UBC’s first female engineering prof – a Renaissance woman

By Sam Markham

“Engineering and technology affects every aspect of our life. As engineers we want to affect society and make the world better. For that we need women, men, First Nations people… we build systems for people, and this is why we want all people in society to participate, not only men.”


Rabab Ward, a professor in the Electrical and Chemical Engineering Department at UBC since 1981, has won a great number of awards including the Confederation of Faculty Associations of BC’s Career Achievement Award, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC’s R.A. McLachlan Award, the UBC Killiam Research Prize, and UBC Engineering Co-op Faculty Member of the Year. She has been named a fellow of several prominent societies, and three years ago she was appointed the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Coordinator in the Office of the VP Research and International at UBC, a post she continues to hold.

Ward’s research spans many broad areas. She has developed an improved method of processing mammograms so 70% of cancers can be detected a year earlier than was previously possible, a brain-computer interface that allows people with mobility impairments to control various devices, and a way for cable television providers to test their systems without turning all of the channels off in the early morning hours.

“I enjoy learning the most,” says Ward. “Research keeps you learning all the time, and working with students is fabulous because you learn so much from them, and they learn from you as well. It’s self-satisfying”

Aside from her long list of career achievements, from significant research and coveted awards to high-level administrative work and successful teaching, Ward also happens to be UBC’s first female engineering professor.

Personal history

Ward, a native of Lebanon, first became interested in engineering at the prompting of her uncle, who had been studying in the US. She had always excelled in school, but hadn’t considered engineering an option because she had never heard of a woman engineer before.

Lebanon’s American University of Beirut wasn’t accepting women for their engineering program, so Ward studied in Egypt. She came back to work in her home country as the first female engineer in Lebanon. “I used to travel with the other engineers, finalizing the electrical grid to all of Lebanon. Villagers would say ‘Oh, the engineer brought his fiancée!’”, she laughs.

She earned her Master’s and PhD in engineering at Berkley before looking for a job in academia. Originally hired as a sessional lecturer, she paid students out of her pocket to help her with her research. Eventually she was hired as a tenure-track professor.

Career Accomplishments

In addition to teaching and research, Ward has been very involved in administrative work. Her current position as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Coordinator involves securing funding in the areas of science and engineering. This is something Ward has an abundance of experience in.

From 1996 – 2007, Ward was the Director of the Institute for Computing, Information and Cognitive Systems (ICICS), and her greatest achievement in this position was to secure $22.2 million for an extension to the ICICS building. In addition to this, under her leadership ICICS expanded from 78 to 150 members, 20% of whom were in disciplines that hadn’t been involved before, such as medicine, business, music and psychology.

Ward has had a long and prolific career in the field of signal processing, and because of this a lot of the lasting positive change she has effected is not only in her work itself but as a role model. “I also worked in Africa, and I visit the Arab world,” says Ward. “I think people see me, a woman in engineering, and think ‘Oh, maybe we can do that too.’”

In her words…

Persevering –

“It was very difficult because at that time, in the late ‘70s, people didn’t think of women as professors in engineering,” says Ward. “It was very different from now. But once I got the job it was easier.”

“I was just concentrating on getting what I wanted,” says Ward. “I didn’t take it against people that they didn’t hire me because that’s the way they grew up. If you get upset, then you don’t do what you want to do – it affects you. I take things as they come and try to understand where people are coming from, and try to work with the system and push them bit by bit. And for me it worked.”

Advice for women –

“I think it’s a great idea to study engineering. Actually, I think it’s the best discipline to study if you go to university. The best discipline to study is engineering, and then afterwards you can practice engineering, or you can study law, or medicine, or even arts.

“Studying engineering is difficult – there’s no two ways about it. But it gives you the discipline to think – not only to analyze but to solve problems.”

On the importance of women in engineering –

“We make the technology so we should have a say in how it should be used. And because it has only been used in a narrow way, women have tended not to enter into engineering. If women see that engineering is a tool for much more than just creating a car, or building a bridge, I think they will participate more.

“Engineering and technology affects every aspect of our life. As engineers we want to affect society and make the world better. For that we need women, men, First Nations people… we build systems for people, and this is why we want all people in society to participate, not only men.”

Career highlights –

“I’m most proud of my graduate students. They all have good careers, and they have done very well. More than technology or anything else, I like working with people. That gives me the most joy.”

EECE graduate describes her UBC Engineering experience and future aspirations

In my final year, I was fortunate enough to be the campus ambassador for the Teach for India program, which was in its nascent stages at UBC and GVRD. Using campus resources, organizations, and Greater Vancouver Regional District community forums, I was able to create awareness in a short period of time. UBC has always been supportive of innovative ideas, anywhere, anytime.
—Mansi Tandon, Class of 2011

Photo credit: Ricky Gu

Photo credit: Ricky Gu

What has made your time at UBC the most memorable?
My involvement with a culturally and academically diverse community at UBC has made my experience truly memorable. Be it welcoming students on their first day, creating awareness about global leadership programs, or even debating with our president and AMS about student rights, this has resulted in my personal growth.

Tell me about your experiences at UBC. What have you learned that is most valuable?
The EECE department has given us multiple opportunities to accomplish and do what we are passionate about doing: learning, teaching and working in teams. Our professors have been key in making this happen because of their commitment to students’ betterment and support in all domains. With my Engineering Co-op experiences, I was able to experience national and international hi-tech work cultures in places such as Germany and Ottawa, while making UBC proud with my diligence and enthusiasm at work. In my final year, I was fortunate enough to be the campus ambassador for the Teach for India program which was in its nascent stages at UBC and Greater Vancouver Regional District. Using campus resources, organizations and GVRD community forums, I was able to create awareness in a short period of time. UBC has always been supportive of innovative ideas, anywhere, anytime.

How are you applying the skills you learned through your studies at UBC?
Had it not been for my involvement in both technical and non-technical aspects at UBC, I would not have been where I am today. I will be applying my skills at an engineering firm while refining them with professional mentorship at work.

Why did you choose UBC and electrical engineering initially?
I chose UBC for its multiculturalism and because it has a higher international student population than many other universities. These aspects of UBC speak volumes about how comfortable and at-home I felt for the five years I have spent at UBC.

What are your plans for the future?
As of now, I am starting full-time work as an electrical engineer with a globally renowned energy management company. My long-term goal is to start my own firm that would use my engineering and management expertise while serving the public.

How do you feel your degree has benefited you?
My degree in engineering has trained me to multi-task, work in dynamic teams under tight schedules and think critically.

How will you, Mansi Tandon, go on to make a difference in our world?
I aspire to educate young people and develop useful products for developing nations – not gadgets, useful products.

To discover more Faculty of Applied Science rising stars, visit: www.apsc.ubc.ca/stars/congregation11.

Former EUS president reflects upon her experiences at UBC Engineering

Engineering has definitely helped improve my problem solving skills, and more than anything, has taught me how to learn quickly and effectively while juggling a million and one involvements. It has also taught me how to look at problems as challenges that can always be overcome—or at least circumvented—by simply examining them and their impacts from all perspectives.
–Lin Watt, Class of 2011

Lin Watt, BASc, Chemical and Biological Engineering

Lin Watt, BASc, Chemical and Biological Engineering

Former EUS president, current champion for the Engineering Student Centre project, and co-founder of Dragonfly Instruments, Lin Watt reflects on her UBC experience with us:

What has made your time at UBC the most memorable?
My experiences with the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) have definitely made my time at UBC the most memorable. I’ve learned and grown so much from all the people, the teamwork, the successes, and most of all the disasters!  My year as EUS President was the single hardest and most rewarding of my experiences to date: I will never forget the satisfaction of being able to see my team develop both as people and as a collective and effect positive change in our community.

More broadly, I will always remember the social bonds I’ve formed here in UBC Engineering. Being able to meet and get to know people of so many different backgrounds and interests has not only expanded my own perspectives but made for some pretty unique and unforgettable events!

Tell me about your experience in engineering? What has been most valuable to you?
I was involved in a wide variety of activities while in engineering: I was an executive on the Engineering Undergraduate Society and in the local Engineers Without Borders chapter. I was also the elected Applied Science representative to the UBC Vancouver Senate, and a co-founder of a start-up company called Dragonfly Instruments. Additionally, while I lived in residence I had a lot of fun as the VP/Treasurer for my house. As part of the Youth Inspiring Action network, I also designed and ran a children’s “applied reading” program to explore the concepts of science behind the stories in a downtown eastside branch of the Vancouver Public Libraries. My most recent commitment has been to the Engineering Student Centre project, where I am the lead student for creating the governance agreement and fundraising from alumni. I basically looked around and did every out-of-class activity I could find and fit in!

