EDI: WISE

This week, we talked to WISE about their amazing initiative at Queen’s. For those who don’t know, WISE is a chapter of the National Women in Science and Engineering Organization. A lot of universities across Canada have a WISE chapter at their university, and Queen’s chapter has been around for 30 years.

The full interview can be read below and make sure to checkout the interview highlights video as well!

How did you get into WISE?

Nicole-

My story is a little bit different than Amy and Lisa’s but I got into WISE last year when I applied to be the Dinner with Industry coordinator. Basically, I planned the event Dinner with Industry, but what made me want to get into it and, I’m sure, as with all of us, it’s sort of the same reason where we were in situations where we realized we were the only women in the room. Sometimes that can be really stressful, and you almost want to be a part of a community where people feel the same way and have gone through the same experiences. My friend was actually the one who encouraged me to join, because she was a first-year intern for WISE when she was in her first year. So she encouraged me to join and told me about all the mentorship opportunities and the community you form within the club itself. I was like- yeah that’s definitely something I want. Just a group of strong empowered women.

 

Amy-

I joined WISE in my first year. I was looking for something where I could meet new people but still be surrounded by people who had similar interests as me. In high school I had been working with my school’s robotics team, which was really fun for me to be involved in STEM outreach and work with the community and my peers. I was looking for something where I could continue in that sort of environment and WISE seemed like the perfect fit. So, I started volunteering in my first year. Did that again in my second year and then the past two years I’ve been on the executive team, which has been an experience in itself. Just getting to know the girls on a new level and still getting to have that community outreach and team bonding. It’s just been amazing to meet so many women from diverse STEM backgrounds and not even just STEM, just diverse backgrounds in general. It’s been so fun and I’m so happy and grateful to be a part of the team.

 

Lisa-

I started volunteering with WISE when I was in first year. I was a coordinator in my second and third year and then this year I’m honored to be the president. And a little bit of background about me; I went to an all-girls school in Toronto, so I grew up in an environment where I had a lot of female role models, mentors, and teachers to look up to. When I got to university, I realized that that hadn’t been the experience for a lot of the girls that were in my classes. They were a little bit more timid and wouldn’t speak up in tutorials- even though they knew the right answers. I could see it on the page beside them and they wouldn’t raise their hand and say the answer. That’s what kind of sparked my interest in WiSE because I realized that we do need this kind of supportive environment and club on campus. I’m so happy to have been a part of it in my four years here.

 

What is one thing you want people to know about WISE?

Amy-

I think Lisa will probably reiterate this, but WISE is not just for science and engineering, it is for anybody really. STEM is such a broad field, but it often gets pegged down to just those four; Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, which kind of already have these connotations associated with them. But I think something that we’ve kind of come to realize during our time at WISE – all three of us – is that STEM is so broad, and it is for pretty much anybody. Anybody who wants to further our mission of empowering women and gender minorities in STEM and other fields, we’re happy to have you. So, I think that’s something that is really important for people to know about WISE.

 

Lisa-

Yeah Amy stole my point. I’m always a big advocate for anyone who is anywhere where there is underrepresentation. So, I’m in global development, Amy is in environmental geology, Nicole is in computer engineering, and so you can be from any background and in any year. Also, it’s never too late to get involved. Even if you’re in fourth year and want to be a volunteer we’re happy to have you. I think one part about queen’s clubs that I’ve found really challenging over the years is that every position needs an application, every club needs two rounds of interviews and even then you still may not get a position on the executive team of a club. But anyone’s welcome in our mentorship program and anyone’s welcome as a volunteer. I would just say if you have any questions or want to get involved just reach out to me at wise@nullengsoc.queensu.ca. It’s all over our website and I’ll let you know what’s up and how you can get involved.

 

Nicole-

I just want to add one thing. I know we briefly talked about it but another thing I want people to know about WISE is I know that it’s Women In Science and Engineering but, really we are for any gender minority and increasing any sort of representation. No matter what you identify as, you can join our club. It’s just about the mission and it’s about increasing that underrepresentation. We don’t gate keep based on gender and we don’t gate keep based on what program you’re in. it’s just really a community that is moving towards the same mission. And touching on Lisa’s point, I think that’s something that really differentiates WISE; even though we are technically an executive team it does really feel like a community. And I know I am super biased in saying that, because we are part of it but, it really does feel like a community. Especially when it’s such a sensitive but empowering mission. I think that’s what really helps bring us together.

