Lassonde expands summer mentorship program for females pursuing STEM

Dozens of Grade 11 students from the Toronto area are taking part in a newly-expanded mentorship program for girls at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering this summer. The Summer Student Research and Mentorship Program is designed to give participants the skills and inspiration to break into a field where only 12 per cent of the workforce is female.

The goal of the Lassonde’s six-week-long program is to create pathways for young women and underrepresented groups into engineering and computer science to help them make informed career decisions about how they can participate in Canada’s knowledge-based economy. The program is part of Lassonde’s 50:50 Challenge to be the first engineering school in Canada to achieve a culture of gender parity.

York’s engineering school expanded its Summer Student Research and Mentorship Program from three students last summer to 70 young women this summer, to address the lack of gender diversity in the field. All selected students have completed Grade 11 physics with a mark of 80 per cent or above. For many, this is their first paid job in a field relevant to their education.

“We believe the road to inclusivity involves showing young women how engineering and computer science help society and make a difference in the world,” said engineer Marisa Sterling, assistant dean, Inclusivity and Diversity, and the program’s creator. “We also believe that it is important to help build resiliency in young women to navigate the barriers in male-dominated fields. These can include having to work harder to be taken seriously and be seen as an equal, overcoming the label of a ‘girl in STEM’ and instead be seen for their abilities and finding a mentor or ally when there are limited female students, professors and colleagues in their field.”

The expanded program this year is supported by a $160,000 donation from the Carswell Family Foundation, continued support from Association of Ontario Land Surveyors (AOLS) and a donation from computer engineering alumnus Abdullah Merei (BASC ’09; MBA ’15).

“The Carswell Family Foundation is pleased to support the expansion of this very creative Summer Student Research and Mentorship Program,” said Allan Carswell, president, Carswell Family Foundation and professor emeritus of physics, York University. “It is clear from their energetic response that these Grade 11 girls are receiving a life-changing experience by not only contributing directly to the engineering research programs at Lassonde, but even more by sharing this challenging experience with 69 other like-minded young women.”

During the program, students are directly supervised by a Lassonde professor, their team of undergraduate or graduate students, the school’s assistant dean of Inclusivity and Diversity and by a Lassonde undergraduate software engineering student. Opportunities are provided for students to meet professional women and learn about their career paths.

Selected high school students are working on 17 exciting projects currently underway at York’s on-campus laboratories. Projects include: designing a cube satellite, materials for human implants, green walls, permeable pavements to reduce flooding, medical sensors, concrete to withstand severe climatic exposures, cameras to predict human and environmental behaviour, safe stadiums for human behaviour during fires, and innovative tech commercialization ideas. Students are learning computer programming skills, research skills, and how to use 3-D printing and machine shop tools to design and prototype products.

More than 125 applications were received for the program. Selected students come from 44 different high schools and over 11 urban areas in the Greater Toronto Area.

By the program’s end, Aug. 15, each student will complete a scientific research poster or video demonstrating the breadth and depth of their work. They will also present their work to high school teachers, student peers, family, fellow research team members, industry partners and government officials this fall.