Overall what has been most valuable to me has been my activities outside of the classroom, as I learn best from actually doing things.

How are you applying the skills you learned?
During the course of my studies, I learned how to motivate and bring a group of people with different agendas and perspectives together to work constructively. I also vastly improved my public speaking and networking skills and, through simple repetition, how to build a punchy powerpoint slide deck!  All these skills have been very useful to me in the Engineering Student Centre (ESC) project, a cooperative venture between the Engineering Undergraduate Society and the Faculty of Applied Science to build a new $5M, 10,000 square foot facility to be a hub for engineering students’ social and informal learning activities. Although students have put up $2.5M of the budget by voting to increase their fees, my involvement (both as a student and now as an alum) is in fundraising the other $2.5M from alumni and industry. I’m also involved in the design and governance aspects of the projects, working with faculty, alumni, staff and a wide diversity of students to build an ESC we can all be proud of.  In this endeavor all the people and presentation skills I’ve learned have been and continue to be vital.

Why did you choose UBC?
I initially chose UBC because the school gave me the biggest long-term scholarship and it was near an ocean (growing up on the coast of Nova Scotia, I didn’t want to be parted from my salt water smells!). I went into UBC Engineering because of the caliber of the program and the fact that a degree focused on problem-solving; a degree that leads to very promising job prospects appealed to my practical personality much more than theoretical studies.

UBC Engineering has been an amazing place for me and I would definitely choose it again.

What are your plans for the future?
I’m starting full-time work at Dillon Consulting Ltd., an international, Canadian-owned professional science, technology, and management consulting company. I’ve joined the firm as part of an exciting, coordinated, new grad training program called the President’s Crew, not for any specific technical position. I’m very much looking forward to the job: not only do I get to travel across Canada working at various different offices, but I am given the opportunity to work and learn all about the different divisions of Dillon no matter my technical background, from transportation to environmental, structural to planning, and of course my own interests in geoscience and water resources. As part of the program we also will be proposing business development ideas to the company and creating social initiatives to increase Dillon’s positive impact on local communities.

In addition to full-time work at Dillon, I will also be continuing work on the start-up I co-founded while at UBC, Dragonfly Instruments, which seeks to revolutionize environmental monitoring by providing laboratory-grade instruments for the field.

How do you feel a degree in engineering has benefited you compared to a different field of study?
Engineering has definitely helped improve my problem solving skills, and more than anything, has taught me how to learn quickly and effectively while juggling a million and one involvements. It has also taught me how to look at problems as challenges that can always be overcome—or at least circumvented—by simply examining them and their impacts from all perspectives.

How will you go on to make a difference in our world?
Quite simply, by doing as much as I can as best as I can both at and outside of work!

To discover more Faculty of Applied Science rising stars, visit: www.apsc.ubc.ca/stars/congregation11.

Small-scale mining: A golden opportunity for equality

On Friday Jennifer Hinton defended her PhD dissertation Gender Differentiated Impacts and Benefits of Artisanal Mining: Engendering Pathways out of Poverty. On Monday she flew back to Uganda, a landlocked country bounded by Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in East Africa.


Jennifer Hinton, PhD, Mining Engineering

The sweet, mild-mannered and new minted Dr. Hinton has spent the last several years studying gender inequity and poverty in artisanal, small-scale mining communities.

Artisanal and Small-scale mining (ASM) operations employ approximately 20 million people, artisanal miners, around the world. The work is labour intensive, there is little training and a myriad of environmental, health and social problems stem from the operations which utilizes rudimentary technologies for mineral extraction.

Hinton’s research focuses on the question: How do the main social determinants of health and wellbeing of women and men miners influence the poverty reducing measures to which they have access and control? In pursuit of this central question, others emerged:

  • What are the primary factors affecting differential vulnerability of women and men?
  • How do households and individual women and men reliant on artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) compare to households dependent on other livelihoods?
  • What role does ASM play in poverty reduction?
  • How can policy and intervention support the transformation of gender relations in order to advance gender equity and poverty reduction?

For the past several years Hinton researched these questions from 19 sites across the globe including a number of African countries, such as Tanzania, Rwanda and Liberia as well as Brazil and as far away as Mongolia and Papua New Guinea. Drawing from findings in other ASM communities, the main focus of her PhD research was the Lake Katwe Salt Works in the Kasese District of Uganda.

The Lake Katwe Salt Works provides an especially poignant case study. Located in an arid savannah near the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Western Uganda, salt mining is the primary livelihood of 49% of the population. Due to the prolonged, repeated immersion in brine, salt mining—coupled with existing wounds or STDs—creates some especially nasty health conditions. She quotes one miner, “ ‘the brine eats your wound…the water will eat your penis and you will almost lose it.’” She found that the tragic health affects from the salt water reported by both women and men miners have profound implications in terms of marital relations, its links with the sex trade and STDs (such as HIV/AIDS) and economic productivity.

While both women and men are impacted, within this community, women fare worse. In addition to their roles as salt miners (women comprise up to 70% of the workforce), women are often at great disadvantage in both community and domestic spheres. Hinton’s comparative research found that 45% of men-headed households had cash savings greater than $6 USD, while only 22% of women-headed households did. And she found the disparity of household assets to be 81% less in women-headed households than men. While a number of economic inequities are evident from her quantitative assessment, she found that inequities between women and men in terms of personal autonomy and decision making are central causes to perpetuation of the ASM poverty cycle.

For example, men typically take charge of the financial resources and make the final decisions concerning land, the home and other family assets, but this can even extend so far as determining if and when a woman should go for health treatment. Some women even need to obtain permission from their husbands to attend training, visit government offices and even visit their own friends has effects extending to all facets of wellbeing from health and wealth to access to education, information and socialization.

Referring to the plethora of well-conceived projects seeking to improve ASM around the world, Hinton sees organized artisanal, small-scale mining as a potential engine for development if it can also focus on the value and visibility of women’s work, help transform gender relations, and provide equal opportunities and equal outcomes.

“For the first time, we’ve been able to holistically quantify gender issues in ASM while giving meaning to the findings,” says Hinton. “The data is no longer anecdotal, but statistically based. Through this work, we have identified the significance of gender relations within the ASM poverty cycle and related strategic as well as practical gender needs.”

Citing a number of practical recommendations spanning the fields of health, engineering, social science and policy,  she continues “I hope that the research provides useful mechanisms for policy makers, academics, and ‘interventionists’ to support transformation of gender relations and ideally work more effectively towards breaking the cycle of poverty common to many ASM communities,” says Hinton.

In addition to her ongoing work as a Small Scale Mining Consultant for World Bank, USAID, SDC and other organizations, Hinton recently purchased a gold-lead-silver mine in Uganda for $5000 CAD, where she plans to implement her studies not as an academic, but as an environmentally-responsible and socially conscious small-scale miner.

Hinton received her BASc in Geological Engineering, and MASc and PhD in Mining Engineering from UBC.

Read more about ASM: Marcello Veiga’s ‘small is beautiful’ article

To discover more Faculty of Applied Science rising stars, visit: www.apsc.ubc.ca/stars/congregation11.

UBC graduate student receives prestigious woman in engineering scholarship

Vancouver, Canada—April 18, 2011—Civil Engineering graduate student Emilie Lapointe is the 2011 Vale Master’s in Engineering Scholarship winner. Awarded by the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation (CEMF), this prestigious $10,000 scholarship is awarded annually to the most promising woman in a graduate engineering program at the master’s level in Canada.


Recognized as an outstanding and dedicated member of her community, Lapointe donates her time and energy to helping others, while extolling the values of leadership and promoting the profession of engineering.

“Emilie epitomizes the strong, positive and well-rounded role model the foundation is proud to support – we believe she is truly an ambassador for the profession of engineering and is an inspiration to young women across Canada who may, one day, choose to become a professional engineer due to her influence,” says Huntley O’Connor, CEMF president.

Among her many accomplishments, Lapointe has volunteered as a mentor for Women in Science and Engineering at UBC, worked as a Leader for the Science Week Project, been involved with Engineers Without Borders including serving as a delegate at the EWB National Conference, and donated her time as a driver this past holiday season for Operation Red Nose.

Originally from Ste-Sabine, Quebec, Lapointe’s research focuses on geotechnical engineering specializing in soil improvement.

“I know my leadership and communication skills have evolved during my professional activities, but even more so through the various extracurricular activities I have been involved in,” says Lapointe. “I will continue to be involved in mentoring young women; it is rewarding to see their motivation and I feel fulfilled when I can use my experiences to inspire other people.”