 

In what ways do clubs like yours help queen’s engineers?

Lisa-

I’ll kick it off. I’ll plug our podcast which we really are ramping up this year. Our first episode is going to be posted on October 2nd. Even though we can’t be on campus and a lot of people are studying from home, or going back and forth between Kingston and home. You can still listen in to all of the episodes. They are all interviews with students at queens, industry professionals, or professors and they are very advice based and empowering, in my own opinion. So even if you’re not on campus, you can still be a part of WISE and get a flavor that way, listening from anywhere in the world.

We also have two annual networking events and several professional development workshops throughout the year so be on the lookout for those. In the first semester, our networking event, brunch with industry, is going to be online and free of charge. It’s going to be a series of videos posted to a website of women recounting their experiences of working in these unprecedented times.

 

Nicole-

Another part of our programs that I will also plug is our mentorship program. Our mentorship program is incredible for helping Queen’s students develop personal and professional connections. Our mentorship program is quite unique in that you can sign up as a mentor or a mentee. So, you can be a mentor for a high school student or you can be a mentee to an upper year student or a graduate student or an alumni in industry. It’s really very tailored to whatever you like and whatever you see your path as, but we’ve constantly gotten amazing feedback from the program. A lot of people have come out of it with lifelong connections with their mentors. And so, it just really helps students sort of figure out the whole being an adult, in terms of networking and developing those professional connections- so networking in a safe space and just really ramping that up. But more than that it just helps them connect with female role models and any gender minority role model they can see themselves as in the future. It gives them something to work towards and understand more about.

 

What does WISE mean to you?

Lisa-

I think one of the most rewarding parts of WISE for me is seeing other girls on my executive team take responsibility in their own positions. And I’ve been on it for a couple of years now. So, to see someone like Amy progress from a volunteer, to a director, to a VP is really rewarding. I enjoy that process of seeing the growth of the girls and all the people that are on our executive team.

 

Amy-

I think what Lisa was saying about seeing the progression I can definitely relate to, especially seeing it in myself. Having gone through multiple stages of being a part of WISE has been really cool. It’s really just felt more and more like a community as I’ve been a part of the club longer and longer. It’s definitely one of the highlights of my experience at Queen’s so far. Going into my fourth year, it’s something I can reflect back on as being something consistent and something that I’ve been excited to do every year. So, I think that giving me that sense of consistency and that sense of community has been very impactful on my experience at Queen’s. I’ll definitely carry it with me going forward and moving into new teams. I can reflect on lessons that I’ve learned from past presidents, past co-volunteers, past directors, and XYZ. I think the community aspect is the most important thing to me about WISE.

 

Nicole-

Just to piggyback off of that a little bit. I think my favorite part about WISE is the collaboration and how welcoming it is. Last year was my first year on the club and it honestly felt like I had known everyone for years. That’s how welcoming it was. And even though I didn’t fully understand how every piece of WISE worked- and there are so many moving parts to the organization. But no one ever looked down on me for that. It didn’t stop me from doing anything because now I’m the internal vice president. It’s very welcoming. There are really no biases against you when you join or anything like that. Everyone is genuinely there to help each other up in any way. Whether that’s with WISE, with personal problems, or with school. That is genuinely what I’ve found.

 

What would be the goal of your initiatives at the end of the year?

Lisa-

I think a lot of clubs and organizations this year are facing challenges of online events and attendance and adapting their programs to virtual platforms. I think I would be proud if we ran all of our outreach programs to the best of our abilities. Because one of the biggest branches of WISE is our outreach programs where we connect with elementary school and high school students in the Kingston community and organize days where they can do a series of science and engineering experiments. If we can run those to any extent, I would be very happy.

 

Nicole-

Yeah, I just wanted to add that especially since everything is online it can be daunting to seek out opportunities either for professional or personal endeavors. And a lot of our workshops and networking events sort of work to alleviate that pain and how daunting that is. I would honestly be very happy if we had the same numbers of attendees as we did in previous years. But it’s not just about the people that attend or the number of people it’s whether people actually learn something from it and take away from the stories of the speakers and are actually able to network with companies and med students and all things like that. So at the end of the day it’s very vague so if every person who attends our events leaves with a better understanding of what they want to pursue in stem or whatever that is and feel empowered to do so. Then I feel like we would’ve done our job.

