Lassonde launches the Helen Carswell STEAM Program for Women

Bergeron Centre

In July, the Lassonde School of Engineering welcomed 30 female high-school students to participate in a four-week program of paid research opportunities doing meaningful work in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM).

The Helen Carswell STEAM Program for Women (previously known as the Summer Research & Mentorship Program) was made possible thanks to a generous gift from the Carswell Family Foundation. This year, the program takes on a new name and identity, honouring Helen Aird Carswell, an exemplary leader in STEAM.

Carswell was a registered nurse by trade who demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit. Most notably in 1974, she co-founded Optech Inc. with her husband, York University Professor Emeritus Allan I. Carswell. Today, Teledyne Optech is a world leader in high-tech lasers, with systems on all seven continents, in space and on the surface of Mars.

Throughout her life, Carswell has been active in the arts, playing the piano, violin and singing. She has dedicated much of her community service and philanthropic affairs to supporting arts-based programs. The Helen Carswell STEAM Program for Women marks an exciting new development in Lassonde’s commitment to advancing equity, diversity and inclusion in STEAM.

Allan Carswell with students at the closing ceremony of the Helen Carswell STEAM
Allan Carswell receives thanks from Helen Carswell STEAM Program for Women participants

During the opening ceremony, the participating high-school students had the opportunity to hear personal stories from Lassonde Dean Jane Goodyer and Allan Carswell. They also heard from program alumna Ishleen Kaur, who will be starting her undergraduate journey at Lassonde this fall. The new program design was also unveiled during the ceremony. The colourful design treatment embodies the diversity of the program and connections participants will make throughout the summer.

Over the course of the program, participants explored the various facets of STEAM through workshops, artistic activities and working with Lassonde faculty members on their research. Workshop highlights included a presentation from the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors (AOLS), a geocaching scavenger hunt with Lassonde geomatics Professor Mojgan Jadidi and the Hello Café, which was hosted by Goodyer. A series of creative problem-solving workshops, the Hello Café encourages participants to think about issues that affect the daily lives of people around the world. The café encouraged students to open their minds, create opportunities and gain confidence to help those around them.

As part of the program, participants worked within the framework of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals in their research to address global challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, peace and justice.

Throughout the program, each of the participants received guidance from current Lassonde student mentors. The mentor support will continue after the program’s completion, providing the high-school students with additional guidance as they explore their future education and career pathways.

Program support was continued for the third year by AOLS. Through the association’s donation, participants gained exposure to the geomatics program and related career opportunities. Support for the program was also provided by the Canada Summer Jobs program.

The Helen Carswell STEAM Program for Women concluded on Aug. 2, with a poster presentation showcasing the participants’ research contributions. Throughout the program, they contributed to a variety of research projects ranging from water sanitation to sustainable alternatives to cement and metal. The program closed with the presentation of a collaborative art installation demonstrating each participant’s journey and commitment to their UN Sustainable Development Goal.

“I am thrilled at the success of the Helen Carswell STEAM Program for Women. Outreach programs like this one support our commitment to encouraging as many young women as possible to consider a career in engineering. By focusing on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, our participants were able to see the social impact engineering and science can have on the world and the results their dedicated efforts can have in generating that impact. The four-week program was nothing short of inspiring,” said Goodyer.

To learn more about the Helen Carswell STEAM Program for Women, email