Boosting women’s enrolment and retention in University of Guelph engineering programs is a key goal of a newly funded chair announced today.
The Doody Family Chair for Women in Engineering will be funded by Diana and Brian Doody, both retired engineers in Waterloo, Ont.
The couple’s $1-million gift – matched by U of G for a total of $2 million over 15 years – will support various outreach programs in the School of Engineering within the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS).
The gift was announced during an event held on campus Nov. 1.
“We want to have more women entering and graduating from our engineering programs,” said Dr. Jana Levison, who will hold the chair for an inaugural five-year term.
Women make up about 26 per cent of U of G engineering undergraduates and 32 per cent of graduate students, compared to national proportions of 24 and 27 per cent, respectively. About one in four of the school’s roughly 60 faculty members are women.
Referring to teaching in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Levison said, “I’m passionate about championing women in engineering and STEM on campus. I’m excited to be working on this initiative.”
Higher women’s enrolment means more learning support
Increasing women’s enrolment and retention in engineering programs is the aim of the new family chair for Diana Doody. She was among five women in her engineering program at the University of Waterloo in the early 1980s.
“When there are more women in the undergraduate program, women can support each other more during the learning process,” said Diana. She worked in modelling, simulating and testing energy efficiency of materials in buildings.
Even earlier, another key factor is ensuring high school students receive adequate counselling about opportunities in the field and requirements for engineering studies, said Brian. He retired in 2014 as CEO of a digital imaging and semiconductor technology company in Waterloo.
“There’s a definite lack of understanding of the field at the high school level, Brian said. “We’re hoping not only that this investment will increase the success of current university students but also that we can help raise awareness among students and educators earlier in the whole education process.”
“The University of Guelph recognizes that excellence and equity in STEM are inseparable,” said U of G president Dr. Charlotte Yates. “On behalf of the entire U of G community, I am delighted to thank Diana and Brian Doody for the generous support they are providing to diversify and empower current and future generations of woman engineers and scientists through the Doody Family Chair for Women in Engineering.”
“We are so pleased that Diana and Brian Doody have chosen our institution to receive their generous gift, and that Dr. Levison has created a vision that resonates so well,” said Dr. John Runciman, director of the School of Engineering.
He said the school has led in supporting women’s participation in engineering, including contributions by professor emerita Dr. Valerie Davidson, former NSERC Chair for Women in Engineering, and Dr. Mary Wells, former CEPS dean.
“Their pioneering work, along with the efforts of many other faculty, staff and students, has set a foundation for success in this area,” said Runciman. “We have high expectations that the Doody Family Chair for Women in Engineering will be a national success.”
New chair to foster outreach for women in engineering
Working with other faculty and staff members in the school and the college, the new chair will lead outreach and liaison activities in four main areas:
- STEM activities
The funding will enable U of G to deliver and enhance events including Go ENG Girl in engineering and Go CODE Girl offered by the School of Computer Science. The gift will also support outreach and workshop activities by the University chapter of Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) and enable students to attend national STEM conferences.
- Student research opportunities
Four students each year will receive $5,000 undergraduate summer research apprenticeships (supplemented by faculty funding). These Doody Family Scholars will work on graduate-level research projects and gain exposure to varied career paths.
- K-12 outreach
U of G faculty, staff and students will work with elementary school science teachers in the Upper Grand District School Board and the Wellington Catholic District School Board on STEM teaching in the classroom. Along with local teachers, University faculty are developing “STEM Cubed” classroom kits containing hands-on learning materials aligned with the provincial science curriculum. This program began as a pilot this fall, led by Dr. Joanne O’Meara, a U of G physics professor aiming to break down barriers to STEM learning.
- RISE conference
U of G will revive this conference for U of G women students in engineering and science to discuss professional development, careers and networking. Launched in 2018 before being suspended during COVID-19, the event will return to campus in fall 2023.
As chair, Levison will establish benchmarks to measure women’s engineering enrolment and participation at U of G under this initiative.
She belongs to the University’s GenEQ: Advancing the Status of Women at U of G committee. Levison is also a member of Engineers Canada’s 30 by 30 initiative that aims to increase the proportion of newly licensed engineers who are women to 30 per cent by 2030.
Brian and Diana’s older daughter, Laura, completed a co-op engineering program at U of G in 2009, followed by a master’s degree in systems design engineering at the University of Waterloo.
Their younger daughter, Joanna, studied biochemistry for two years at U of G before completing a pharmacy degree at the University of Toronto.
Diana contrasted her own specialty-focused university education 40 years ago with Laura’s more wide-ranging experience at U of G. She added their daughter benefited from developing friendships and study partners with other engineering students in residence.
Noting that U of G’s engineering program is smaller than those at other nearby schools, Brian said, “We think the impact of this gift will be greater at Guelph.”
The family also supports engineering scholarships for U of G graduate and undergraduate students.
Dr. Jana Levison