“As an employer, these scholarships are essential for our organization to ensure we develop future talent in engineering,” says Michael Gribe, Manager HR Systems, Workforce Planning, Budgeting and Sourcing for Vale. “We are extremely proud to have Emilie represent both Vale and the profession of engineering as our 2011 Master’s in Engineering Scholarship recipient. “Vale is a world leader in the mining industry and we have a committed and growing presence in Canada, from the construction of a new processing plant in Newfoundland to the development of a potash property in Saskatchewan. We are dedicated to building a strong future and investing in the communities we serve.”

Along with the financial support, Vale also offers the opportunity for summer job placements to its scholarship winners.

Since 1990, CEMF has been promoting engineering as a career choice for Canadian women through its extensive scholarship program, a website that attracts thousands of new visitors a month, social media programming, and scholarship winner presentations to high school students.


ErinRose Handy
Manager, Marketing & External Communications
UBC Faculty of Applied Science
Tel: 604-822-1524
E-mail: erinrose.handy@ubc.ca

UBC undergrad recognized as exceptional woman in engineering

Kelowna, Canada—April 15, 2011—Third-year engineering student Audrey Siebert-Timmer is one of five women across Canada who will receive a $5,000 scholarship from the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation (CEMF).

Engineering student Audrey Siebert-Timmer.

Engineering student Audrey Siebert-Timmer.

Siebert-Timmer will travel to Halifax in May to receive her $5,000 and meet the other award winners. She will also serve as an ambassador of CEMF and present to youth at Okanagan high schools with the intent of promoting engineering as a viable career for both boys and girls.

Closely tied to the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers, the CEMF seeks to recognize and promote exceptional women in engineering. Winners are chosen for their leadership activities, community and volunteer work, and a proven track record of mentorship and serving as a role model to others.

“There are so many amazing women in engineering who are making a difference in their profession and I feel honoured and humbled to be selected for this award,” says Siebert-Timmer. “I’m really looking forward to travelling to Halifax and meeting the other award recipients. I love talking to people and can’t wait to hear about how the other girls have excelled in their programs, as well as share some of my experiences with them.”

This summer, Siebert-Timmer will return to UBC’s Okanagan campus and work as a research assistant under the direction of Engineering Professor Lukas Bichler. Her work on the development of ceramic materials for the nuclear industry will be supported by an Undergraduate Student Research Award.

“Audrey is one of the rising stars at the School of Engineering at UBC,” says Bichler. “Aside from maintaining a high level of academic performance, she consistently reminds us that the true calling of an engineer is to make a difference in the lives of our peers, our community, and for all Canadians. With her calm and humble personality, Audrey is a role model for many of her peers.”

Siebert-Timmer’s volunteer activities include serving as an ambassador for the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, through which she volunteers at basketball camps for middle-school girls who are interested in pursuing post-secondary education. She is also volunteering this year with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (Kelowna Branch) Executive Board. As well, Siebert-Timmer is a senior player with the Heat varsity women’s basketball team, actively participating in team volunteer activities.

“Audrey brings a real sense of maturity and perspective to the team — she is the perfect combination of player and person,” says women’s basketball coach Heather Semeniuk. “People lead in different ways. Audrey does it by being front and centre in everything the team does, both in the gym and out in the community.”


Jody Jacob
Assistant Communications Coordinator
University Relations
The University of British Columbia
Okanagan campus
Phone: 250-807-8463
Email: jody.jacob@ubc.ca

The Lone Flower: Rona Alexandra Hatt Wallis (BaSc ’22), 1901–1982

In 1922, Rona Hatt graduated from UBC with a degree in chemical engineering and became the first woman to graduate from the Faculty of Applied Science.


The youngest of 12 siblings, she was the only one to attend university. When she began her studies in 1917 at age 15, UBC’s enrollment was just over 350 students; tuition for the year was $18.

Although her original career choice was nursing, that option was not available at UBC at the time. Hatt enjoyed chemistry during the common first-year of study at UBC, and a friend suggested that she enroll in chemical engineering. Her friend and three other young women planned to enroll in the same program, but when she returned to UBC the following fall, Hatt discovered she was the only woman registered in chemical engineering.

Despite having been raised with five brothers, Hatt admitted that she was intimidated by all the men surrounding her. Often treating her as a little sister, her classmates played tricks on her during her first year out of jealousy because she was frequently ahead of them. But Hatt summoned the courage to continue going to class.

Classmates weren’t the only ones who attempted to discourage her. One of her professors would say to her, “Margaret Healey [another woman who had previously enrolled in engineering] couldn’t do these courses! What makes you think you can?”

She walked daily each way from her home in Kitsilano to the UBC buildings near the Vancouver General Hospital—about five miles round trip—and attended classes Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, as well as classes and labs weekdays from 1 until 5 p.m. or later. Having entered engineering without the necessary high school prerequisites, such as woodworking, she had many courses to make up.

Engineering in those years differed vastly from today. Among the classes and skills Hatt had to master were courses on coal engines and forging. She shoveled coal into the boilers along with the men in her class. A 1919 Vancouver Sun article expressed amazement that a woman could do this.

Her later years at UBC were easier than her first. In 1919, veterans returned from World War I, and many joined her class. She took it upon herself to help them catch up with their coursework, and the gentlemen formed a protective circle around her. This experience helped her immensely later in life, when she worked with World War II veterans at Victoria College.

Helping people was one of Hatt’s passions. Despite the fact that she felt it was too late to change her educational path when the School of Nursing opened at UBC in 1919, she used her knowledge and skills to nurse neighbors back to health during the 1918 flu pandemic.

After graduation, Hatt worked in the chemical engineering stores for two years, until she met her future husband, H. Douglas Wallis, a 1924 UBC chemical engineering graduate. She continued to use her education in later years working as a substitute teacher at Victoria High School, marking chemistry exams and teaching lab courses at Victoria College for a year or two after World War II. She also marked and later rewrote the chemistry Grade 12 correspondence course for BC. And her son John (BA ’55, MA ’63) noted that she cooked with “more knowledge” than many others.

Hatt’s legacy lives on as part of UBC. Her determination inspired her children, grandchildren and greatgrand children, and many attended UBC, including her great-grandson Christopher Wallis (BASc ‘10), who also graduated from chemical engineering.

The Faculty of Applied Science proudly offers the Rona A. and H. Douglas Wallis Memorial Scholarship in Chemical Engineering. This scholarship, endowed by their son John, provides $1,400 annually to a female undergraduate student in chemical engineering.

Although it would be 25 years before another woman graduated from UBC with a degree in engineering, Rona Alexandra Hatt Wallis’s bravery, commitment and perseverance paved the way for women in engineering at UBC.

In her 1922 yearbook, she is named the “lone flower” in her class—a woman in a field of men.

Source: UBC Library audio file available at www.library.ubc.ca/archives/audio/UBC_AT_889.mp3

UBC professor named NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering

Vancouver, Canada—August 24, 2010—University of British Columbia Mechanical Engineering Professor Elizabeth Croft has been named the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the British Columbia and Yukon Region.


The primary focus of the Chair is to increase the participation of women in science and engineering and to provide role models for women active in, and considering, careers in these fields.

“This is a powerful program that has encouraged many young women to pursue the exciting opportunities that the natural sciences and engineering disciplines provide,” said Suzanne Fortier, President of NSERC. “Dr. Croft conducts high-level research in the cutting-edge field of human-robot interaction and this makes her a fantastic role model. I am looking forward to the response she will inspire from young women in high schools and universities.”

Although women comprise more than half of UBC’s undergraduate population, only 18% of engineering undergraduates are women. Women are also under-represented in computer science, physics and mathematics. Within engineering and high-technology careers, attrition rates of females are estimated as high as 40%.

As Chair, Croft will focus on awareness and outreach programs to recruit women and under-represented minorities into engineering and technology-related sciences; develop strategies for educational mentorship and support; and create networks for advancement as professionals.

“There is great demand for highly trained scientists and engineers to sustain economic development, and we need to attract and foster a diverse talent pool with a global perspective,” says Croft. “We cannot truly succeed as a profession—and ultimately a society—if we do not have the opportunity to attract and retain the brightest minds, male or female.”

As a Professor at UBC, Dr. Croft has spearheaded several initiatives to support women in engineering. In 2003, with the help of two graduate students, Dr. Croft launched (and continues to be involved with) UBC Engineering’s Mentoring (formerly Tri-Mentoring) program. The Mentoring program, which connects undergraduate and/or graduate students with engineering professionals from both industry and academia, provides a sense of community and support, and can help reduce feelings of isolation while increasing self confidence.

