POWErful Engineers

by Celia Hameury

It is a little known fact that McGill has the highest percentage of women in engineering among all Canadian universities. Indeed, 30% of McGill’s engineering students are women, a number which continues to grow. Engineering has long been a male-dominated field, and it is no doubt for this reason that women have banded together in solidarity to reverse this male-engineer stereotype. McGill’s most significant association for women in engineering is POWE, which stands for Promoting Opportunities for Women in Engineering. This philanthropic, feminist group aims to inspire young girls to pursue a career in engineering and help those who have already chosen this path to attain their goals. They see a bright future for women in engineering and strive to bring this future ever closer. As a club, POWE has been in existence for almost thirty years. Indeed, the group was founded in January 1990, following the Polytechnic shooting of December 1989, which targeted women in engineering and claimed fourteen victims. POWE brought women together to promote their presence in engineering and support each other in a faculty largely dominated by men.

Today, POWE is a vast organization run by co-presidents Nina Qi and Emma Rozier together with their stellar team of eight vice-presidents. Each VP has unique responsibilities and leads their own cohort of coordinators.

Sofia Dieguez, tech coordinator under the VP of communications, shared her experience with POWE in an interview with the Plumber’s Ledger.

“I actually found out that POWE was a club at McGill when I was in CEGEP,” Dieguez explained. “I was kind of happy to know that there was going to be a club promoting opportunities for women in engineering because back when I was in CEGEP, I was the only girl in my program.”

Dieguez further discussed POWE’s many initiatives, most of which are designed to help women prepare for their future careers in engineering, or to develop new skills. Among these, POWE’s networking events are particularly significant. These include speed mentoring in the Fall, during which students get to meet with professionals from a variety of industries who offer them career tips, and speed networking in the Winter, during which students are given the opportunity to connect with members of the workforce.

Dieguez discussed her experience with these events as well. “You sit at a table with a couple of women in the engineering industry and talk. [A number of them] were McGill alumni so it was very interesting to get their tips and their advice and [to learn] how they got to where they are now.”

Beyond networking and mentoring, POWE also organizes industry tours. “I assisted a Microsoft Lunch,” Dieguez told the Ledger. “They  give you tips on what would set you apart. ”

POWE further offers external conferences, entrepreneurial speaker series and both technical and career workshops, as well as weekly meetings on Tuesdays, during which members discuss significant advances in the field, or the struggles women and other minorities may face in when joining it.

POWE’s biggest event of the Winter will no doubt be their annual conference for high school students, hosted at McGill. This conference, which will take place on February 8th, will grant high school girls aged 15 to 17 the opportunity to speak with McGill engineering students and professionals, as well as visit some of McGill’s engineering labs. The aim of this conference is to promote awareness about the opportunities available to women in engineering and encourage a new generation of young girls to consider pursuing this exciting field.

A common misconception is that POWE is only for women. Of course, while this club does mainly aim to promote opportunities for women, it does not exclude men, nor even non-engineering students. Workshops are available to all, and so are weekly meetings. “You don’t need to be a woman in engineering. You don’t even have to be in engineering. You just have to be interested,” Dieguez stated.

POWE is about creating a community for women in engineering and building a future in which women thrive in the once male-dominated field of engineering, and everyone can be involved.