Author: Marco Gallone
Hello, my name is Marco Gallone, for those who may not know me I am a third year Mechatronic Systems Engineering student. Recently, I attended this year’s Conference on Diversity in Engineering (CDE). First and foremost, I want to emphasize just how amazing of a time it was. I strongly recommend anyone who is interested to share this experience. I would consider doing it again and I encourage everyone to take interest in conferences such as this. I have made friends from all over the country, from University of British Columbia to the University of New Brunswick and so many in between. As much as I want to, I cannot rave the entire blog about about how great it was. If you personally want to hear more about it I am glad to discuss it further, you’ll see this face frequently around the UES or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will discuss two meetings I attended that touched me that I want to share with you. The first being Engineers of Tomorrow and the second being Inclusivity, which go hand in hand.
I left here not knowing what to expect, or where my place was in such a professional meeting like this. Originally a Woman in Engineering Conference, it was changed to be inclusive to all. That being said, I was not part of the majority, because there really was no majority. Many schools sent the most diverse delegates, I was one student in a pool of many students, irrespective of gender, race, and sexual preference. This conference raised the curtain on how privileged cisgendered white males can be, and suddenly I realize the importance that this message be carried forward. This conference shone a bright light on the difficulties on being in the minority in the world of engineering as well as reached out to us to do our part to change this. It not only tried to highlight diversity, as diversity would be nothing special if these diverse people felt left out or neglected. If we want to fix the diversity problems we see every day, we must first be more inclusive. This can be done by opening ourselves up to different kinds of people and letting these people feel involved.
I mentioned before that the conference encouraged us to reach out and do our part to promote diversity in in the engineering profession. Diversity in engineering begins in the topics discussed and the decisions made in high school, particularly in the final years. For me, I remember not being sure what I wanted to be when I grew up until November of my grade twelve year, slowly gaining interest in engineering. I didn’t actually know exactly what engineering was into the middle of grade eleven. Throughout life we are given fallacies about what engineers actually do, or what kind of people best fit the position. It’s these fallacies that often transition a potentially fantastic civil engineer into pursuing arts and humanities, or a natural mechanical engineer into a tradesperson, or lastly my favourite, an aspiring train conductor frightened at the first integral they see. Inclusivity begins there, we as students have to be willing to share our space with a more diverse group of people and allow them to feel included. We have to extend our reach to those students and allow them to make a decision about pursuing engineering based on whether it is an appropriate career choice for them, not on whether or not they are good enough in math.
In the development of a student, subtle hints may either encourage or discourage students from becoming an engineer. I used to love Legos, there was just something about building, taking apart and rebuilding something new that’s bigger, better, stronger or faster. I could build the heck out of a spaceship or car or castle, but was it that interest that turned me into an engineer? I certainly hope not! The students who are questioning all these professions in grade 12 will look back to these memories perhaps as sign or a justification to pursue engineering. But this goes both ways, in grade 6 I had a bridge building competition for my science class. My team and I horribly lost, which is perhaps why I didn’t chose civil. Could that crushing defeat in a class competition cause me to accept that I will never be a good structural engineer? And does the very fallacy that “engineers build bridges” make my teammates, who could have potentially made great mechanical and chemical engineers, quit perusing engineering in general? If I were to talk to these students now would they be surprised that I am a successful Western Engineering student? I’ll leave these questions for the psychology majors. And I’m all not too upset about my bridge because later that year I made a wicked paper airplane for a competition that crushed the class.
My point is that students of any kind need to be taught that there is more to engineering than building bridges or aptitude in math and science. We can teach the potential lady engineers that they can do it and not to take the current male to female ratio as a reason why not to apply themselves. Together we have to erase some of the traditional false stigmas that are not only far too prevalent in engineering but also in society. We need to dispel these fallacies so that students, as unique as they are, are included. The goal should be to make them feel like I did in the conference, one student in a pool of many students with a common goal, irrespective of gender, race, and sexual preference. I encourage the readers of this blog to step forward and inspire many students to open their eyes to the new, colorful world of engineering.