Dr. Croft has also co-founded UBC’s Women in Engineering (WIE) program. WIE organizes speakers, brown bag socials and a two-day retreat for women in engineering, “Creating Connections,” that has attracted more than 100 participants.

“Gender or ethnicity should not inhibit people from pursuing a career in which they can truly make a difference in our world,” says Faculty of Applied Science Dean Tyseer Aboulnasr. “With NSERC and industry support and Dr. Croft’s leadership, we will continue to build an inclusive and diverse community and work to inspire a new generation of professionals. Our future depends upon engineers and scientists who will develop the technology necessary to address the challenges facing us all. It only makes sense that those engineers and scientists reflect the diversity of our society.”

NSERC has contributed $350,000 in support of the Chair program for five years; industry sponsors have contributed matching funds.

Lead sponsors include BC Hydro, Dr. Ken Spencer, WorleyParsons Canada, Teck Resources Ltd., Stantec, and Mr. Henry Man. Contributing sponsors are Ms. Catherine Roome, Mr. Stan Cowdell, the APEGBC Division for the Advancement of Women in Engineering and Geoscience, Nemetz and Associates, and Glotman Simpson Consulting Engineers. Ms. Karen Savage and Golder Associates Ltd. have also supported the Chair.

Professor Croft is the third UBC professor to hold the NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering since the program’s launch in 1996. Her predecessors include UBC Professors Maria Klawe and Anne Condon from the Department of Computer Science.

NSERC is a federal agency whose vision is to help make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators to the benefit of all Canadians. The agency supports some 28,000 students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC promotes discovery by funding more than 11,800 professors every year and fosters innovation by encouraging more than 1,500 Canadian companies to participate and invest in post-secondary research projects.


ErinRose Handy
Communications Manager
Faculty of Applied Science
The University of British Columbia
Tel: 604.822.1524
E-mail: erinrose.handy@ubc.ca

Chairholder Profile:

Elizabeth Croft, Ph.D., P.Eng., FEC, FASME

Elizabeth A. Croft received a B.A.Sc. degree in mechanical engineering in 1988 from the University of British Columbia, an M.A.Sc. degree from the University of Waterloo in 1992 and a Ph.D. degree from the University of Toronto in 1995.

A professor in UBC’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, she is director of the Collaborative Advanced Robotics and Intelligent Systems Laboratory. Her research interests include industrial robotics, human-robot interaction, and mechatronics.

Dr. Croft’s research is centred around human-robot interaction, and more specifically, how interactions with robots can be designed to naturally adapt to what their non-expert human users want them to do. Her aim is to make industrial robotic systems more adaptive and applicable to the changing manufacturing landscape – involving a significantly higher level of interaction with people. Thus, her research delves into how robotic systems can behave, and be perceived to behave, in a safe, predictable, and reliable manner. Applications of this work range from manufacturing assembly to healthcare and assistive technology. This work is highly interdisciplinary and requires collaboration with people working in computer science, psychology, health and biological sciences.

UBC Engineering alumni and student recognized for outstanding contributions

Vancouver, Canada—May 28, 2010—UBC Engineering alumni and students were recognized for their contributions at the inaugural Engineering Excellence Celebration dinner held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver. The event, hosted by Dean Tyseer Aboulnasr, brought together more than 200 alumni, students, faculty, staff and guests of UBC Engineering. By holding the annual celebration , UBC Engineering hopes to highlight those individuals who have made significant contributions to their communities and to inspire others.


This year’s recipients who are “Making a World of Difference”– the theme of the evening’s event – have proven to be outstanding role-models:

Lauren Kulokas (BASc ’06) received the UBC Engineering Outstanding Young Alumnus Award in recognition of her contributions to society and professional achievements. As Vice President and Co-founder of Energy Aware, a company formed through UBC’s New Venture Design entrepreneurship course, Kulokas develops products to promote sustainability. With a vision to connect people to resource conservation, Energy Aware’s first product is an in-home energy-display unit.


Jackie Nichols (student) received the UBC Outstanding Future Alumnus Award in recognition of her academic success, community service and extraordinary leadership. Nichols moved to Kelowna in 2005 to pursue a degree in electrical engineering at the newly opened UBC Okanagan campus. She helped establish the Engineering Undergraduate Society and served on the executive for three years, organizing charity and professional events such as the first career fair on campus. She helped establish the UBC Okanagan IEEE Student Branch and a chapter of Alpha Omega Epsilon, the international engineering sorority. Nichols is currently working for a wireless communications company and plans to pursue her Master’s of Applied Science after graduating.

“It is simply amazing to consider all that we engineers have added to society. We develop solutions for real problems facing society. It is an honour and a pleasure to celebrate UBC Engineers and all their contributions,” said Aboulnasr as she presented the UBC Engineering Alumni Awards.

For additional information about award recipients and more photos of the event, visit www.engineering.ubc.ca/excellence2010.


ErinRose Handy
Communications Manager
Faculty of Applied Science
The University of British Columbia
Phone: 604-822-1524
Email: erinrose.handy@ubc.ca

An entrepreneur in the truest sense—Winnie Lai

By ErinRose Handy

Entrepreneur: n. A person who has a new enterprise, venture or idea and assumes significant accountability for the risks and responsibility for the outcome.


Winnie Lai is an entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word.

Graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Engineering Physics with a Minor in Commerce, she is equipped with the technological know-how and the business acumen to be successful.

“I have been able to develop a future for myself by studying engineering. For me, my education at UBC has been about much more than just getting a job—it’s about acquiring a set of skills that enables me to chart an independent course in life.

Through engineering, I’ve gained the solid technological, problem-solving ability that you won’t find in other programs. Other areas can be self-taught or acquired, but I couldn’t have learned engineering on my own,” says Lai.

If she has any advice for incoming students, it would be to avoid focusing too much on school and marks, and instead, take the opportunity to reflect on how learning is applicable—take the time to develop invaluable friendships. The AOE sorority at UBC has been an especially supportive group for Lai. The lessons and ability to develop a network have all been relevant to her future as an entrepreneur.

Future as an entrepreneur
Although you wouldn’t know it from Lai’s unwavering commitment, the decision to dedicate her future to entrepreneurial endeavors is fairly recent. Lai describes an epiphany she had this past fall.

“In November, I had job offers from previous Co-op employers, but I felt like I was having a quarter-life crisis—I just wasn’t excited about working for someone else’s company,” says Lai. “I went to a seminar that helped me rank my values and I learned that being able to do what I want is most important to me. I want to be able to fire myself if I’m not doing a good job. I’m incredibly excited about working for myself.”

Lai loves the control of choosing her own destiny and embraces the responsibility that comes with it.

As Lai leaves UBC with her degree, she’ll also embark with a swath of experience.

Experienced entrepreneur
Lai has started a few businesses while at UBC. Her most recent venture, Clinicbook (www.clinicbook.ca), a website that provides real-time information for medical clinics to interface with the public, has recently earned its first revenue. The portal for healthcare provides critical information such as wait times and directions as well as the location of sponsoring pharmacies.

She is also co-founder of Aegis. Developed through a partnership formed in APSC 486/New Venture Design course, Aegis’s main product is software that connects students, teachers and parents through an online portal containing grades, assignments and other relevant information.

Lai rounds out her résumé with leadership positions, serving as the President of the Vancouver Student Entrepreneurship Association where she leads a team of enthusiastic advocates to promote and advance entrepreneurship in student bodies around the Vancouver area. She notes it’s important to market entrepreneurship as much more than technology.

“It’s interdisciplinary, you have to—or you get to—do everything from the tech side to accounting,” she says.

Lai also serves on the Economic Development Committee of Vancouver, where issues on innovation, productivity and economic growth are addressed. She has recently been appointed Volunteer Director of Vancouver Enterprise Forum (VEF) Momentum, a networking forum for technology entrepreneurs.

“I want to give back—to contribute as much as I can—the past five years at UBC have provided the foundation for my future success and opened many new doors. I used to be shy, a very different person. I’ve had tremendous career and personal development.”

She exudes excitement, passion and ambition as she explains that this new chapter of her life comes from the heart.

“And at the end of my days, I want to make sure my autobiography is worth reading.”

Making a difference
If Lai could write the future chapters of her book, how will she be known for making a difference?

