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Supporting the next generation of women in STEM

June 06, 2019

Showing grade eight girls what it’s like to be in the STEM field through Operation Minerva

Promoting women in STEM is something we’re passionate about, and we believe that it’s important to start encouraging girls to get involved from a young age. With potential factors like family obligations, societal pressures, and perceived gender norms deterring girls away from STEM industries, our team is committed to helping connect young women with careers they may never have considered. 

Enter Operation Minerva—a program that connects grade eight girls with women in established STEM careers. As part of the program, Stantec hosted 10 grade eight girls from junior high schools across Calgary on May 2.

“When I was in grade eight, I didn’t really have exposure to careers in math and science—even though my parents were both engineers. I was more focused on the day-to-day schoolwork and didn’t even think about what I wanted to do or how I was going to get there,” says Sunny Wang, environmental consultant, Community Development, and mentor with Operation Minerva. “I think Operation Minerva is a beneficial learning experience for the girls to see what careers are out there, and to start asking the right questions to possibly open up more doors for them later on.” 
With 10 Stantec mentors in the areas of Environmental Services, Community Development, Mining, Buildings, Architecture, Bridges, and more, the girls had a fun-filled day learning about the different types of STEM careers within our company.

“To help them understand and connect with our projects, we wanted to show them tangible items they could view,” says Rochelle Daniels, electrical engineer, Buildings, and Stantec coordinator and mentor for Operation Minerva. “This year, it was civil engineer Jennifer Currie’s idea to bring them to the University District to tour a real interdisciplinary community development project that many of our staff have been involved in.” To start the day, the girls were put into full PPE and explained the importance of safety on site. The foreman then toured them around the units under construction. “Each mentor got a chance to point out an area that relates to their job,” Rochelle said. “Our bridge engineer, Sarah Soprovich had insights about the structural integrity of the building to share with the students. The people on site were really excited that the girls were there to learn!”

The girls were also brought to a stormwater pond that services the University District. “It’s a good one to show them, as it’s a naturalized storm pond designed to have elements of wildlife habitat and ecological features,” said Sunny. “At this site, I had the opportunity to talk to them about the importance of wetlands and how we can construct them in our city. Clio Bonnett, fisheries biologist, also spoke to environmental surveys (including electro-fishing) being a key component in many of our projects. Afterwards, Rayven Moore, a stormwater engineering intern, talked about the stormwater engineering aspects of the pond including piping for where the water comes from and where it ultimately goes. I think this part was really interesting for them.”

After the tour, the girls returned to our 25 Street office for lunch, and a tutorial of virtual reality (VR) building projects using their cellphones and Stantec VR headsets, followed by a small office tour. The day finished off with a round table for the girls to ask our panel of Stantec mentors anything that came to their mind. Questions like ‘how did you get here?’, ‘What courses did you have to take?’, and ‘What did you like in high school?’ were asked, as well as several students expressing interested in what university was like. “I think we definitely made an impression on them. If they took away at least one career path that interested them (or not, since it’s equally valuable to know what they don’t like), then it was worth it,” said Sunny.

Hosting Operation Minerva at our offices in Calgary gives us an opportunity to plant the idea in young minds of different career opportunities—we help them start thinking about the options out there and see what they need to do to get there. As the students head towards high school, we hope their day with us will help them choose course options that lead to a career that excites and inspires them.

“It was probably our most successful year engaging with the girls,” added Rochelle. “I hope we gave them something to look back on that inspires them to continue to think about more about their career possibilities.”

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