WEST – Women in Engineering, Science and Technology
Aspiring female engineers tackle a real-world clean energy challenge from FortisBC
Victoria, B.C. Wednesday, October 26, 2022
On Wednesday, October 26, three teams of aspiring female engineers pitched their best design ideas to a panel of industry professionals and university representatives on a complex engineering problem—how FortisBC could lower energy use in the production of Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) in B.C.
“This was a hands on opportunity to experience the exciting, valuable contributions they can make if they continue to pursue careers in engineering,” said Monty Raisinghani, engineering and computer science CO-OP co-ordinator, University of Victoria.
The 11 participants are all undergraduate engineering students from the University of Victoria and the first cohort of Women in Engineering, Science and Technology (WEST), a new mentorship group that provides professional opportunities and support for women pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) from high school and university. The aim of WEST is to encourage women in STEM by offering the opportunity to participate in design projects that have a community impact.
“With women making up only 20 per cent of engineering students across Canada, WEST is an innovative way to expose young women to the creative opportunities that exist within engineering and as importantly, see themselves as being successful in the field,” said Raisinghani, who helped recruit WEST participants from across Canada and mentor the teams. “This is how UVic is taking the lead to improve this number.”
The pitches are a culmination of months of research and hands on learning. The WEST teams were given up to four months to create an energy-efficient method of producing the heat needed in the process of transforming biogas captured from waste into RNG. Working in self-managed teams, they developed viable solutions that included heat storage, energy conservation and solar heating. For many of the students, this was their first opportunity to apply their in-class learning to a real-world problem, and the first pitch of their post-secondary journey.
For participants like Isabelle Friesen, second-year mechanical engineering student, it’s given her the opportunity to apply what she’s learning in class, get a taste of what a career in engineering is really like and build confidence in her abilities.
“It was a challenge to balance the program with course work, but so worth it. When you get it done and solve it, it’s a fantastic achievement. And the people I’ve met through the program have been so encouraging,” said Friesen. “It’s an amazing way to connect with the material — it makes it real. It keeps me engaged with what I’m learning and lets me know I can do this work.”
In addition to sponsoring the inaugural event, FortisBC provided the challenge question and is giving each of the participants a $500 scholarship to help further their studies in engineering.
“We were really impressed with the breadth of ideas they developed and their engagement on pretty complex concepts such as thermal energy storage,” said Joey Broda, renewable gas engineer at FortisBC.
“It’s been a real privilege to be the first to sponsor WEST and see firsthand the students’ excitement for innovating upon the clean energy technologies we’re building in B.C. I wanted to give these students a real problem we face today and they have risen to the challenge with solutions we can continue to develop.”
Broda was one of the many industry professionals who will attend the presentation event that takes place on October 26 at the Victoria Marina. A new industry design challenge will be presented to the next WEST team in January 2023. More details on the application and recruitment process will be shared with applicants by the end of November. Learn more about WEST and the many other opportunities offered through HighTechU at hightechu.ca.