Finding the leading edge of engineering and community service

Winner of the prestigious C.D. Howe scholarship makes a habit of pursuing excellence

Miranda Herchen - 24 September 2019

(Edmonton) Gillian Besko, a UAlberta engineering physics co-op student, is entering her second year of studies ready for a challenge-and with the C.D. Howe National Engineering Scholarship on her record.

With her academic excellence and extracurricular involvement, the Winnipeg native earned one of the two scholarships awarded across the country.

The undergraduate scholarship, in memory of C.D. Howe, honours engineering students in Canada for their academic performance and leadership qualities.

In high school, Besko dedicated herself to all academic subjects, teaching herself Italian and excelling in math especially, and co-founded Step Forward, a female empowerment committee that educated students on gender equality. She also was selected to participate in the University of Waterloo SHAD program, in which she first learned what engineering is and presented a project on reducing the energy footprint of Canadians.

The award is confirmation and encouragement to Besko that she's doing important work.

"I really want to make a mark and having that recognition tells me that what I'm doing is already doing that, and it's like, 'OK, I'm on the right track. If I just keep going, I'm going to get somewhere with this.'"

This is not the first time Besko has been recognized for her efforts. She was awarded the Schulich Leader scholarship in 2018 for her academic excellence, leadership and commitment to a STEM program.

Besko is coming off a summer internship with GrainViz, a company that uses high technology to monitor grain storage and handling. She became a 3D printing expert, producing parts for tests and prototypes of new products.

She's looking forward to spending the school year as a mentor in the Female Engineering Mentorship (FEM) program, as a Women in Science and Engineering presenter, and hopefully on a recreational rugby team.

The FEM program gives Besko the opportunity to mentor and empower female high school students who are considering engineering.

"Women in engineering is such a small demographic," she said. "When you're sitting in your classes and you look around and there's you, your two friends who are girls, and everyone else is a guy, it's intimidating. And being able to talk to someone who's even gone through one year of that or a few years of that and knows how that feels would be an asset."

And when it comes to engineering and academics, Besko enjoys challenges and problem solving.

Excelling in engineering physics gives Besko the opportunity to impact society and solve real-world problems.

"The point of engineering physics is to take the theoretical side of physics and think, 'how can we turn this into something that we can use?' What I really like about physics is I have the opportunity to be on that cutting edge.

"And then in the engineering side of that, being able to turn that into something useful, would help me be a good role model and make an impact in ways that a lot of people might not recognize but would still be meaningful to me."