Women engineers are role models

January 27, 2005, vol. 32, no. 2
By Diane Luckow

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For the 66 women studying engineering science at SFU, Bozena Kaminska, Bonnie Gray and Atousa Hajshirmohammadi are welcome role models.

The three women have recently been hired by the school of engineering science, where previously there were just two women faculty - senior lecturer Susan Stevenson and professor Ljiljana Trajkovic.

Increasing the number of women faculty is part of the school's strategy to attract and retain female engineering science students, says John Dill, chair of the engineering science gender committee. “Just 14 per cent of our undergraduate students are women,” he notes.

While many women may enjoy engineering as a subject, says Dill, they often drop out because they haven't had many role models with whom they can discuss problems or career choices. Another issue is the highly competitive nature of the program.

Fourth year engineering undergrad Shirin Farrahi is considering a PhD in engineering. “Seeing how these women have done it and gone through it, I tend to relate to them much more than the male professors,” says Farrahi, who heads up a student support group for women in engineering. “I look at their experiences more closely than the male professors' experiences.”

Hiring three female professors hasn't been easy. Over the past year just 10 per cent of the 292 applicants for faculty positions were women. Fortunately, SFU has found a few stars, all in the field of electrical engineering.

Bozena Kaminska, who joined the faculty in September 2004, has more than 25 years' experience in industry, academia and research, including experience as an electrical engineer, entrepreneur and university professor. She is being considered for a Canada Research Chair in microelectronics.

Atousa Hajshirmohammadi returned to the faculty a year ago from LSI Logic Corp. in California where she was a senior design engineer. She had previously spent one year as an assistant professor in the faculty. She is currently a lecturer and academic advisor.

Bonnie Gray joined the faculty in December 2003 after working in both industry and academia. Her research interests include micro-instrumentation interconnect and assembly technologies, microfluidics and the application of these technologies to biology and medicine.

Ljiljana Trajkovic joined the faculty six years ago from the University of California at Berkeley. Her research specializes in communication networks and nonlinear circuits and systems.

Susan Stevenson, the lone female on faculty between 1987 and 1998, has helped to develop a four-year communication program that integrates with the engineering science curriculum. Her interests include rhetoric, technical and engineering communication, the social implications of technology and engineering ethics.

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