My Roots: How I was Inspired to Pursue Engineering
By: Felicity Rugard
Published: June 28 2021

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When I was quite little, I remember the nature programs at the local nature centre that I attended. I got to see the birds and learn their calls, touch the trees, dissect owl pellets, and explore wetlands. I spent a lot of time at the Ontario Science Centre and the Royal Ontario Museum exploring the exhibits. I was able to do this through outreach programs for young kids. These experiences, supported by enthusiastic staff and volunteers, sparked my curiosity.

 

Some years later, Girl Guides, fostered an exploratory environment for me. I was able to plan my own meetings and camping trips and earn badges for following my interests. I was surrounded by leaders and peers that were supportive, and I made some of the best friends, many that I still am in contact with today. In school, sometimes there is a pressure to get good grades and get the credit, etc. But it is not always the best way to find out what you enjoy doing or are interested in. While growing up, I was able to participate in many extracurricular activities, and it was those experiences that encouraged me to consider STEM.

 

The Canadian Association for Girls in Science (CAGIS) has female students in STEM volunteering and leading programs. The activities are planned out so that they can work for a wide range of age groups. The events that I attended were really fun, and it was also great to have the opportunity to talk to people pursuing a STEM degree, even when I had a long time to decide what to study in university.

 

I participated in the engineering outreach programs at a local university and again I was very intrigued. The activities were engaging, and it also provided me the opportunity to talk to like minded individuals.

 

My experiences in these activities gave me the confidence to apply for a special opportunity. At the Ontario Science Centre, there is a publicly funded program where grade 12 students (who apply in grade 11) can spend a semester going to school at the Science Centre. Students earn grade 12 science and math credits, while getting to volunteer at the Science Centre, and have classes in the exhibits. I applied, and although I did not think I would get accepted because only 30 students get to do it each semester, I got to go! It was an incredible experience, and I learned so much about science communication and STEM during my time there.

 

It was this in combination with my previous experiences that encouraged me to apply to McMaster for iBioMed. I am grateful to have had all these opportunities, and I would like to stress that many girls and women in science experience barriers to access in STEM programs. I want to encourage female engineering students, and other groups that face barriers, to become mentors for younger prospective STEM students. Without this continuing encouragement, I would not have chosen this path. I want as many people as possible to not be afraid to explore careers in STEM, no matter their gender. Addressing gender inequalities in STEM, can come from us female engineering students!

 

I have a mentor with WIE this year, as I am a first-year student, and my mentor has really helped me to navigate this challenging year. I hope to become a future WIE mentor to be able to provide my experience and understanding to future engineering students. I hope to be able to spend more time in

the future volunteering with Girl Guides and CAGIS. Even a few hours a semester helping facilitate a science experiment or doing a Q&A with kids can have a big impact.

I have experienced firsthand how important it is to have accessible opportunities for exploring different fields of study, especially for women in STEM. My name is Felicity, and I would like to share my experience in youth outreach groups, and how they inspired me to pursue engineering.