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Empowering youth and transforming communities: Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day

Posted by Engineering Communications on June 21, 2024 in News
Celebrating Gillian Stanton and her remarkable achievements on International Women in Engineering Day!
Celebrating Gillian Stanton and her remarkable achievements on International Women in Engineering Day!

On June 23, we celebrate International Women in Engineering Day - a day dedicated to honouring the achievements of women in engineering and recognizing the powerful bonds and collaborations that drive innovation. 

Among these remarkable women is Gillian Stanton (BEng’21, MASc Environmental Engineering’24), an alumna from Dalhousie’s Faulty of Engineering. Her passion and heart are inspiring young students such as Harmony Kadence (Kaden) Cromwell, to explore new paths and experiences. 
The two share a tight bond. As they sit side by side within the vibrant walls of Imhotep’s Legacy Academy (ILA), they reminisce over life in their hometown of Digby, Nova Scotia.  
Gillian first met Kaden at the Turning the Tide - Digby Changemakers program last January. At that time, Gillian had just begun her role as a Regional Program Coordinator with ILA and was looking to hire a student mentor to help engage African Nova Scotian (ANS) youth through the Culture of Growing project. The initiative aims to enhance students' skills in science, engineering, and professionalism while empowering them to explore STEM fields and consider post-secondary education.  

As project coordinator, Gillian works closely with ANS students, guiding them through various activities that blend agricultural practices with engineering principles. 

Kaden, a grade eleven student at Digby Regional High School, applied for the student mentor position. 

“Kaden is my rock,” exclaims Gillian describing their close relationship. “Kaden manages the school’s Greenhouse to ensure our plants are perky! They support participants during our regular sessions and help me with designing fun and engaging programming. Kaden is one of the younger ILA Mentors but it doesn’t stop them from being exceptional,” she continues noting that their relationship has had a positive effect on Kaden’s future aspirations. 

“Teachers, support staff and community role models have also commented on Kaden’s growth over the few months we’ve been working together. The Digby ANS elders and community are proud of Kaden and their future potential.” 

Nurturing talent in rural Nova Scotia  

Empowering students such as Kaden has been a profoundly rewarding experience for Gillian who says youth in the Digby area have limited access to scientist and engineers.  
“I get to be the role model I wish I had for the next generation,” she says. “My current role at ILA has been fulfilling to say the least. Every day I learn more about agriculture, practice gardening, and experiment with different techniques.” 

From a young age, Gillian knew she was destined to become an engineer. Thriving in science and mathematics, her participation in programs like Techsploration and receiving the Engineers NS Mathematics award confirmed her aptitude for the field. Her first year at Dalhousie solidified her choice, as she excelled in an environment that celebrated problem-solving, engineering design, and collaborative learning. 
While completing her Chemical Engineering degree, she became involved with ILA; an innovative university-community partnership designed to influence and inspire ANS youth by making STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects accessible and fun.

“ILA has been a hub at Dal for black/ANS folks in STEM. I met the director at the time, Sydney Idemudia, who later encouraged me to apply for the Summer Student Research Award for Engineering, which I was awarded in 2019,” says Gillian. “I felt welcomed to the ILA family and that my work was important for the engineering and black community representation. After my research award, I stayed connected with the ILA team and their exciting projects.” 
Throughout that time, she also stayed connected with her hometown of Digby, noticing an unfortunate decline in the number of supports and opportunities available to young students in the area following COVID.

“While finishing up graduate school (at Dal Engineering), I saw a job posting with ILA as a Coordinator for the Culture of Growing- Engaging ANS Youth. I saw this as a great opportunity to support youth in my hometown and bring ILA's opportunities from Halifax to rural NS.” 

Celebrating diversity in engineering 

The experience has provided Gillian with the chance to work in her field by integrating practical engineering projects with community engagement and addressing food security issues while nurturing the next generation of scientists and engineers.  

“One participant asked how a hydroponic tower worked,” says Gillian. “A few weeks later, thanks to my engineering background, I built a tower using materials found locally in Digby to demonstrate to students engineering design in practice. It’s far from a perfected commercialized product, but every week we check in on the tower and find ways to improve it.” 

As a woman who presents as female, queer, and mixed (African Nova Scotian & Acadian), Gillian says she takes pride in being a minority in her field. Rather than feeling silenced, she is empowered to advocate for those she represents and to pave the way for the next generation, including students such as Kaden. 
“I hope to inspire other women to try science and engineering by allowing them to design, build, assess and redesign again,” she says. 
So on this International Women in Engineering Day, we honor Gillian and her invaluable contributions, celebrating the powerful impact of mentorship, community engagement, and the pursuit of engineering excellence.