Amy-

Yeah, I totally agree again with what both Nicole and Lisa have said. Our outreach programs are progressing, and I know this year we’ve had some roadblocks with programs we’ve run at the schools because obviously teachers are juggling these new classroom formats- and we don’t want to place any burden on them even if they’ve kind of been struggling. So that’s definitely something we are working around, but fingers crossed that things will be able to go forward because we’ve received such positive feedback from the girls that we’ve worked with in the past and it’s so rewarding to see them gain something from our programs. So hopefully those will be able to continue in whatever capacity we can. Also, I think that similar to what Nicole was saying about having people walk away feeling fulfilled with our events and programs is all that we can ask for. if somebody is able to make one connection or network with one professor or industry professional that’s more than enough for us. And I think it’s also important to make sure that our team is feeling like the work that they’ve been putting in is kind of being followed through with and that they see some sort of result from the hours that they’ve been putting in. So, just a combination of the things that Lisa and Nicole were saying is definitely something that I hope for  our team, and I’m confident that our team will be able to accomplish it this year.

 

What is one misconception about your initiative?

Nicole-

I think the biggest thing for me is not just about gate keeping STEM but you don’t necessarily need to identify as female to be a part of our team -or to volunteer with us anything like that. We would love to see people who don’t identify as female or any other gender minorities join our exec. Because if you have an adjacent mission that sort of coincides with ours, we would love to collaborate with you and we could always use more diversity of thought.

 

Lisa-

Kind of piggy backing off of Nicole’s point, we open our outreach to all students in the Kingston community a lot of the time. So, there could be elementary school girls and boys coming to our events. So, while it is very important and close to my heart to empower women and gender minorities, we also have to create an environment where everyone is working together because in the, quote on quote “real world”, you’re going to be exposed to different groups of people. You’re going to be working with very diverse teams so that’s something that I’d like to bring on to our executive team and more of our initiatives in the coming years.

 

What change would you like to see How can other students help?

Amy-

I’m thinking it would just be great to have students break down their own misconceptions about what our organization does. I think we really emphasize that we want to include pretty much everybody in our organization and our mission. If students want to encourage male identifying students to participate in something like brunch with industry, that would be great. Working together, as a body, to increase representation in STEM and other fields I think that would definitely be something that students can work towards.

 

Lisa-

In global development and biology there are a lot of female identifying people so in my own classes and tutorials I haven’t been put in too many positions where I’m the only female in the room. Maybe Nicole can speak to this but I think small changes start in very informal conversations with your friends, at parties, in your classes, in your tutorials. If you hear someone saying something that just doesn’t sit right with you, you don’t even have to have this big ideological conversation about it you can just flag it and say “that’s not cool” or if someone is making a point and someone else is talking over them you can say “hey Nicole what was that you were saying?” Just these little ways to call in minorities to the conversation. Bring their thoughts to the forefront even though it is daunting especially if you’re at a party or in a non-academic setting it can be scary to bring that up. But I think that is the biggest way that students can make small changes in their own friends’ minds. Your parents as well. These conversations start at home, at the dinner table, so that would be my biggest piece of advice.

 

Nicole-

Mine is a bit similar. First of all, as a woman in computer engineering I definitely relate to being the only girl in the room or that sort of deal. It is a very stereotypical stem field I feel and the change I would like to see is more allies. Being an ally doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hang this huge flag all the time or anything like that. Like Lisa said it’s the little things, it’s sitting there in that discomfort with the other person and being able to validate and or defend them. And going away from that I would really like to see more gender representation within these very male dominated fields and how other students can help would be joining other EDI initiatives. That really is it, that’s how I see us making progress. Because If someone is in, let’s say first year engineering, as an example. First year engineering it’s general and you don’t know what stream you’re going to pick or which you’re going to major in. It can be really easy to shy away from the male dominated field. I was pretty scared to pick computer engineering because I was like, am I going to be the only girl? But when you see other women, other gender minorities, Or people who look like you, having done it before you it makes it a lot easier because you’re like well they did so I can do it too. Even though we all knew that you could do it and we are always rooting for everyone, but it makes it easier to take that first step.

 

What would you like to see the engineering faculty of queens do to help?

