing Dillon's transportation team in Manitoba and Alberta.
Brier Reid, MEDes., P.Eng., RPP, MCIP
Brier is a water resources engineer and Registered Professional Planner with experience in stormwater management, community planning and project delivery. Her planning expertise provides a perspective on the complex human-scale services of an urban centre. Her engineering understanding allows her to bridge the gap between policy development, technical analysis, and detailed design. Brier’s passions are guided by the responsible and sustainable growth of urban environments including the efﬁcient design of cities and healthy ecosystems.
Isabelle Hemmings, B.Math., M.A.Sc., P.Eng.
Isabelle is a water resources engineer with experience in a wide variety of water resources projects. She is experienced at large scale drainage projects, stormwater management for public and private sector clients, and low impact development design. She has also worked as a groundwater modeller providing input to both pit and quarry dewatering needs as well as source water protection work. She is currently one of the Water Resources Team’s Operational Team Managers.
Julie DiCicco, M.A.Sc., P.Eng.
Saint John, NB
Julie is an environmental engineer with a Masters in Applied Sciences focused on water treatment technologies and optimization of chlorine residual within water distribution systems. Julie has experience working with indigenous clients and facilitating communications between funding agencies on challenges related to housing, water, and wastewater management, asset management, and economic development. In 2021, Julie was awarded the Allen D. Williams Scholarship, which is a national award bestowed to a young professional in the consulting engineering industry.