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Materials Science and Engineering student Kendra Hawke is a proud woman in engineering who is inspired to create a more equitable world for women in all industries. She believes that we all have a role to play in order to succeed in that goal, including male allies like her mentor, professor and chair of the department of materials science and engineering, Hatem Zurob.
Under Zurob’s leadership, the department has worked hard to attract more women in recent years. Their efforts have succeeded. In 2022, 40% of current undergraduate students and 39% of current graduate students in the department were women.
In Zurob and Hawke’s spotlight, they explore the importance of mentoring women, advice for women who are interested in pursuing an engineering education and what it means to be an ally.
Zurob kicks off our interview by asking Hawke: What made you choose me as your mentor?
“After being a student in your classes and now a part of your research group, I truly appreciate the level of support you offer,” says Hawke. “You provide enough support that I do not feel lost in my work, but you also leave room for me to learn through my own experiences. The research group is positive and encouraging and it was also encouraging to join a research group that already consisted of quite a few women. You advocate for your students, and you help to connect us to positive opportunities that will benefit our education and professional careers. In your group I have never felt unequal to any of my male counterparts and feel as though you provide equal opportunities to all.”
We sat down with both Hawke and Zurob to talk about the importance of International Women’s Day and the impact women in STEM have made on them.
What is the importance of celebrating International Women’s Day?
Hawke: I personally feel it is important to celebrate International Women’s day to acknowledge the progress we have made in society. As well, to recognize the accomplishments of Women. The women before me worked hard to make a stand for all women in not just engineering, but in the workplace and in sport too. It is essential that we continue to progress further, and in celebrating IWD we bring awareness to this movement.
Zurob: I see it as chance to reflect on the great achievements of our female students and faculty and thank them for their great contributions to the Department. It is also a chance to reflect on the work that we still need to do to meet our EDI goals.
Was there a woman in STEM that made a profound impact on you in your life or career?
Hawke: One woman in STEM who I’ve had the pleasure of working in close contact with is Dr. Beth McNally at the Centre for Automotive Materials and Corrosion.
Beth is a very inspiring individual for women in engineering and I believe that can be attributed to her passion for the profession. She loves what she does, and she helps to build that passion within those around her. She is confident in her work, her knowledge and most importantly, herself. Beth has shown me that you first must be confident in yourself, otherwise, no one else can.
I feel that some women in engineering are nervous to speak up for their opinions in fear that they might say something wrong or “stand on someone’s toes.” But Beth has shown me that it is not about always having the right answer, but engineering is about continually learning. And you learn by being involved, not from sitting on the side watching.
Zurob: When I was going through my undergraduate studies at McMaster, I had a colleague who led the way within our cohort. She was an excellent student, an active citizen of the Department and an active member of professional societies. She had a great insight of the various materials engineering frontiers. Our many conversations inspired me to pursue graduate studies.
What does it mean to be an ally and why is it important?
Hawke: To be an ally means to support and advocate for those in a disparity.
Allys have been critical for women in engineering as they have helped bring us to the point we have reached today. We have progressed from no women in engineering to a couple, and now nearly gender parity classes. Even if women are pushing for their rights, it is critical to have support from the rest of the public in order to make a significant impact – making allies a valuable asset in making change.
Zurob: I feel privileged to have the chance to support female students though their journey in STEM. It is important to make sure that we remove the barriers that have kept women away from careers in STEM. I feel that working towards this goal is my small contribution to positive change within the university, within engineering, and within our community.
What piece of advice would you give to young women who are currently studying engineering or are thinking about studying engineering?
Zurob: There has never been a more exciting time to be an engineer! The world needs you. We need you to tackle key development challenges in order to bring positive change to our community. Engineering is a great and fulfilling career choice. We look to you to bring about positive change.
As part of the future generation of women, what lasting impact do you hope to make?
Hawke: I have been fortunate enough to have been supported throughout my engineering undergraduate degree without fear that I was at a disadvantage for being a woman. I recognized that I was entering a male-dominated field, but thanks to the female engineers that have come before me, I was able to focus on my learning and not have to fight for a right to be there in the first place. I hope that even by my involvement in Materials Science and Engineering at McMaster, I can make women in engineering be considered as a normal thing.
What change do you hope to see in the world by celebrating women through initiatives like IWD?
Hawke: I hope that some day we can reach a point where women cannot even fathom the idea of being unequal in ANY industry. That seeing a woman’s name on an application has no bearing on their qualifications and no hiring manager even has a second thought about gender. I hope that we can reach a point where we no longer hear statements like “wow that is impressive, for a girl”. Women have every right to be treated as equals in all aspects of life including job opportunities, salary and level of seniority in a company.
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