“I want to be known as the Mark Zuckerberg of Vancouver….I want to put Vancouver on the map for entrepreneurship. I want UBC to discover and capitalize on the innovation and entrepreneurship we have, to help the university discover its potential and be known as the start-up school.”

She’s dedicated to doing just that and is working with the new entrepreneurship@UBC initiative to move this goal forward.

“I have always loved to take things apart—and in doing so, have learned how they operate. Now I’m putting things—new businesses—together. I hope to inspire young entrepreneurs and women in engineering,” says Lai.

Visit Winnie Lai’s blog at: www.winnieyklai.com

View all Applied Science Rising Stars.

Engineering a first in the Okanagan

Erin Johnston is in the first class to graduate with a Bachelor of Applied Science in electrical engineering from the School of Engineering at UBC’s Okanagan campus. Photo by: Jody Jacob.

Erin Johnston is in the first class to graduate with a Bachelor of Applied Science in electrical engineering from the School of Engineering at UBC’s Okanagan campus. Photo by: Jody Jacob.

By Jody Jacob

Reprinted with permission from
UBC Reports | Vol. 56 | No. 5 | May. 6, 2010

When Erin Johnston steps across the stage this June to accept her degree in electrical engineering, she will be part of the first graduating cohort of the School of Engineering at UBC’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna.

“It’s been a really amazing, somewhat unexpected journey,” says Johnston. “I’m really glad I chose to come through this program. The small class sizes were a huge benefit to me, and I built some really great relationships with both classmates and professors.”

A lot of changes have taken place since the School of Engineering was established in 2005, and Johnston has witnessed many of them. The Kelowna native arrived for her first year of studies with a UBC Major Entrance Scholarship of $20,000, and as a student added other awards including the Stantec Scholarship in Engineering, a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Undergraduate Research Award, Canadian Tire A.J. Billes Scholarship, and, most recently, Co-op Student of the Year.

“Definitely I would have to say that co-op education has played a big role in my development,” says Johnston. “When I came to university I wasn’t even sure what stream of engineering I was interested in. I dove in and discovered through co-op education that electrical engineering is where my passion lies.”

Johnston participated in five work terms as an engineering student. They ranged from working with an IT department at an oil mine in Fort McMurray to research-intensive work opportunities in a lab at UBC.

“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting research to be my thing,” says Johnston. “But once I became involved with it, I found I really liked it.”

Johnston had such a great experience working as an undergraduate researcher that she has decided to return this September to the Okanagan campus to pursue a master’s degree in electrical engineering. Her interest lies in digital design and micro-computers.

“The co-op opportunity was so valuable. You get the experience and really understand what you want to do,” says Johnston, who has acted as an ambassador for the co-op program over the last few years, mentoring her fellow engineering students. “The School of Engineering is able to connect students with engineering professionals in so many disciplines.”

Over the past five years, some of Johnson’s best memories come from the close-knit bonds with faculty and classmates.

In March, Johnston was part of a group of graduates who traveled to Vancouver to receive their Iron Rings.

“In Canada, when you graduate from engineering you get an Iron Ring,” said Johnston, adding that it is a tradition unique to Canada that serves as a reminder for engineers to live by a high standard of professional conduct.

“I know everyone in the graduating class, which is really nice, and it was a very memorable experience to travel down to Vancouver to get our rings—everyone was so excited. Some engineers from companies in Kelowna came down with us to do the presentation.”

Johnston hopes that after her master’s degree she can use the local connections built through the School of Engineering to find work in the Okanagan, and find a way to give back to the community her heart has always called home.

UBC Engineering students win Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation 2010 scholarships

Vancouver, Canada—April 20, 2010—UBC Engineering students Lindsey Curtis, Elizabeth Hughes and Hengameh Hoseini have been announced as 2010 scholarship recipients by the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation.

Curtis and Hughes will receive two of this year’s three Vale Inco $10,000 Undergraduate scholarships. Hoseini has been named one of the nation’s top-five undergraduate engineering students and will receive the $5000 British Columbia regional scholarship.

Curtis, a third-year chemical and biological engineering student, is passionate about engineering because “it gives me the opportunity to make a measurable difference in the lives of others.” She is a member of the UBC Engineering Undergraduate Society as the sustainability officer and has also represented UBC at the National Women in Engineering conference. Heavily involved in sport, Curtis played elite hockey for several years and is currently coaching a female hockey team.

Hughes, a third-year mining engineering student, is excited about her chosen career, “I have had many rewarding experiences already and am excited about what I do and eager to teach others about mining and the career possibilities available in the industry.” Hughes is actively involved in the Women in Engineering Council at UBC and currently serves as event coordinator. She has also represented UBC at the Canadian Mining Games where she participated in various competitions including the AutoCad event.

Hoseini, a third-year mechanical engineering student, is committed to “making communities stronger and more resilient, deepening her understanding of the world around her and making a positive change through leadership, mentorship and community involvement.” At UBC she is actively involved in many groups including the tri-mentoring program and Women in Engineering. Outside of UBC she has been involved in an Aquatic Conservation team, Canadian Blood Services and international renovation projects.

The Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation was founded in 1990 to develop scholarship and award programs that encourage women to choose engineering as a career to honour the memory of the 14 women at École Polytechnique whose contributions to Canada ended on December 6, 1989.

CEMF is committed to creating a world where engineering meets the needs and challenges of Canadians by utilizing the skills and talents of men and women alike, promoting engineering as a career choice with the generous support of Canadian corporations and many individual engineers from coast to coast. The Foundation provides a total of 13 scholarships at the undergraduate, Masters and PhD levels of study and promotes engineering as a career choice for women through their website, press releases, Annual Awards Luncheon and scholarship winner presentations to high school students.

For more information on the CEMF scholarships, visit: www.cemf.ca


ErinRose Handy
Communications Manager
Faculty of Applied Science
The University of British Columbia
Tel: 604.822.1524
E-mail: erinrose.handy@ubc.ca

Integrating engineering with international development to make the world a better place

Annelies discusses her ideas with local women in Burkina Faso.

Annelies discusses her ideas with local women in Burkina Faso.

During her first year at university, Annelies Tjebbes joined Engineers Without Borders (EWB), an international development organization working towards the alleviation of extreme poverty in Africa. Now in her third-year studying biomedical electrical engineering, Annelies is deeply involved in EWB, which she says has shaped the person she is today. In addition to serving on the executive as Director of Communications in her 2nd year, and Director of Overseas Learning in her 3rd year, Annelies was selected to go overseas on a Junior Fellowship volunteer placement for the summer of 2009.

Annelies travelled to Burkina Faso, a country located in Western Africa and known as one of the poorest countries in the world. “Despite their financial situation, the people in Burkina Faso were so welcoming, friendly, and generous,” recounts Annelies. Annelies worked with “L’Association des Femmes de la Commune de Bogandé,” a women’s association advocating the importance of garbage clean-up and collection to prevent disease. She worked on composting and recycling initiatives in rural parts of the country, and developed a template for reporting the association’s progress and problems to government officials. She worked with a group of amazingly dedicated women who started this waste clean-up program in order to help lift some of the women and their families out of extreme poverty. “I was impressed on a daily basis by the time and effort that they put into this project, and especially by their passion. They were entrepreneurial women, striving to make a difference in their community, and their work blew me away”.

Annelies’s experiences in Burkina Faso have changed the way she now thinks about the world and the people around her. “I now put a positive spin on everything, and value human connections to a much higher level. My life has really been put into perspective and I am now able to focus on what is really important in life and what is important to me.” She has initiated an innovative project called “See Africa Differently” to change the perceptions people living in North America have towards Africa. She wants people to see the side of Burkina Faso that she experienced this past summer, one of “happiness and hope, not war and famine.” Annelies would like to return to Africa after obtaining her degree in Biomedical Electrical Engineering in the hopes of pursuing her passion for international development. Ideally she would like to work on designing medical technology that is appropriate for the developing world.

What began as a desire to be involved at UBC, rapidly transformed into a passion – a driving force behind which Annelies Tjebbes integrates engineering with international development to make the world a better place.

Learn more about how Annelies is making a difference by visiting her innovation change project blog at:

Engineering a competitive edge.

In international competition, the difference between a gold medal and missing the podium is often measured in split seconds. A team of UBC engineers is developing solutions to trim milliseconds from finishing times with the goal of providing a competitive edge for Canadian athletes.

The research is funded by Own the Podium (OTP), a technical sport program that is a partnership of Canada’s 13 winter national sport organizations, the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Paralympic Committee, Sport Canada and the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC). Research being done for the OTP program is providing innovative new performance tools and knowledge to Canada’s winter sports teams to help improve performance during the 2010 Games, although some of the technology will be implemented looking toward the 2014 Games.

