Two engineering students at Dalhousie University hope their impressive win at a national engineering competition shows young girls interested in the male-dominated industry that the sky’s the limit.
Annika Benson and Kayleigh Landers, fourth-year engineering students at Dalhousie, took home first place in the re-engineering category of the 2021 Canadian Engineering Competition this past weekend.
“It proves to everybody that we’re equally capable of the same things as our male counterparts,” said Landers, who specializes in mechanical engineering.
The Canadian Engineering Competition happens every year and has been around since the 1980s, providing young engineers with an opportunity to find new ways to develop unique solutions to problems faced in the industry, as well as to meet other engineering students across the country.
There are eight different categories within the competition, with Benson and Landers working their way through the university and regional process to represent Atlantic Canada in the category of re-engineering, where they redesign an existing product or process to improve its functionality.
For this year’s national final, the pair had to redesign a university’s campus parking lot through to the lecture hall to make it accessible for all students and faculty, as well as repurpose salmon cages that weren’t currently in use for multitrophic aquaculture.
Benson and Landers’ design were able to beat out the other seven teams, earning them the top prize.
The pair says they’ve faced the challenges of cementing themselves in the male-dominated field of engineering since their first day in the program, making the victory all the more fulfilling.
“It proves to everybody that we’re equally capable of the same thing as our male counterparts,” Landers said.
“That sort of validation of seeing that I, with my own skills, can achieve the same ranks a male peer, regardless of the sort of experiences I had before my engineering degree, has just been this massive boost of confidence,” Benson added.
Landers notes that when she first started the program, it was hard to ignore that she was often one of the only women in her class — and sometimes the only woman. She says that feeling has faded over time, but there’s still work to do.
“There’s definitely some differences in the experiences you have as a female in engineering,” Landers said. “You don’t notice it anymore, until a professor decides to address the class as ‘lady and gentlemen.’
“Personally, I’ve had interviews where I’ve had comments like, ‘tube tops aren’t part of our dress code’ or ‘we don’t want someone who’s emotional who can’t take criticism,’ and I know those aren’t comments that my male counterparts would receive.”
Both Landers and Benson hope their win serves as some form of inspiration for any girls in grade school who are considering a future in engineering.
“Someone has to be that first female to hold that position,” Benson said.
“Someone has to be the first person of that ethnicity, of that religion. Someone has to do it first, and maybe that’s you.”