January 22, 2016 — This weekend’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) National Conference is designed to showcase a side of engineering and science you haven’t seen before.
Its theme, ‘A Mosaic of Talent,’ was chosen to reflect the plethora of opportunities that an education in the STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math — provides for students of both genders.
“We want to highlight that with these degrees, you don’t have to go down a traditional career path, like being a doctor or a civil engineer — you can do so much more with it,” says Amreen Poonawala (Year 4 IndE), President of the WISE University of Toronto Chapter.
This year’s WISE National Conference, dubbed #WISENC16, will be hosted in Downtown Toronto at the Toronto Region Board of Trade on Jan. 23 and 24, 2016. More than 250 delegates, both male and female, are expected to attend from universities across Ontario. The schedule includes inspirational chats, workshops, design challenges and networking opportunities with companies such as General Electric, TATA Consultancy Services, Microsoft, Accenture, Hydro One, Unilever, Samsung, Altera, TD, Aecom, Aecon, AMEC, AMD and more.
“You see articles in the news about females being shy or risk-averse, and these become stereotypes,” says Poonawala. “Our focus is on empowerment and sparking passion for engineering and science careers, so that delegates can learn from the best leaders out there who are disproving these stereotypes.”
For Poonawala, the most exciting event will be a keynote address by Dr. Jaqcueline Shan, founder of Afinity Life Sciences Inc., and one of the discoverers of the hugely popular cold and flu remedy Cold-FX.
An aspiring entrepreneur herself, Poonawala was drawn to the personal side of Dr. Shan’s story, which she says motivates her to continue towards her goal of starting an engineering consultancy business.
She has another role model as well. “When I decided to do engineering, people asked me, ‘Why? Isn’t it mostly men?’” Poonawala recalls. “So I started doing some research and learned that Dean Cristina Amon, who represents U of T to the profession at a very high level, is female. Not only is she highly educated but is also supportive of initiatives that allow students to grow as leaders.”
Revitalized in 2012 by U of T Engineering student Chakameh Shafii, then a graduate student in the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, in recent years WISE has grown to include 24 executives and a volunteer network of more than 100 students in both engineering and sciences. The group runs mentorship programs, networking events and high-school and community outreach initiatives year-round, which build toward its flagship WISE National Conference.