This article is part of a series focusing on the grads of the Dalhousie Class of 2020. Visit our Class of 2020 virtual space to share in the excitement with our newest graduates.
With her long blond hair, white blazer and pointed heeled shoes, Sara Evely strolled to the Alumni Lounge for her first Women in Engineering Society meeting. She was, as she’d describe herself, a “true girly girl.”
New to Dalhousie University at the time, she felt overwhelmed by the number of male students roaming the halls of the engineering school. But it didn’t surprise her. In her small hometown of Clarkes Beach, Newfoundland, few people had encouraged her to pursue a degree in higher education, especially one in a male-dominated profession.
“No one ever steered me towards engineering, and that’s concerning because if you don’t have the right people to push females into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related careers, you’re going to miss out on a lot of promising talent,” says Sara.
Nonetheless, she enrolled in the Civil Engineering program at Dal and on the first day of class she discovered the Women in Engineering (WiE) Society. There were only a handful of members at the first society meeting, but Sara knew this was where she had to be to get the social support she needed to feel more at home within the program.
“When I learned about the society, I immediately identified with their mission. I told my family that I was going to be president of the society one day,” she says. “I’m going to do what I can to help other female engineers on campus feel as though they belong too.”
In September of 2019, she did just that. Taking over as president, her enthusiastic demeanor and girl-power attitude attracted more than 100 female engineering students to the society’s first meeting of the year — an all-time high.
Impacting Sexton Campus
The society, which she says was once viewed as a “girls club,” is now one of the most active groups on Dalhousie’s Sexton Campus, leading initiatives that facilitate success amongst its members.
Under Sara’s leadership, the society has shifted its approach to student engagement by creating a strong peer support system and hosting regular events to allow students to meet one another. They also serve as a strong voice for all female engineering students.
“It’s important to create a culture of tolerance and empowerment in fields where we really need to be investing in society’s best and brightest. This means making sure no one gets overlooked because of an outdated perception of what a great engineer looks like,” she says. “Through the strengthening of groups such as ours, we’re increasing the attractiveness of the field to future talent and creating a space of belonging and support.”
Sara’s hard work and dedication not only resulted in a soaring number of society members this year, but also led to the Society’s first Dalhousie University IMPACT Award in the category of “Most Impactful Social or Environmental Justice Society”.
The Dalhousie IMPACT Awards ceremony is an annual event hosted by the Dalhousie Student Union in collaboration with Dalhousie University. The awards recognize the outstanding individuals and student groups that impact our community.
Empowering women in STEM
While inspiring her fellow female classmates has played a defining role in her university experience, Sara has also worked diligently to encourage younger women to consider STEM careers. Hosting events within the Faculty to allow junior high and high school students to learn more about engineering, she says most guidance counsellors and parents don’t do enough to encourage young girls to explore STEM careers.
“Canada has one of the lowest rates of women in STEM overall. You wouldn’t expect that from such a progressive country. It’s because of a lot of underlying causes such as self-concept, self-confidence, lack of role models and sociocultural influences” she says.
Working closely with equality groups such as Engineers Nova Scotia’s Women in Engineering Committee and Dalhousie’s Equality Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Sara says she’s spent a lot of time analyzing how to improve some of the challenges women face in engineering.
Last December, she participated in a TEDx Talk at Mount Saint Vincent University speaking on the issues surrounding women in STEM, and how society can work together to close the gender gap.
Graduating last week with her degree in Civil Engineering, Sara has been hired as a Project Coordinated with Pomerleau Inc.
While emotional about leaving Dal, she says one of the best moves she ever made was realizing her potential, trusting her abilities and enrolling in an engineering degree.
“I did my research, I didn’t let others discourage me from pursing my degree, and I worked hard,” she says. “Even though I’m graduating, I hope I can encourage other females to do the same.”
Sara says no matter where her professional path leads in the future, she plans to continue advocating for women in STEM.
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