U of T wants to graduate more female engineers
June 22, 2017
While women make up nearly half of Canada’s population, they are markedly under-represented in the engineering profession.
With females accounting for less than 12 per cent of practicing licensed engineers, the University of Toronto has embarked on an ambitious campaign to ensure that there is 30 per cent of female representation among newly licensed engineers by 2030.
Last fall, 40.1 per cent of the first-year class were women which was the highest among provincial engineering programs.
Father Michael Goetz Catholic Secondary school graduate Addisalem Semagn was a keen observer to U of T’s commitment to enrich diversity within the engineering profession.
When the time came to select an institution to pursue engineering studies, it wasn’t surprising that the university was her obvious choice.
She was also accepted to McMaster University and the University of Waterloo, Western Ontario and Guelph.
“In addition to being a university with world-class standing and a leader in research and innovation, I like what the U of T is doing in terms of its commitment to attract aspiring female engineers,” said Semagn who was among eight high school graduates awarded $1,000 scholarships at the Congress of Black Women of Canada (CBWC) Mississauga & Area chapter annual brunch recently.
She’s enrolled in the general engineering program.
Semagn is leaving high school having made quite an impact since being accepted in 2013.
The student council deputy prime minister was instrumental in implementing a healthy living initiative to combat students’ unhealthy lifestyle and ‘A Taste of Goetz’ to celebrate diversity through cultural foods and dance. She also represented her school at the 2017 Dufferin Peel Black History conference where she presented her insight on race and identity.
Born in Ethiopia, Semagn spent time in Norway while her father was attending university in the Scandinavian country and Benin before the family migrated four years ago.
“The transition had its challenges, but Canada is beginning to feel like home,” she said.
When Candaice Newell left Jamaica a few years ago, she committed to making maximum use of the educational opportunities.
She was enrolled in Central Peel Secondary School Advanced Placement program that offers highly motivated students the opportunity to take challenging university-level course while in high school. The teenager also joined the strings program and played the violin and flute and was a member of the Model United Nations and wrestling teams.
In addition, she volunteered at an after-school child care program and with the City of Brampton.
“My high school years have been fulfilling and I am looking forward to the next phase of my journey,” said Newell who will pursue life sciences studies at McMaster University.
She aspires to be a psychiatrist.
Other recipients were Rya Buckley, Arinzechukwu Ochuba, Shantel Watson, Taylor Bogle, Zoe Lopez and Matthias Scheid-Wiltshire.
An honour roll student since Grade nine, Buckley averaged over 90 per cent at St. Francis Xavier Secondary School where she was the justice club secretary, one of the senior editors for the school’s magazine and a member of the chaplaincy crew and the philosophy club.
She is enrolled in McMaster University’s life sciences program.
Ochuba, who was born in Qatar to Nigerian immigrants, is joining Newman in the same program at McMaster. The Turner Fenton Secondary School graduate plans to become a paediatrician and realtor.
Watson, who migrated from Jamaica eight years ago, graduated from Cardinal Leger Secondary School and is off to the University of Ottawa to pursue international development studies while Bogle, who aspires to be a lawyer, graduated from David Suzuki Secondary School and is enrolled in Wilfrid Laurier University’s law & society program.
A graduate of Loyola Catholic Secondary School, Lopez will pursue child & youth care studies at Sheridan College and Scheid-Wiltshire will attend McMaster University to study kinesiology.
He graduated from Bishop Redding Catholic Secondary School.
In 2010, the CBWC introduced an adult scholarship award to assist a female who returns to school to pursue post-secondary education.
Victoria Alexander, 26, was this year’s winner.
“I am overjoyed because this is the first scholarship I have won after applying for quite a few,” she said. “This is a blessing and honour.”
Life has not been easy for Alexander who arrived in Canada at age six with her father from Trinidad & Tobago.
“My dad left me at a young age,” she said while fighting back tears. “My childhood was very tough.”
Spending six months in a shelter exposed Alexander – who was partially raised by her paternal grandmother – to young people with mental health issues and drug addictions.
“I saw what drugs can do to young lives and it’s for that reason that I want to open a rehab centre,” she said.
The holder of an addiction diploma from Everest College, Alexander is enrolled in Sheridan College’s social work program.
Sixteen years after receiving a scholarship, human rights lawyer Moya Teklu was invited back to the brunch to be the keynote speaker.
The Legal Aid Ontario staff lawyer for the southwest region and speciality clinics told the scholarship winners that working hard doesn’t always guarantee success.
In some cases, it can take years as was the case with Delos Rogest Davis who she used as an example.
For 11 years, Davis was forced to study and practice law at the legal clerk level because no White lawyer would hire him to article under them because of his skin colour.
Frustrated, he applied to the Ontario Legislature in 1884 to pass a private member’s bill that would authorize him to practice in the province if he could pass the Bar examination. The appeal was granted and Davis finished first in his class of 13.
Davis was subsequently admitted to the Bar in 1886, becoming the second Black after Jamaican-born Robert Sutherland to practice law in Canada.
“I am telling you this not to suggest that you should give up or that you shouldn’t work harder,” Teklu, a former African Canadian Legal Clinic policy research lawyer and Mount Sinai Hospital human rights & health equity specialist, told the young people. “You must. In fact, you must work harder than others.
“…Maybe, you will have to forego volunteering abroad because that doesn’t pay for text books and you will have to work instead. Maybe, you will just have to code switch or swallow your anger so you are not painted as the angry Black woman or the angry Black man even if you have every right to be angry. Maybe, you will have to create your own networks because none of your dad’s golf buddies are doctors, lawyers and chief executive officers…Maybe, you will have to think longer and harder about what to do with your hair for a job interview…Yes, you will have to work harder and you will get tired. And, it’s in these times you will need to rely on each other.”
With success comes expectations and Teklu urged the graduates to reach back and help others when they succeed.
“Become a mentor,” said Teklu who migrated from Eritrea at age six and graduated from The Woodlands School in Mississauga, York University and the University of Toronto. “Ensure that the policies and practices in your schools and jobs are fair and equitable. Speak up against injustice…Donate your time, energy and eventually your money to causes like the Congress of Black Women of Canada. And in this way, some day when people say, ‘If you work hard, you will succeed’, it will actually be the whole truth.”
Since the scholarship program was launched in 2000, a total of 145 individuals have received post-secondary, adult and teacher scholarships.
“We believe that education changes lives,” said the chapter’s president Ann-Jean Lennox. “It is also important that we celebrate our young people who are doing well in school and the community. They are our future and it’s imperative that we support them.”
The CBWC Mississauga & Area chapter was founded 32 years ago by Order of Ontario recipient Madeline Edwards, Bernice Benjamin, Caline Carter, Ilene Lawson, Faye Schepmyer and Jean Augustine who was the first Black woman elected to the Canadian House of Commons and the first to serve in the federal cabinet.