Monday, December 1, 2008

NCWIE: A Delegate's Perspective

One of our very own Officers, Katherine Knewcombe, also attended NCWIE. She wrote a guest post for our blog about what she experienced there.

The thing about conferences is you never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll end up talking about. Along with Gail, Barb and a handful of other Carleton girls I was at NCWIE this past weekend. And it was a blast! Yes, we talked about low enrollment numbers and challenges WISE and similar groups face at various universities, but I also got drafted to a Panel being started by PEO, started throwing joint trip ideas around with girls from Montreal, got to hear about the first female Areo Engineer who ran Canada’s engineering department overlooking the production of the Hurricane Warplanes in WWII, and challenged an Engineers’ Union representative (who happened to work on Obama’s campaign).

I’m by no means trying to downplay the Women In Engineering (and Science) part of the conference. I ended up at Barb and Gail’s presentation and was stunned by the eagerness of WISE members from university chapters across Canada to not just grow their own school’s involvement but to work with other school groups as well. Barb and Gail managed to wake everyone up after we’d been sitting just long enough to start falling asleep and as soon as they started asking about differences between other groups and how they do things, or what events they like to run, we were off. It wasn’t a madhouse full of chaos, but people were cutting each other off in their excitement to give or ask for suggestions and advice. This resulted in everyone in our session room getting pushed when it was time for the next event. We also ended up with the WIKI found at

If any of you are looking for some reading, I strongly recommend Her Daughter: the Engineer. Well, that’s not so true. I heard Richard speak at NCWIE about Elsie MacGill and the bio he’s written about not just her engineering achievements, but also her personal challenges about being a woman in engineering just before WWII. I was thrilled. I sat there thinking ‘you’re going too fast - I want to know more!’ But I truly would have missed out if he had spent longer on the different airplane designs she came up with like I was hoping he’d do, and consequently left out what came later. Elsie designed many planes and flying inventions such as a plane for winter landing and deicing. She became the first woman to earn an Electrical Engineering degree in Canada and went on to become the first aero engineer in the world. During WWII she was in charge of the engineering department in charge of the Hurricane airplanes. This may sound like I’m giving everything away, but there is so much more and it truly is so much better tied in with the personal bits that Richard has discovered. If anyone is interested in learning more let me know, I did order his book, and it arrived this morning! But we’re also deciding if we should have Richard as a speaker focusing on Elsie’s technical achievements or struggle as a woman in a male field or maybe just an overview and let the audience decide. Enough said, keep an ear out for when he’ll be coming to Carleton!

Conferences are a lot of fun in terms of networking. You get to meet people from so many different schools and if you start going even to one conference a year you’ll start seeing people you’ve met before. I managed to get into a discussion with a woman from PEO and by the time the keynote speaker started I had been drafted to a new panel set to try and recreate PEO’s image amongst university students. Which is awesome, because I’ve heard all about PEO and I know all the benefits to being licensed as well as all the ways PEO can help students. Especially in your upper years where the engineer in training program lets you work with a mentor and determine if your co-op or summer employment experience will count towards your license. I also met a member of the Energy workers Union and after getting over the shock that the first thing out of my mouth was ‘and how much money do the top execs pocket exactly?’ had a long discussion with him about not accepting things at face value and an invitation to meet him at Congress in January.