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.
We interviewed 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:
What made you decide to pursue a career in Engineering?
Growing up, I always had an interest in math and science but never quite knew where this could take me. As a first-generation university student in my family, academics were not a typical point of conversation in our household. I decided to pursue a degree in engineering from the advice of my 11th grade physics teacher. He understood my potential and challenged me to pursue a career in engineering.
My career in Engineering wasn't always straightforward. Growing up I wanted to be a stock broker (what was I thinking?!) In 2019, after I had just completed my first semester in Finance, the devastating BP Oil Spill happened in the Gulf of Mexico. Seeing the ducks drowning in dirty crude oil and pristine turquoise water turning black on TV, my heart shattered. I turned around and told my dad "I'm going to be an environmental engineer!!!" and he said "good for you!!" Right away I switched programs and I have loved being an environmental engineer ever since.
I decided to pursue engineering in school because I liked math and physics, and I also enjoyed problem-solving. At the time, I didn’t have a clear understanding of the day-to-day work of an engineer but I had a feeling that it would be something I would enjoy. I arbitrarily selected mechanical for my bachelor’s degree and then transitioned to environmental for my master’s. My first job out of school introduced me to waste management and I haven’t looked back! The work has always been challenging, thoughtful, and rewarding. An ever-changing list of problems requiring elegant solutions.
My skills and strengths in school aligned with Engineering. I loved math, physics and chemistry and was always a keen problem-solver who liked to be challenged.
When I was at school, my interests aligned more with math and physics than the other courses like medical sciences. So, I decided to pursue my education in the field of Civil Engineering at the university. During my study, I realized more about Engineering principles and how my strengths are in line with problem-solving. My desire to make positive impacts on society by designing infrastructures and developing sustainable solutions has made me consistent in my career journey and take steps toward my career goals in Engineering.
Tell me about one of your favorite projects you’ve worked on.
My favourite project that I have worked on is the Rankin Inlet Utilidor Upgrade project in Nunavut. The project included water and wastewater upgrades to the community’s distribution system. As a young professional, this was one of my first projects where I had a leading role. The project allowed me to work outside of my comfort zone, provided an excellent learning opportunity, and was extremely rewarding as the project greatly improved the community’s infrastructure. As part of the construction and commissioning phase, I had the opportunity to visit the community. I was very fortunate to experience their culture, and see the difference that Dillon’s work makes.
This is a very hard question because I have so many from the short six years I've worked at Dillon! The one that inspired me the most would be Belize Water Treatment Plant. San Pedro is a town located in northern Belize. Due to the lack of centralized water treatment, residents from San Pedro had to either harvest rain water or buy bottled water. Belize Water Services received funding from Caribbean Development Bank and retained Dillon to design a centralized water treatment plant. My role was the design EIT, contributing to the development of process flow, equipment selection, instrumentation and controls, and many other tasks. It was fulfilling to solve problems for a developing region, employing while simplifying a highly complex technology for that region, and helping build capacity within that community. I learned a lot from Justin Doiron who consistently mentors junior engineers in our group!
I’m currently managing a project looking at the flow of wood waste throughout Nova Scotia. Wood waste has historically been a challenging material to manage, and with the release of new provincial guidelines for construction and demolition debris, there is an increased need to identify efficiencies as well as opportunities for diverting wood waste from landfills. The project’s aim is to support collaboration between waste regions and facilities to explore stable and sustainable markets. I am enjoying engaging with the province’s facilities and look forward to providing recommendations that will shape the future of wood waste management in Nova Scotia.
I worked as a Process Engineer at a plasma gasification demonstration facility. We were working to develop technology that would convert municipal solid waste into clean syngas for energy production. I developed plans for each operational run, supported the projects required to support the plan, provided onsite monitoring and troubleshooting during the run, and then analyzed the operational data post run to report the outcomes and decipher the issues. The work was extremely rewarding as I impacted the resolution of major technical obstacles and advanced this new and sustainable technology towards commercialization.
It’s hard to choose one project as there have been a bunch of projects I liked. Since joining Dillon, I have been involved in a variety of projects from land development to transportation and community infrastructure. One of my favorite projects was designing coastal erosion protection infrastructure for the north shore of Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation in the Northwest Territories. In this project, Dillon incorporated community-led monitoring, environmental data mining, and an assessment of rock material along the shoreline to support the design of an armor stone revetment to mitigate further erosion and provide strengthened resilience against climate change. It was a great experience for me to get involved in this project and work with the coastal design team.
What would you say to someone who’s interested in Engineering, but not sure where to start?
