Friday, December 15, 2017

New Camosun club helps women in engineering gain confidence

February 3, 2016 by Adam Marsh, student editor

Camosun College has a new student club for women in engineering.

Second-year Civil Engineering Technology student Valerie Shearsmith says she started the Interurban Women in Engineering club (which Shearsmith says aims to instill “confidence and assertiveness” to women) after personal experiences of feeling intimidated in the industry.

“Sometimes, in my experience, I’ve been the only female in the engineering firm, and that’s a hard position to be in, especially if you’re timid,” says Shearsmith, who worked in the industry for nine years as a drafter. “So I’d like to prepare these girls so they’re able to stand out when they get into the work force.”

Shearsmith says the club meetings consist of lectures from motivational speakers who have worked at engineering firms and have first-hand experience with being outnumbered.

Valerie Shearsmith of the Interurban Women in Engineering student club (photo by Camosun College A/V Services).

Valerie Shearsmith of the Interurban Women in Engineering student club (photo by Camosun College A/V Services).

“I’ve met a lot of great women who are capable of a whole lot of things, and they have encouraged me,” says Shearsmith. “Now I don’t have to be scared of being in a management position. I mean, those ladies took it on and they do really great work, and they’re respected.”

Shearsmith says the most rewarding part of the club is watching her fellow classmates gain confidence. There is even someone in the group who specializes in executive coaching and leadership decisions, she says.

“When I see a girl in the classroom setting who is one of those ones who has a hard time stating their own opinion when another member is quite sure in their opinion, I just say, ‘You know what? Go for it. Because your thoughts matter.’ So when I see these girls and how thankful they are that they have a club like this, it’s great.”

When Shearsmith first started out as an engineer in a small town, she began going on site as an inspector with construction foremen.

“I was telling them, ‘Okay, you need to add nails here, you need to put in a pad here.’ So imagine a girl of 20 telling a 60-year-old foreman pretty much what to do.”

Since then, others have followed in her path.

“From what I hear,” says Shearsmith, “this year was a record for women being enrolled in Civil Engineering Technology. Right now, we have about eight women to 30 guys in the program. We really need a lot of confident ladies in the industry, because we’re a minority right now.”

Zoe Broom, chair of Civil Engineering Technology at Camosun, says that she’s not sure if it’s a record year but says that enrolment exceeds past averages.

“The five-year average enrolment of women in the Civil Tech program is 13 percent,” says Brown. “We currently have 17 percent women in Year 1 and 22 percent women in Year 2.”

Shearsmith would like to see women get more opportunities to be in management positions.

“The people that I’ve met as I’ve progressed in the industry have given me confidence that there’s a lot of potential out there,” she says.

Ayla DeFoor, also a second-year Civil Engineering Technology student, says she has noticed an increased sense of camaraderie with her classmates since Shearsmith founded the club. She says that for her it’s less about gender equality and more about treating all humans with a fundamental level of compassion.

“I don’t want to necessarily see ‘gender equality,’” says DeFoor. “I’d rather see human equality. I really hate to admit that I’ve experienced a little bit of sexism in the industry; it’s sort of hard to believe that, but it is there. I’m really looking forward to working in a place where my gender is not an issue.”

DeFoor says the next place she works will be determined by the feeling of equality that she perceives in the office. She thinks the club is helping its members prepare for being involved in the industry.

“Val is doing such a great job preparing us,” says DeFoor. “I think it’s a really great service she’s doing us.”

All Interurban Women in Engineering meetings consist of guest lectures and take place at Interurban on Fridays in the Technologies Building.

Find the club on Facebook (search for CI Women in Engineering) or email to stay updated.

Correction: a previous version of this story identified Zoe Broom as Zoe Brown. We apologize for the mistake.

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