Tuesday, March 24, 2015

And the APEO Gold Medal goes to...

Winning a gold medal is often considered the ultimate achievement of an individual.  In sports individuals and teams earning this honour are held up as heroes and champions - they have aspired to reach this elusive merit and they have succeeded. 

In 1979, Elsie Gregory MacGill was awarded a gold medal - the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario (APEO)'s Gold Medal.  This was not an award she had sat down and devised a training plan for consciously, but it was an award that recognized years of dedicated service and training - years of commitment and service to her both her engineering colleagues and Canadian society as a whole.  In fact, the person selected was considered to have given "outstanding service to the country". (Queen of the Hurricanes, 208)

Elsie's colleagues had chosen her for this honour.  They had recognized the degree of dedication with which she undertook her engineering projects and service duties to the profession while still finding time to contribute to various non-engineering organizations (most notably the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs).

Elsie admitted that the honour was such that she went "soaring into the wild blue yonder" as she considered that her name was added to the list of twenty accomplished engineers to have held the gold medal including C.D. Howe who held the first one. (Queen of the Hurricanes, 208)  Ever one to joke - Elsie's famous humour lightened the mood at the awards ceremony where she spoke about cracks in aircraft.

Elsie Gregory MacGill was a dedicated professional engineer.  As national engineering month comes to a close I hope that some of these reflections have given you insight into the world of engineering.  If you are an engineer, I hope that these historical reflections have added to your existing knowledge base, if you are not, I hope that they have you curious to know more about this creative and dynamic profession.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bridging Worlds

One of the many amazing things about Elsie Gregory MacGill was the degree to which she served as a bridge.  She advocated that scientists and engineers should take an active role in government and public life.  Elsie modeled her ideas.  She encouraged her engineering colleagues to reach beyond their areas of expertise to learn about new and different subjects:

"More and more we find that because technology shapes social and economic change, we are required to anticipate not only the technical but also the social and economic consequences of our work, bringing subjectivity into an otherwise fairly precise profession". (99, Queen of the Hurricanes) 

At the same time, she encouraged her feminist colleagues to ensure they were well-versed in the technological changes sweeping Canadian society in the twentieth century.

It still amazes me to think that Elsie was born in 1905 - only a few short years after the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk by the Wright Brothers - and she lived to see rockets and the moon landing.  

         (Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Aviation and Aerospace Museum - Photo by C. Sissons)

Elsie saw major changes in women's advancement from winning the vote and being declared "persons" to the recommendations of The Royal Commission on the Status of Women.

In her words, actions and identify Elsie served as a bridge.  She knew that Canadian society needed the knowledge and expertise of scientists and engineers and she knew that scientists and engineers needed the knowledge and expertise of society.  

Today our world is increasingly more technological by the minute and it cannot be denied that we are living in the knowledge-based society.  Take time to stop and think about the various technologies you use - learn a little bit more about them and who makes them.  Reach out and explore an a subject or area you know little about - what you learn may surprise you.  You may be surprised by how many links there actually are between seemingly divergent areas.     

Monday, March 16, 2015

Queen of the Hurricanes with New Optics

During the long period when I was working on my graduate studies and then Queen of the Hurricanes I was asked from time-to-time if I had any intention of writing a book for youth or something that was less scholarly in nature.  My usual response to that question was something to the effect that I was finding the current project rather overwhelming and before starting a second book I wanted to finish the first!  

When I finished Queen of the Hurricanes I jokingly promised my husband that I would wait at least three weeks before starting another book.  I had no idea that before that time period had even passed that someone would already suggest a very interesting collaborative project!  That project has yet to materialize, but the question about a less scholarly book on Elsie resurfaced.  During a presentation to the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) group of Ottawa, one of the questions was will there be a youth book?  This time I paused, and then noted that it would be a good idea - as suddenly dialogue was coming to mind!  

Shortly after that presentation I wrote down what had come to mind and I found it hard to stop writing - that has happened repeatedly as of late and the story is really coming to life.  It is a completely new world, despite the fact it is essentially the same story because it is historical fiction.  The limits placed on a historian regarding exact evidence are loosened and I am free to imagine what Elsie may have been thinking in certain instances - who she spoke to - what their responses were.  

It started out as a youth book - but it might end up being a regular novel - it is too early to tell at the moment.  In the meantime I am enjoying the challenge of changing from a thematic biographical study to a largely chronological story.  

Where it is headed for sure is unclear at this moment, but I do know that I am truly enjoying the journey and learning a lot along the way! 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

International Recognition with SWE in 1953

In 1953, the Society of Women Engineers recognized Elsie and her achievements with their second annual award.  The first award, incidentally, had gone to Dr. Lillian Gilbreth "The First Lady of Engineering"!  This was quite a recognition for both Elsie and Canada!  

Elsie received her award in New York. The joy her chosen profession brought her was reflected in her words during the awards ceremony:

"Some work to fly faster; some work to fly cheaper; some work to fly safer.  All work primarily to fulfill themselves". (Queen of the Hurricanes, 97)

Elsie became an active member of SWE and followed its progress throughout her life.  Even when she could not be present for the launch of the first International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists (ICWES) she sent a financial donation to support it.