I was once in your place. It’s hard to navigate the future and understand what you want to do with your life. I started my degree in the general engineering program and navigated through it based on my interests and passions. Starting a career in engineering is a journey, and it's okay to have questions and uncertainties along the way. If you continue to pursue the things you love and continue to challenge yourself, a path will carve itself into a career. Take small steps, explore your options, and always ask questions!!
Talk to engineers and learn about what we do, and why we do what we do. To people who are interested in engineering but feel afraid that this may not be the right fit: your career path may not be a straight path. Give engineering a chance if you like it. You can always make a program/career change later on if your interest and passion shift away from engineering.
Don’t worry about the traditional image of an engineer. The field of engineering is broad, and you will find your niche. Seek mentors, ask questions, explore your areas of interest and passion, and bring your voice to the table.
I would tell them to think about their interests/passions and investigate how a career in engineering could align/impact them. There are endless opportunities in engineering, you have to seek to understand how it could be rewarding for you.
As a first step, I would suggest exploring different engineering disciplines to find which areas of engineering align with your interests and strengths. One of the useful tips which helped me a lot and I would recommend is seeking guidance from engineering professionals who can provide valuable insights into their experience and make you better understand where to focus your efforts. Networking, for someone like me with international experience, has been so useful and helped me to learn from others’ experiences to restart my career path in Canada.
In addition, engaging in hands-on experiences through an internship program is a perfect way to start your career journey. Participating in workshops and volunteering opportunities are the other ways that provide practical exposure to engineering, and give you the opportunity to expand your knowledge and technical skills. In the end, I ‘d like to emphasize that starting a career in engineering requires dedication, perseverance, and a willingness to learn. It’s okay to be uncertain at the beginning, but with exploration, guidance, and hands-on experiences, you can gain clarity and take steps toward your career goals in Engineering.
What does “International Women in Engineering Day” mean to you?
International Women in Engineering Day is a platform to inspire and encourage young women to consider careers in engineering. It aims to break down the barriers and stereotypes that might discourage them from pursuing careers in STEM fields. From personal experience, its hard to navigate your future. By highlighting the achievements of women in this field, International Women in Engineering Day promotes inclusivity and provides a more diverse and inclusive engineering community.
This is a day to celebrate the achievements of women in engineering, while recognizing the challenges that women may still need to overcome. My generation of women engineers has benefited greatly from older female engineers that fought for our representation, as well as male allies that wanted to see us succeed. To me, this is a day where I feel thankful for how far we've come, yet humbled by how far we still need to go to help the next generation feel confident in choosing this career path.
That women are here. We are leaders, designers, colleagues, and mentors. Our unique perspectives and experiences allow for not only ingenuity but innovation. Let’s take this moment to celebrate the
diversity we’ve achieved in engineering while recognizing that there is still a long way to go.
International Women in Engineering Day allows me to reflect on the achievements and contributions of women engineers. It is also a reminder that challenges for women in engineering still persist which encourages me to do my part to continue to foster change for aspiring women engineers.
To me, International Women in Engineering Day is a way to recognize and promote the valuable contributions of women in engineering, challenge gender biases, and work towards a more inclusive and diverse engineering industry.
Harley Westman, B.Eng., P.Eng
Harley is a Water/Wastewater Process Engineer. She focuses on water/wastewater infrastructure projects including treatment facilities, pump stations, and asset management. Harley has experience in anaerobic digestion, process design, hydraulics design, equipment selection, and project management.
Linda Li, MASc, PENG
Linda is an Environmental Engineer heavily involved in complex and multidisciplinary projects in both the public and private sectors. In recent years, Linda’s work has focused on supporting the pharmaceutical industry with environmental management and infrastructure construction. Linda has been a dedicated committee member with several Canadian and international water associations.
Elisabeth (Liz) Mance, M.Sc., P.Eng.
Elisabeth has over 14 years of experience specializing in the design of solid waste management systems, including landfill expansions and closures, leachate and stormwater management infrastructure, landfill gas collection systems, and transfer stations. She has worked with a wide range of municipal and private industry clients, providing tailored solutions to solid waste management challenges.
Rebecca Hulse, P.Eng., PMP
Rebecca is a Project Manager/Process Engineer with experience in managing complex programs, projects, processes, and risk. She has experience working within all phases/stages of multi-disciplinary projects in a wide array of industries including oil and gas, waste-to-energy, manufacturing, and nuclear. She has a passion for developing sustainable technologies and executing related projects.
Samane Lesani, M.Sc., EIT
Samane is a water resources designer who graduated from Polytechnic Montreal University, specializing in the field of Water Resource Engineering. Since joining Dillon she has been involved on a wide variety of civil-environmental projects including stormwater management design, infrastructure drainage design, hydraulic and hydrologic modeling in land development and municipal infrastructure projects.