Consider This On International Women’s Day

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In honour of International Women’s Day, Undergraduate Engineering Student Victoria Thomsen shares her experience as a young woman pursuing studies and a career in a male-dominated area.

I went into engineering because I saw the profession as a position of leadership, integral to solving problems of everyday livelihood, enabling me to have an influence and provide help towards the greater good of society. I knew the field was heavily male dominated yet my confidence to succeed through an engineering education came unquestionably from within. I survived the gruelling first year, not taking good care of my emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health but I learned life sucks by not doing that so I utilized services on campus and turned that around. I have completed 39 out of the 48 courses for an engineering degree without failing or dropping out of any of them, and enjoyed learning about most of those courses.

There is an AND to the story.

Going into engineering I realized that I was different, yes, in appearance by looking more like a model than an Eng student but also by the direction my moral compass was pulling me in. Technical understanding is very important but understanding the greater community involved with the application of technology and the engineering role in mining and environmental issues was and is equally important to me. My willingness to learn as much as I could about social injustice lead me to Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and eventually other organizations at the University of Alberta.

I remember going to the first EWB meeting in my first year. I had the courage to go and follow my curiosity. This turned out to be a personal win, because EWB became a very supportive space where I could dive in deep on questions like, “why will people treat someone different from them with higher voluntary judgment than someone similar to them?” Have you ever noticed yourself not paying as much attention to or thinking someone was not very ‘smart’ when they were trying to speak your language, even through your language is their second language? Is it that one’s intelligence is ranked according to their literacy and ability to speak ‘your’ language? I did not believe in such measure but in reality I saw too many of these types of discrimination happen. I began to get serious about what can we do to stand up for the voices not in power, what can we do to show the people in power that there is much to learn from the voices not being heard.

I wanted to leverage my privilege and be a voice and a service provider as an engineer for the marginalized peoples because I saw their lives just as worthy as anyone else’s. If I wanted to get my voice heard I knew that I needed to speak up. I took advantage of learning opportunities in EWB and knocked on other doors of opportunity to improve my communication skills and to become confident in my voice.

To me, gratification in engineering will come from seeing more equity among minority groups and greater attention to environmental issues the profession plays a role in, not from the praise of male peers. Being a woman in a male-dominated field is more than proving a point that women can do it too, it is about bringing more equity and compassion into the world around us.

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Victoria Thomsen — Undergraduate Student, Faculty of Engineering

Victoria Thomsen is a fourth-year mining engineering student. She is active in Engineers Without Borders served as an Engage North Fellow on the Beaver First Nation in 2015.