The UBC engineering research focuses on improving speed on snow and ice by minimizing friction — the force that causes an object in motion to slow or stop.

Working closely with Canada’s snow and ice sport national teams — alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboard, biathlon, speed skating and luge — the UBC experts have been investigating ways to reduce friction at both the microscopic and macroscopic levels.

View full story.

Mechanical engineer receives honorary degree from the University of Waterloo

Vancouver, Canada—September 11, 2009—UBC Mechanical Engineering Professor Emerita Martha Salcudean received a doctor of engineering degree and addressed convocation at the University of Waterloo on June 13, 2009.


Salcudean is the Weyerhaeuser Industrial Research Chair Emerita in Computational Fluid Dynamics. A member of the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia, fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Engineering, she has published widely in the area of heat transfer and fluid flow, especially in computational fluid mechanics and the modelling of transport phenomena in industrial processes.

View the original University of Waterloo media release.


Sherry Green
Communications Manager
Faculty of Applied Science
The University of British Columbia
5000-2332 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4
Telephone: 604-822-9091
Fax: 604-822-7006
E-mail: sgreen@apsc.ubc.ca

Ph.D. graduate making a difference with Engineers Without Borders


Anna-Marie Silvester, Ph.D. ‘09
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Engineers Without Borders

Q&A with a recent grad in Africa…

What has made your time at UBC the most memorable?

People made my time at UBC memorable. Discussions with my fellow graduate students were challenging, educational, funny, and thought provoking. Working with my very patient supervisors was a incredible and warm learning experience. Time spent as a TA with students in tutorials and office hours was both demanding and rewarding. Building the UBC chapter of Engineers Without Borders with many other motivated UBC engineers was fun, difficult, inspiring, and energizing.

Tell me about your experience with Engineers Without Borders. What have you learned from being a development worker in Malawi?

I began working with Engineers Without Borders during the first year of my Ph.D. I was drawn to the organization because its members (primarily students) combined a deep desire to improve their world with a strongly analytical, practical, and action based approach. Together, Engineers Without Borders students at UBC have raised tens of thousands of dollars to send volunteers overseas, they have raised the profile of fair trade products that ensure rural farmers see a fair share of profits, and they have created a curriculum that resulted in the availability of a new course for engineers (’Technology and Development’). After graduation, I was proud to be accepted for a volunteer placement in Malawi with Engineers Without Borders.

Since I’ve started working here in Malawi, I’ve learned that people’s motivations and dreams are much the same as in Canada. What is different are the number of options available to the people here. For example, the education that I treasure is available to very, very few.

How are you applying the skills you learned through your studies at UBC in your work with EWB?

To me, engineering is all about complex problem solving. Working in development requires that I make use of all of the problem solving skills that I’ve developed. In Malawi, I’ve been partnered with the Citizen’s Network for Foreign Affairs (CNFA). CNFA works with small businesses to promote the sale of agricultural inputs to rural farmers. The goal of this work is to improve the yields of rural farmers and bring food security to Malawi. My placement with CNFA involves measuring the impact of CNFA’s projects and working with them to improve their implementation. This involves gathering data and analyzing all of the links between farmers, and agricultural buyers and suppliers (for example, links between: input wholesalers, retailers, farmers, output buyers, output processors, output product wholesalers, and output product retailers).

What made you choose to return to UBC after your Masters to complete your Ph.D.?

My main motivation to continue my studies at UBC came in the form of my two fantastic supervisors: Dr. Lutz Lampe, and Dr. Robert Schober. They care about their students and the work they do, and both work actively to promote their student’s research projects. They have also assembled a terrific group of graduate students that made it both fun and educational to come to the lab each day. The beautiful campus and the numerous opportunities for student engagement also helped make my decision to stay at UBC quite easy.

What are your plans for the future—immediate? Long-term?

My volunteer position with Engineers Without Borders lasts until March 2010 (sadly I’ll miss the Olympic games in my home city). I am currently considering the possibility of extending my volunteer position for one more year. I enjoy the work here and I feel I will be able to contribute more in a second year when I have a better understanding of the conditions and working environment in Malawi. After that I’m hoping to return home to Canada and find myself a teaching position at a university. If I’m lucky I won’t have to stray too far from the West Coast of Canada.

How do you feel a degree in Engineering has benefited you compared to a different field of study?

As I mentioned, I think the essence of engineering is complex problem solving. Studying engineering has allowed me to hone my analytical and problem solving skills. These skills are useful everyday almost everywhere. I also believe that these skills can be applied to any job. Hopefully, future employers will agree with me!

Engineering graduate describes her most memorable moments at UBC

Parisa Bastani, B.A.Sc. ‘09
Mechanical Engineering, Mechatronics Option
Formula SAE Captain, Engineering Student Team Council President

What has made Parisa Bastani’s time at UBC the most memorable? Without hesitation, she replies, “Lots of all nighters.” And she’s not referring to parties.


Averaging four hours of sleep per night, Parisa has spent her five years at UBC “super multi-tasking” as she describes it. Achieving grades at the top of her class in the rigorous Mechatronics Option, participating on and leading the Formula SAE team, leading the Engineering Student Team Council (ESTC), mentoring students, and sitting on various academic and extracurricular advisory committees, Parisa has made significant contributions to UBC.

Of all her successes, achievements and awards—this year alone she has been awarded the Wesbrook Scholar, MacKenzie Swan Memorial Scholarship, the Association of Administrative & Professional Staff of UBC Bursary, the Millennium Excellence Bursary, and the Best Engineering Paper Award by General Motors Corporation—Formula SAE has been the highlight for Parisa.

“Considering that when I started on the team I didn’t even know how to use a wrench, and now, I can build a race car in my garage, I feel participating on Formula SAE has been the most tremendous learning achievement,” says Parisa.

Parisa compares the Formula team to a small company with responsibilities including technical, marketing, finances, competition logistics and human relations all playing integral roles.

On the ESTC, Parisa’s experience has been a bit different. In this role, instead of moving a single team’s objective’s forward to excel in competition, she is responsible for putting the common goals of all engineering teams to the forefront. Throughout the past year she’s worked diligently to move forward plans for the new Engineering Student Design Centre. As President of the council she’s had the opportunity to meet with the highest levels of leadership, including the UBC President, deans, donors and industry partners.

Through her leadership positions, Parisa has worked with more than 200 faculty and staff and 600 students, and most enjoys the diversity of people she has encountered.

“Most of my education has come from outside of the classroom,” Parisa explains. “It’s been an amazing balance of learning in class and applying it outside.”

Time management has been crucial for Parisa’s success. She explains simply, “I have not had time to reread materials or make mistakes, I’ve had to be 100% spot-on on everything to manage the storm of things—I’ve always wanted to push the limits, but now I recognize there are no limits.”

Good thing Parisa’s vision is limitless, because her ultimate goal is to effect global policy through technology. She’s interested in studying how engineers can address current world crisis and avoid future crisis by a systematic approach to problem solving.

“Learning to apply knowledge to a practical situation—the key principles to problem solving—with a technical background will help tremendously in my future in technology policy,” says Parisa when asked to name the benefit of studying engineering. “This systematic approach will help me tackle problems in any realm, whether environmental, social or political.”

In the near future, Parisa will head to London, UK to pursue her post-graduate studies. She is currently deliberating between the University of Cambridge and Oxford University. Looks like her hard work has paid off as she has received scholarship offers to both.

When asked how she feels about graduating, in a word, she says simply, “Fantastic!”

View all Applied Science Rising Stars.

Kerry Black named Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation 2009 AMEC Masters Scholarship Winner

Vancouver, Canada—May 11, 2009—Kerry Black has been selected to receive Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation (CEMF)’s 2009 AMEC Masters Scholarship in Engineering. Along with the $10,000 award, the scholarship includes the opportunity for a summer job at an AMEC office in Canada.


Ms. Black is currently enrolled in the Masters of Applied Science program in the Department of Civil Engineering. She is investigating innovative technology for drinking water treatment. Passionate about working overseas in developing countries, Ms. Black has volunteered in Cambodia helping to provide safe drinking water in small and rural communities.

She has played an instrumental role in a revitalization project for the Faculty of Applied Science’s Women in Engineering program by assessing the current program and making recommendations to increase student involvement. She coordinates UBC Engineering’s outreach efforts through an on-going campus conference for female high-school students. She has been selected as a volunteer for the upcoming 2010 Olympics, and in her free time plays the piano and enjoys ballet.