Nicole-

I know that this is something that is too idealistic or too farfetched but it really does help in my experience to have more female professors. Like someone who looks like you at the end of the room it makes a world of a difference and some of the most amazing professors I’ve had; for example: Karen Rudie, I’m not sure if you’ve had her as a professor, absolutely incredible and she is such a power house of a women and  is really just such a great role model that it’s great to see someone that looks like you at the front of the room basically. And so I understand that that’s a very long process and you don’t exactly just go out and hire a prof and anything like that. I know a lot of them are working through the ranks and a lot of it just has to do with going from associate professor to professor but just seeing more female representation within the staff would definitely help a lot.

 

Lisa-

Going off of that point, this would be a collaboration between the DSC’s and the faculty but every DSC that I’ve ever seen holds some sort of “drinks with professors” event or “wine and cheese nights” and we should continue to have those of course but I think it’d be very helpful to have one that was only for female professors and female identifying students because, like Nicole said, there is not very many female professors and it can be daunting to approach your professor after class or in office hours. So, to have that kind of informal environment that is an opportunity to connect other like-minded professors and students, I think that’d be very helpful. Another thing too, queen’s runs a lot of trainings, like positive space training that I think should be mandatory for all students, especially first year students. I do positive space training every year, it’s only two hours and I always walk away with something new so I think that’s something that the faculty could implement.

 

Amy-

I think something like what Lisa was saying, to have faculty implement these mandatory trainings or different things like that could be very beneficial and often I feel like when it comes to things like EDI it comes to a lot of talk and a lot of show, so I feel like it would be very beneficial to have a little bit more follow through on something as seemingly simple as implementing a mandatory training, that as Lisa said could be only a two hour session. Maybe something like that could be an action we see the faculty starting to make better strides towards. That’s kind of the only thing I can think of that would be a concrete action on behalf of the faculty. That when they commit to something verbally, they follow through with the actions to back it up. And that’s a lot easier said than done, especially coming from us as an organization where that’s something that we’re definitely trying to work on. As well as making sure we are staying true to the things that we say we are going to do. So, I’m really hoping that moving forward that the faculty will be able to make those types of commitments as well.

 

Nicole-

And just to build on Amy’s point in establishing any policies or any training or anything concrete within the structure of the faculty of engineering. I want to stress that it shouldn’t be built or put in place as a result of just feedback from marginalized groups. It should not be based on marginalized individuals educating others based on reliving their own trauma and having to talk about their own experiences. There are so many resources out there and it is possible to educate yourself on how to be an ally and then learn how to put those policies in place.

 

How can Engsoc help?

Lisa-

This year, Alex who is the VPSA, she’s been working with a team of lovely people to put together the gender in engineering program. Nicole and I were on a meeting with her and  I think one of the best things that she and her team did was highlight the differences between that gender in engineering panel, WISE, and QWASE, which are all organizations ratified under Engsoc to promote diversity in male dominated fields so I think bringing together groups with similar missions is something that Engsoc has started to do and can continue to do to just make sure that our programs don’t overlap too too much and that we are working towards the same goals. We can share speakers or co-host events and pool our resources and get our combined mission out to the masses.

 

Amy-

I’m honestly not too familiar with the work that EngSoc does. My only experience has been through being a member of  a club like wise. I don’t think I’m qualified to speak on the types of things that Engsoc could do because I’m not really familiar with the work that Engsoc has done already, but I can only speak on what Lisa has said I think that combining groups or creating a general pool of knowledge and resources would be very beneficial for us to have a community between each other and foster open communication between engineering society and the clubs that are working under it. I think that would be really beneficial.

 

Nicole-

Honestly from what I’ve seen from Engsoc’s training practices and the way that they promote their clubs, I’ve never really had an issue with it. I have always thought that their training practices and how they govern their hiring was always very strict and for good reason. It has always been very laid out and always follows a process, so it’s always been a very fair process and I think that’s the biggest thing with all student governments and I really do like that and building off of Lisa’s point. Yes, keep pushing these EDI initiatives and giving them a mic and shining a spotlight on them because we definitely need to learn more about them and we have a lot to learn, everyone does. And there is a lot of synergies between these clubs too and they can help each other out and I think this year Engsoc has been doing a really good job of providing a platform for that and a space for that to all happen.

 

Lisa-

I also think Julia Newcombe’s initiative is going to help in the coming years. She’s putting together an anti-oppression anti-discrimination training that could potentially be rolled out to all service staff, clubs, and exec for Engsoc. So hopefully she had a lot of responses to her emails.