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International Women’s Day Spotlight: Lauren Hooper

Lauren Hooper is a chemical engineering student at McMaster, a process automation engineering intern at Suncor Energy and a mom to her three year old daughter. In this International Women’s Day spotlight, Hooper shares her journey to McMaster, what it means to be a woman in engineering and how she strives to become the best parent she can be.

Q: How do you juggle an internship, pursuing a chemical engineering degree and taking care of your daughter?

A: Without my family’s constant support, it would be nearly impossible. My family has been there for us since day one. I was 20 years old after my second year of university when I had my daughter and although it has been a struggle, I’ve been able to continue school. 

My priorities are different now. My social life and travelling are not as important as being a mother and finishing school. I’ve actually come to enjoy small trips to the beach or a local petting zoo. Until I became a mom, I never really stopped to smell the flowers. Now since I’ve become so busy, I make sure to slow down and experience every moment.

Q: How has being a mom changed your perspective on your life?

A: Having a child that is looking up at me every day as a role model is easy motivation to set goals and achieve them. Once you become a parent your perspective widens because now you see things from a three year old’s perspective as well as your own.

Every step I take I now have a little human following me and because of that I’m more careful with the decisions I make as they shape my daughter into the person she’s becoming every day. I want my daughter to be proud of me and my accomplishments so I definitely want to get my degree and find a job that has good company culture that will be able to complement our lifestyle.

I also don’t sweat the small stuff anymore now that I’m a mom. Partly because there’s not enough time and energy in my day and partly because it’s exhausting to micromanage every minute of every day and stress when expectations are not fulfilled. 

I’ve learned that my plate will never be completely clean and my basket will never be empty. I choose to have a perspective on happiness and an attitude that says “I am going to do what I can today, and let go of what I don’t get done because it will still be there tomorrow.”

Q: What does it mean to be a woman in engineering?

A: When I was in high school, I remember avoiding the question when people would ask me what I was applying to study in university. I always thought I would be judged since it’s typically a male dominated field and unfortunately, being from a small town didn’t help that idea. 

I remember sitting down in one of my first year tutorials and the TA explained that we would be put in groups for a project and I looked around the room and noticed that there were only three women and knew we would be split up for “equality” purposes. That is essentially how my first year went in regards to group work; I was always the only woman in the group. 

Once second year came there were more women in my classes, so it was great. I’ve learned that engineering doesn’t choose between men and women, but instead, whoever is up to the task to solve problems while making the world a better place. 

The quality of work you produce is what will be evaluated. It’s important to be yourself as a female in a male dominated environment. Don’t try to fit in or mould yourself to historical male standards. A great solution is more likely to be discovered when there are several different perspectives contributing to the problem. 

Q: Why did you choose McMaster?

A: I'm from a very small town in Ontario, Wallaceburg, and I knew I wanted to go to school far enough from my family that they couldn't drop in unexpectedly, but close enough that if we needed each other, the distance was still practical. 

Growing up, the majority of my family members worked in the energy industry and with the love of math and chemistry in high school, choosing to pursue a chemical engineering degree was easy and made sense. 

After doing some research on chemical engineering programs in Ontario, McMaster stood out for many typical reasons such as leading research departments, successful job rates after school and outstanding achievements of faculty. Once I toured the campus with my family, I ultimately felt very comfortable with the decision to choose McMaster.

Q: Who is your role model?

A: There are several figures in my life who are role models: my daughter I look to for unconditional love; my twin sister, I look to for generosity and a loving heart; my older sister, I look to for understanding; my parents, I look to for hard work and determination; my grandmother, I look to for kindness and patience; my best friend, I look to for compassion and confidence and Professor Kim Jones I look to as an educated career woman who is able to balance being a mom, teaching and research.

Q: What are your plans for your future?

A: If you asked me this four years ago I would’ve explained my long term goals: graduate university, work for a big energy company, get my PEO and buy a house on Lake St. Clair. 

However, since having my daughter my plans for the future are simple; become the best role model for my daughter and to continue to work hard to build a safe, secure and happy life for the both of us.

Q: Any words of advice for women and girls considering an engineering degree?

A: You may be in situations where you might be the only girl in the group which may seem intimidating and uncomfortable at first but being there ensures that a female perspective is present and contributed. This empowers the next generation of females to feel more accepted and appreciated.

The best support I’ve had on campus is from my female professors. They’ve most likely experienced similar fears and equality repression as you have when they were in school, with the engineering female population probably being much lower decades ago than it is now. Reaching out to my female professors was honestly the best decision I made.

Always remind yourself over and over again that you are a competent, bright person who will find a way to rise to the occasion, whatever the occasion happens to be. Believe in yourself – you’re worth it!