“I feel very honoured and proud to have received this award from AMEC and CEMF. The Women in Engineering program at UBC has been very important to me over the past year, and I’m excited to continue our efforts,” says Ms. Black. “This scholarship will encourage me to continue promoting engineering to young girls across the country, and hopefully inspire girls to pursue engineering as a career.

This scholarship will afford me the ability to continue my studies towards the completion of my MASc and to hopefully continue working overseas in developing countries. I hope that the opportunities presented by CEMF and AMEC will allow me to continue in my efforts of working as an engineer both at home and abroad on the global issue of access to safe drinking water.”

CEMF scholarships are awarded to women engineering students who are leaders, volunteers, involved in numerous community activities and willing to go out of their way to inspire others.

“Kerry has a strong history and vision of helping others both locally and globally,” says UBC Faculty of Applied Science Dean Tyseer Aboulnasr. “I am very pleased that her efforts have been recognized by CEMF with the AMEC scholarship, and I am certain that she will continue to inspire young women to study engineering so that they too can help make a positive difference in our world.”

“Kerry is an outstanding woman and we are lucky to have her representing the Foundation and the profession of engineering as a whole,” says Suzelle Barrington, P.Eng., CEMF president. “She is bright, and hardworking and committed to her profession. Our goal is to attract more women to engineering; Kerry is a role model for other young women and she is already serving as an inspiration to others.”

Along with the $10,000 scholarship, Ms. Black will receive an AMEC expense-paid trip to the CEMF Annual Awards Luncheon being held in Montreal at the Annual General Meeting of Engineers Canada being held on May 22, 2009.

“At AMEC our goal is to engage and encourage a new generation of engineers,” says PJ Healey, Human Resources Director with AMEC. “The AMEC scholarships are a way for us to show our continued commitment to the education and development of young Canadian engineering talent. AMEC is proud to join with CEMF in celebrating and supporting women engineers of the future. The AMEC scholarships create opportunities – it’s about investing in people’s future and helping them fulfill their aspirations to become leaders in their field. Ms. Black’s dream of utilizing her engineering knowledge to help communities around the world achieve a higher standard of living and access to safe drinking water is to be admired, and I hope that with the help of this scholarship she continues to aspire to excellence in all that she does.”

The Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation was founded in 1990 and honours the memory of the 14 women from École Polytechnique in Montreal who lost their lives on December 6, 1989.

CEMF is committed to creating a world where engineering meets the needs and challenges of Canadians by utilizing the skills and talents of men and women alike, promoting engineering as a career choice with the generous support of Canadian corporations and many individual engineers from coast to coast.

The Foundation provides a total of 13 scholarships at the undergraduate, Masters and PhD levels of study and promotes engineering as a career choice for women through their website, press releases, Annual Awards Luncheon and scholarship winner presentations to high school students.

AMEC formed a partnership with the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation in 2006 to encourage more women and Aboriginals to pursue a career in engineering.

For more information on the CEMF scholarships, visit: www.cemf.ca


ErinRose Handy
Communications Manager
UBC Faculty of Applied Science
Tel: 604.822.1524
E-mail: erinrose.handy@ubc.ca

Lin Watt named Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation 2009 Undergraduate Scholarship Winner

Vancouver, Canada—May 11, 2009—Third-year Chemical Engineering student Lin Watt has been named the recipient of the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation (CEMF) scholarship for the British Columbia region. She is one of five top undergraduate women engineering students across Canada acknowledged by CEMF and will receive a $5,000 CEMF Undergraduate Engineering Scholarship in recognition of her accomplishments.


Originally from Nova Scotia, Ms. Watt has actively volunteered with many organizations. She designed and implemented an applied reading program for children age five to seven called Experiment With Reading. She has also demonstrated her leadership abilities through her representation and advocacy for engineers at UBC and her recruitment efforts for Engineers Without Borders. She has recently been elected by her peers to serve as the 2009–2010 Engineering Undergraduate Society President at UBC.

“I am very grateful to the CEMF for their generosity,” says Ms. Watt. “This scholarship will enable me to better focus on my studies and continue my extracurricular involvement both at UBC Engineering and in the broader community.”

Successful nominees of the CEMF scholarships must be women engineering students who are leaders, volunteers, involved in numerous community activities and willing to go out of their way to inspire others.

“Lin Watt is a strong young woman attempting to make the engineering student culture more inclusive and respectful of all people,” says UBC Faculty of Applied Science Dean Tyseer Aboulnasr. “I am pleased that her efforts to make a difference have been recognized by the CEMF and hope that she will continue to provide a positive example for young women to follow.”

Along with the $5,000, each award recipient will receive an expense-paid trip to the CEMF Awards Luncheon held as part of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers annual general meeting. The event is being held in Montreal, Quebec on May 22, 2009.

“The Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation is proud to present these students with these well-deserved scholarships, and we have every confidence that each one of them will succeed in their future endeavours,” says Suzelle Barrington, P.Eng., CEMF President. “There is no doubt that they are Canada’s future engineering leaders.”

The Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation was founded in 1990 to develop scholarship and award programs that encourage women to choose engineering as a career to honour the memory of the 14 women at École Polytechnique whose contributions to Canada ended on December 6, 1989.

CEMF is committed to creating a world where engineering meets the needs and challenges of Canadians by utilizing the skills and talents of men and women alike, promoting engineering as a career choice with the generous support of Canadian corporations and many individual engineers from coast to coast. The Foundation provides a total of 13 scholarships at the undergraduate, Masters and PhD levels of study and promotes engineering as a career choice for women through their website, press releases, Annual Awards Luncheon and scholarship winner presentations to high school students.

For more information on the CEMF scholarships, visit: www.cemf.ca


ErinRose Handy
Communications Manager
UBC Faculty of Applied Science
Tel: 604.822.1524
E-mail: erinrose.handy@ubc.ca

Engineering profs among UBC’s research stars

Vancouver, Canada—January 29, 2009—UBC has announced its annual research award winners, including three UBC engineering professors.

UBC has also awarded ten UBC Killam Faculty Research Fellowships to assist promising faculty members—exhibiting a special distinction of intellect—who wish to devote full time to research and study in their field during a recognized study leave. Applied Science winners include:


Civil Engineering Associate Professor Loretta Li
Li is an expert in the environmental mobility of contaminants in soil, groundwater, surface water and sediment. The Killam funding will further her exploration into the nature of contaminant migration, an understanding of which will lead to the development of rational design of containment, remediation and treatment systems to prevent the pollution of water resources. Applications of this research could be critical to regulators, engineers and practitioners involved in contaminated site issues, helping to resolve environmental problems.

The Killam awards are given annually from the Killam Endowment Fund to faculty nominated by students, colleagues and alumni in recognition of excellence in research.

Honourees will be profiled at the Celebrate Research Gala on March 12.

For more information: http://www.research.ubc.ca/FacultyAwards.aspx


Sherry Green
Communications Manager
Office of the Dean
UBC Faculty of Applied Science
Tel: 604-822-9091

Chemical engineer promotes environmental and economic benefits of biodiesel

From Waste to Worth
Reprinted with permission from
Frontier magazine| Issue 4 | June 2008


As the irreversible decline of oil availability looms in the not-so distant future, Naoko Ellis is using a grassroots UBC research project to promote the widespread environmental and economic benefits of biodiesel.

It has the power to transform formerly nomadic cultures into major power players of the world economy. It has been the cause of bloodshed, strife and war. To the average individual, its impact has been even more immediate, as modern conveniences once thought of as luxuries have been changed into everyday necessities.

In the 21st century, no other commodity has arguably had as much positive and negative influence on the fabric of society as oil. It is estimated that more than 600 million vehicles around the world are fueled by petroleum-based oil. While 26 billion barrels per year are required to fuel society’s insatiable thirst for oil, only about six billion barrels are being uncovered annually and these numbers are rapidly dropping.

As anxiety over dwindling supply and the ramifications of increased fuel consumption continue to reach unprecedented heights, a grassroots research project originating at UBC is helping the case for alternative sources of energy tentatively find its footing. Known as the Biodiesel Project, it has proven that biodiesel can potentially be a viable option to petroleum, if given the support to grow.

The idea for the Biodiesel Project began to germinate in 2002 as a what-if inquiry into the possibility of producing a clean fuel by Dr. Naoko Ellis, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at UBC Vancouver. Her initial call for a thesis project to carry out research in this endeavour was met with no response but when UBC science students Peter Doig and Geoff Hill approached Ellis to supervise the development of a methodology to produce biodiesel using waste cooking oil, the initiative really took shape.

