Engineering grad earns memorial scholarship from Polytechnique Montréal

Willow Dew recognized with Order of the White Rose as a role model for women in engineering and science.

211202-willow-dew-white-rose-main-1100px.jpg

Chemical engineering graduate Willow Dew has received the Order of the White Rose scholarship from Polytechnique Montréal for her outstanding contributions as a role model for women interested in engineering and science. (Photo: Polytechnique Montréal)

Some praise her intellectual abilities and perfect grade point average, others her assertive leadership and exceptional social involvement. But when asked to describe herself, Willow Dew shows a great deal of humility.

“I am a curious person who loves to learn,” said Dew, who recently graduated from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Engineering.

That curiosity and love of learning have now earned Dew the Order of the White Rose Scholarship, given out each year by Polytechnique Montréal to honour the victims and families of the 1989 Polytechnique tragedy. Established in 2014, the scholarship promotes female role models in engineering and science. The award, valued at $30,000, is given to a Canadian woman who chooses to pursue graduate studies in engineering.

Meaningful recognition

Through her mentorship, volunteering and research, Dew has been able to pass on her passion for engineering to female students and women around her, spearheading several projects to interest young girls in careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

“I’m honoured to receive the Order of the White Rose Scholarship in memory of the victims of the tragic Polytechnique femicide,” said Dew.

“After 32 years, this tragedy remains emblematic of the barriers women face in engineering, even today. The support they provide to other women, as well as the fact of sharing their experiences, greatly increases creativity and collaboration among women who are continually changing the face of the engineering profession.”

“My sincere gratitude to Polytechnique Montréal for spearheading this worthy cause that commemorates the tragedy of December 6, 1989,” said Simaan AbouRizk, dean of the Faculty of Engineering.

“Polytechnique Montréal could not honour the victims and their families any better than by celebrating the achievements and potential of an outstanding female student like the one we are celebrating today. Willow Dew is an example of an exceptional leader who makes the world a better place to be.”

“I have seen the positive effect of having more role models for young women in engineering,” said Aminah Robinson Fayek, U of A vice-president of research and innovation, who was an undergraduate civil engineering student at McGill University during the tragedy of Dec. 6, 1989.

“Willow is an outstanding role model who combines academic excellence with leadership and the ability to apply her expertise to develop practical solutions to solve pressing global challenges.”

Focus on the future

Dew acquired her first technical experience in Alberta’s oil and gas industry through the U of A’s chemical engineering co-op program. She developed a strong understanding of energy systems — but above all, she strengthened her convictions that renewable energy sources are the future.

Seeking to make a difference in the fight against climate change, she is now enrolled in a joint master’s program at three European universities to study bioproducts and bioprocesses that favour the use of renewable raw materials in chemical production.

During her undergraduate studies, she pursued her passion for green chemistry as a member of EcoCar, a U of A student group developing zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. As a team player and leader, Dew was able to propel her collaborators to the finish line: In 2020, one of their vehicles earned them first place in the North and South America competition, and second place in the world at a virtual international energy efficiency competition normally held annually in California.

Yet she noted that one of her proudest achievements with EcoCar is that she has helped increase women’s participation in the project. From a handful of female students out of about 60 members, the team has reached gender parity — a feat considering only 22 per cent of engineering students in Canada are women.

“We need more than 50 per cent of the population involved in developing solutions to climate change,” she said. “Women should be a part of it.”

— with files from Annie Aguilar