2023 Women in Engineering & Geoscience Champion Award Recipient

This award is presented to members of APEGA in recognition of exceptional achievement as a champion of women in engineering and geoscience.

Alberta Women’s Science Network Equitable Scholarship Program

Alberta Women’s Science Network Equitable Scholarship Program: 2023 recipient of the Women in Engineering & Geoscience Champion Award

Our experiences, challenges, strengths, and diverse pathways influence our contributions to our communities and professions. Our circumstances affect how we build our future.

Through programs, partners, and stakeholders who amplify, magnify, and accelerate systemic and social change within the greater community, the Alberta Women’s Science Network (AWSN) works to enable all to participate in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). One of the ways AWSN meets its mission is through its equitable scholarship program, originally designed to be awarded to a person defined as part of a population under-represented in STEM.

In 2022, with support from TC Energy, AWSN shifted the scholarship program to assess the whole person and their experiences with the practicalities of the application and adjudication processes. This change better considered how the social and political identities of an individual intersect to create types of systemic oppression, discrimination, and lived experiences. After implementing the new process, the number of applications AWSN received annually increased to 300 from 20, and it awarded 10 scholarships per year instead of one, setting a new standard for inclusivity in supporting and retaining the next generation of STEM professionals in Alberta.

AWSN considered applicants using a gender-based analysis plus program—which explores how women, men, and non-binary people experience the same systems differently—with less weight given to academic merit.

AWSN Past-President Alicia Bjarnason, P.Geol., MA, CCIP, FGC, explains this method prevents the same students being awarded scholarships over and over. “Instead of merit-based, we took a holistic look at how we award this. We thought about the different ways we can look at who people are and how their identity affects their life course.”

Grades were considered, but more weight was given to the lived experiences of the applicants based on identity factors such as gender, sexuality, race, age, program and institution (and if they were historically gender-stereotyped), program year (if it was a year of increased attrition), and if the applicant had received other scholarships in the last three years.

The volunteers on the panel recognized dependents and caregiving responsibilities and allowed applicants to write openly about their experiences. They considered examples of formal and informal leadership and made space for applicant feedback to improve the scholarship in 2023. The process limited unconscious bias and stereotyping, enabling adjudicators to pause and seek understanding of circumstances they’d never encountered.

The result? Those who may otherwise not qualify for a scholarship under traditional standards now have the opportunity to have their leadership and experiences recognized. The diversity of professionals—and, ultimately, ideas and innovations—in the professions is increasing thanks to an industry shift propelled by AWSN.

Contributors to the program include, in alphabetical order:

  • Alicia Bjarnason, P.Geol., MA, CCIP, FGC
  • Canadian Equality Consulting
  • Vanessa Carias, PhD
  • Ali Chou, M.Sc., PMP
  • Alexandra Edie, P.Geo., MBA
  • Shefaly Gunjal, MScSM
  • Marcie Hawranik, BA (Hons), MA
  • Madeleine Jensen-Fontaine, P.Chem., M.Sc.
  • Tina Kakkar, B.Sc.
  • Minji Kim, M.Sc.
  • Arpana Kumari, BCA
  • Jaime Lo, P.Geo., B.Sc., PEG
  • Blessie Mathew, B.Sc.
  • Courtney Onstad, M.Sc.
  • Hawley Rigsby, B.Sc.
  • Chantal Robitaille, B.Sc., MBA