For more information on this dynamic organization see:   societyofwomenengineers.swe.org


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What does professional service mean?

Being a P.Eng or a Professional Engineer comes with the expectation of providing a service.  The most obvious form of service, is that to one's employer or client(s), but that is not the full meaning of professional service.

Service for a professional usually includes participation in professional societies.  Elsie was a strong supporter of that and advocated that her fellow engineers should do more than the bear minimum of just joining a society and paying dues.  She believed that they should also consider looking for organizations and societies that would broadened their ideas and points of view, and that reached out in to society at large.  From her perspective, this would allow engineers to contribute their knowledge and expertise to the larger population, while at the same time offering untold benefits to the individuals willing to stretch themselves.

Elsie led by example.  When she joined an organization she fully engaged with it.  She committed herself to being present at meetings, serving on committees and taking leadership roles.  Even later in her life, when she had held many key leadership positions, she was always willing to what needed doing - even if that meant taking minutes at the meeting.  

Elsie knew that engineers could contribute a lot to society because of their knowledge and experience with rapidly changing technologies.  She was interested in the possibilities and opportunities of what we now often refer to as knowledge mobilization or knowledge translation.

Regardless of whether you are en engineer, is there an area in your professional life where you can stretch yourself a little this week?   


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Happy International Women's Day!

Today is International Women's Day!  It is a great day to stop and reflect about all that women have achieved throughout the world and within Canada.  Some of the key highlights in the 20th century for Canada include:

  • Fighting for and winning the right to vote
  • The Famous Five's battle for Canadian women to be known as "persons"
  • Taking active roles in politics  
  • Stepping up in a wide and diverse range of leadership positions
  • Working together to obtain a Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada
  • Creating a wide range of women's studies courses at universities
  • Advocating for women to take up non-traditional professions such as engineering
Women have worked together to take these great strides and many others.  Excellent examples of what is still possible include this past week's celebration of women in aviation during Women of Aviation Worldwide week.  For more information about this exciting venture see:

This year also marks 40 years since the UN encouraged the celebration of women through International Women's Year or IWY in 1975.  When IWY was declared Elsie MacGill was very excited and she participated in many different ways.  She joined a Canadian speaker's bureau set-up to celebrate the year, she wrote articles about women in engineering and she undertook special projects to celebrate, promote and help women.  

As always, Elsie's promotion of women was done with men in mind.  As an engineer, she new that to really achieve anything significant teamwork was necessary and she was living proof that men and women could work together to achieve joint goals and objectives.  

As she noted:

"And give men a break.  Don't keep them on the outside.  Let them join us in our projects to help other women."  (p.195 Queen of the Hurricanes)

Happy International Women's Day!  Let the important women in your life know that you appreciate them, and share the celebration with the important men in your life too!



Saturday, March 7, 2015

Canada's First Practicing Woman Engineer

Elsie Gregory MacGill was Canada's first woman to practice engineering.  What does that mean?  Essentially it means that she studied earned her necessary degrees in engineering (in her case electrical and then aeronautical) and then opted to work in her field as an engineer.  However, as engineering is a profession, she had to comply with the expectations of that profession.  In addition to finding a job and performing it to the best of her ability, she needed to be licensed within the area in which she was working.  

As a result, Elsie had to seek approval from the provincial licensing bodies such as the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) in order to work.  These bodies are regulatory in nature and ensure that all their members are upholding their codes of excellence and ethics.  

For Elsie however, being an engineer was about more than finding work and ensuring she complied with the expectations of the regulatory bodies, she sought to fully engage with the profession.  As a result, she sought membership in various engineering organizations and societies, and once she gained access to these organizations she fully committed herself as a member.  

The Engineering Institute of Canada or EIC featured prominently in Elsie's life.  She was the first woman to be accorded membership in 1938 and she dedicated a larger amount of her time to this organization and served in many leadership roles within it.  

For more information about PEO see:  http://www.peo.on.ca/ 
For more information on the EIC see:   http://www.eic-ici.ca/ 

Stay tuned for more of Elsie's professional journey!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Celebrate National Engineering Month!

March is National Engineering Month in Canada.  It is a great time to stop and ask just where would be be without engineers.  If we really stop and think about it, and learn all we can about the incredible diversity of the engineering profession we would quickly realize that many aspects of our daily lives have been developed by or are still dependent on the important work engineers do!

Engineering is an incredible diverse field.  For example there are:
  • electrical engineers
  • civil engineers
  • geological engineers
  • environmental engineers
  • aerospace engineers
  • mining engineers
And this is a very short list!  For more information in engineering in Canada check out Engineers Canada:   https://www.engineerscanada.ca/about-professional-engineers

I would also recommend you check out #30in30 to learn about incredible woman engineers all throughout the month of March!

As Elsie Gregory MacGill was the first woman to practice engineering in Canada, I will be highlighting some of her key engineering achievements throughout the months of March. 

Stay tuned!