Transforming vegetable oil into a useable fuel is not a novel concept. Taking a new spin on an established theory, the Biodiesel Project team began investigating ways to utilize the seemingly unlimited supply of used oil produced by UBC cafeterias as a way to efficiently eliminate this waste. The conversion process starts with a filtering system that eliminates any solids and water in the used oil. The filtered oil is then mixed with methanol through a catalyst, which is
subsequently purified and evaporated.

Ellis explains: “Once pretreatment is done with filtering, we mix the oil with methanol and a catalyst, which in our case is potassium hydroxide. After about two hours, the conversion happens, resulting in a two-phase product: one is biodiesel and the other is glycerol. By density difference, we are able to extract the glycerol from the bottom, leaving biodiesel. This substance is then purified further. The process is quite simple actually.”

Once the methodology was mastered, Ellis teamed up with two students from the Environmental Youth Alliance (EYA) who not only began securing the funding needed to expand the operation but also became key players in “closing the loop” on utilizing the waste on campus. Shortly afterwards, the team was producing 100 litres of clean fuel per week at a cost of approximately $0.20 per litre. During the last five years, the Biodiesel Project trained over 30 students and had even secured a cooperative venture with UBC Plant Operations, which agreed to run its campus lawn equipment with a 20 per cent biodiesel blend in order to determine the feasibility of long-term usage.

But in 2006, the Biodiesel Project quietly dismantled its operations due to losing the space for production: “Economically, the project just does not make sense at this point. At UBC, we could make ends meet with subsidy because the waste oil comes to us for free but to have somebody trained to produce the reaction was the significant cost to the operation, not the chemicals. The EYA helped us tackle this by training young people but without more large-scale subsidy for biodiesel production, we couldn’t move forward.”

Despite the fact the Biodiesel Project has been suspended for more than a year, interest has yet to fade. Recently, the city of Quesnel asked the EYA to complete a feasibility study that assesses the possibility of setting up a large-scale biodiesel processing plant in an effort to reap some of biodiesel’s economic and environmental benefits.

Aside from being a cost-effective alternative to petroleum-based oil production, the environmental benefits of biodiesel are staggering. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy, biodiesel reduces net carbon dioxide emissions by 78 per cent, carbon monoxide by 48 per cent and particular matter (linked to asthma) by 47 per cent. Biodiesel is also 10 times less toxic than table salt, which means a major spill would be messy but substantially less damaging than a major spill of petroleum.

Statistics like these have fueled Ellis to centre her latest research on improving the methodology developed by the Biodiesel Project. Through an NSERC strategic grant, Ellis is researching new catalysts for reaction: “Technically speaking, it makes a lot of sense to have a catalyst that is solid not liquid because of separation. Also, I am pursuing a supercritical methanol reaction system to produce biodiesel and for this, we don’t need any catalyst at all.”

Ellis’ hope is to take her research from small-scale operations like the Biodiesel Project and apply that knowledge on a larger scale. Since Canada is currently importing most of its biodiesel (made from soya bean oil) from the US, Ellis sees the need for government subsidy to make the production of renewable sources of energy more competitive locally: “Politically, Canada is catching on and provincial governments are saying they will contribute $3 million to promote biodiesel. By the year 2016, they have expressed a commitment to employ five per cent blends of renewable resources. But so far, the link between research and implementation has been very disconnected.”

While she is reluctant to predict any drastic action in biodiesel implementation by the Canadian government any time soon, Ellis will continue to adamantly promote a future where a diversity of strategies for fuel sourcing is integral to fostering a cleaner, more livable world.

Dr. Naoko Ellis has received funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF) and the Korea Energy Economics Institute.

UBC engineer a woman of distinction

Vancouver, Canada—May 27, 2008—UBC Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Rabab Ward is this year’s recipient of the YWCA Vancouver Women of Distinction Award in the category of Technology, Science & Industry for her dedication to the advancement of technological, scientific and industrial discovery and application, and her efforts to forge new roles for women and create opportunities for future generations in applied science.


Rabab Ward, a visionary engineer and researcher, is a pioneer and role model for women in engineering. As the first female engineering professor at the University of British Columbia, she turned the Institute for Computing, Information and Cognitive Systems into a world-class research facility. She is a world leader in the application of signal processing theory to cable and high-definition TV, breast cancer detection and medical and voice signals. Her research has been adopted by industry. Rabab also devotes time to advocating intercultural peace and mutual respect between peoples and is a previous president of the Arabic Educational Society.

Over 1,000 guests attended last night’s evening event at the Westin Bayshore to honour and celebrate the 10 winners and 41 nominees, all of whom make outstanding contributions in their communities.

The Women of Distinction Awards began in 1984 to honour, encourage and recognize women whose outstanding activities and achievements contribute to the health and future of the community. Since then, YWCA Vancouver has honoured over 200 deserving women and workplaces.

For more information: http://www.ywcavan.org


Sherry Green
Communications Manager
Office of the Dean
Faculty of Applied Science
The University of British Columbia
Tel: 604-822-9091
E-mail: sgreen@apsc.ubc.ca

Former EUS president sharing secrets of a notorious red car

Bowinn Ma is leaving the EUS a much more relevant student society to its constituents - photo by Martin Dee, UBC Public Affairs.

Bowinn Ma is leaving the EUS a much more relevant student society to its constituents - photo by Martin Dee, UBC Public Affairs.

Engineering Spotlight
graduate Bowinn Ma

Secrets of a Notorious Red Car
By Brian Lin

Reprinted with permission from
UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 5 | May 1, 2008

“The one thing I learned at UBC is that change is possible. A lot of students feel that change isn’t possible so why bother getting involved? Knowing that change is possible, regardless of how frustrating and arduous the process might be, gives me a reason to get engaged and affect change.”
— Bowinn Ma

In Bowinn Ma’s world, beer is an essential food group, the Cheeze is a place to hang, and having a birthday plus or minus six months from today could land you in a pond.

But when she graduates this spring from the Faculty of Applied Science, the outgoing president of the UBC Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) is leaving behind a legacy that could see one of the best known student societies in Canada become more in sync with its constituents.

“The EUS has traditionally focused very strongly on social events, and the governance structure reflects that – four and a half out of nine executive positions oversee social events and only one and a half portfolios look after academic and professional activities,” says Ma, only the third female president in the society’s 90-year history.

Ma undertook an 18-month campaign that culminated in a 94.5 per cent approval rating in a referendum this past January. It completely restructures the society, including the creation of a Vice-President Academic position and extensive changes to the EUS Constitution and Policy Manuals, which hadn’t been so significantly updated since the 1960s.

“Within the first week after the election, the co-VPS adopted tutoring services and established the E-Team, a new concept that will help us develop new professional development activities,” says Ma. She has also striven to make the current engineering student clubhouse — also known as the “Cheeze” — a more welcoming space and to eradicate forced tankings, the age-old practice of throwing fellow students in a pond outside the Cheeze.

Built in 1919, the Cheeze is one of the oldest buildings on campus and got its nickname from one of its original uses as a dairy factory that supplemented income for then Department of Dairy in the School of Agriculture.

“These traditions — and the rich and colourful history behind them — have been such an important part of the EUS because they remind us of the integral role the student society played in student life,” says Ma, “But each generation must leave its own mark.”

To that end, Ma in 2005 organized the first ever “OctoberfEUSt” to be fully approved by the university. She produced and executed a meticulous event plan that addressed all aspects of what has long been considered a notorious “trouble-making” party.

“Having OctoberfEUSt fully supported by the university is the first step towards showing our students that we want to be relevant to parts of their student life that doesn’t involve socializing or drinking beer,” says Ma. “In order to do that, we must demonstrate our ability to work with faculty and administration, and be a responsible, professional organization.”

Ma’s contributions led to the creation by fellow executives of the Bowinn Ma Award last month to honour EUS executives for outstanding service. This is only the second award in the EUS history to be named after a student leader.

As for the other famous engineering tradition involving a certain red car, Ma had this to say:

“UBC Engineering students don’t do stunts, we don’t know anything about them or who does them.”

If they did, Ma says the EUS would only have approved stunts that demonstrated the engineers’ ingenuity and social consciousness. In 2006, canned goods were left in front of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank piled in the shape of the E-Cairn. The following year, the Inukshuk at English Bay was dressed in a giant Engineering Red jacket stuffed with clothing donations.

“The stunts were never meant to be malicious, they are supposed to make a statement on social issues or bring attention to the marvels of our profession,” says Ma. “It’s supposed to make you go ‘huh, that’s neat. I wonder how they did that.’”

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