Women in Engineering

Shell Canada supports UAlberta efforts to attract a variety of qualified engineers to the field

Shelley Williamson - 06 October 2016

Sahar Banisoltan will convocate with a PhD in civil engineering from the University of Alberta in 2017, with a focus on water resource engineering. It's an accomplishment she credits in part to the WISER (Women in Science, Engineering & Research) network - supported by Shell Canada - which collaborates with industry, government and academia to create programs that increase diversity in these fields. Now one of those voices is Banisoltan's.

Banisoltan noticed a lack of female mentors in engineering, and set about to address it. She initiated and led a mentorship program (called UA-WiSE/WISER) at UAlberta to help young professionals - many of them women - network and gain support. In its founding year in 2015, the program grouped an undergraduate student, a young professional or graduate student and an experienced professional together to learn from each other. For Banisoltan, it meant networking with young professionals as well as finding a more senior mentor, who helped her complete her PhD. As she embarks on her engineering career, she plans to mentor other women.

"Until now, UA-WISE has never had substantial funding so anything they have done they've had to piece together," says Denise Hemmings.

"It empowered me," said Banisoltan of her experience with the network. "I knew what I wanted to do but this gave me the opportunity to evaluate myself and figure out what skills I needed to work on." It also gave her access to other networking opportunities for women. "For me it was very eye-opening. I loved the enthusiasm; it's a great community."

Denise Hemmings, academic co-chair of WISEST, the umbrella network for WISER and UA-WiSE, lauds Shell Canada for its support. "The money from Shell has made a huge impact on our undergraduate group," said Hemmings. "Until now, UA-WiSE has never had substantial funding so anything they have done they've had to piece together." The Shell funding established a stronger program in other ways, too.

In addition to supporting UA-WiSE, Shell Canada's substantial, three-year (2014-2017) investment in UAlberta also includes contributions to Aboriginal initiatives, geoscience field schools and the Shell Enhanced Learning Fund (SELF), allowing students to attend conferences, field trips and complete projects that focus on sustainable energy, the environment and the economy.

Rob Lyon, Shell Canada's university and college relations advisor, said the company selects initiatives based how well they benefit students and how well they align with Shell's core values of honesty, integrity and respect. An added bonus is that the commitment helps build a vibrant future workforce.

"The U of A has high-calibre talent," Lyon says. He adds the programs UAlberta offers have direct relevance to Shell Canada's core business in Alberta's oil sands.

Dr. Sam Pearson, director of corporate and foundation relations in UAlberta's Office of Advancement says corporate gifts are crucial to students' overall experiential learning and success, and they elevate the university's role as an academic leader.

"Shell Canada is a great partner with the university," she says. "Supporting field schools and initiatives such as UA-WiSE allows us to increase the number and diversity of students we support."