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Reflections on the History of CCWESTT
As I enter the position of president of CCWESTT, I cannot help but reflect on my long history with thevorganization, a history that goes back to some of my early memories.
As a child, I loved anything to do with science, technology, trades, engineering, or math (STEM). I found it fun to do hands-on experiments to investigate, explore, and attempt to answer my endless questions. I was also inspired by my parents (a research scientist and an engineer) and their colleagues. In particular, I was inspired by the women who were members of the Canadian Association of Women in Science (CAWIS); my mother was president of CAWIS and I was often dragged along to her board meetings. The board members were very supportive and often brought me to the table to ask for my thoughts and experiences. It was at one of these board meetings, at the age of 9, that I announced my intention to start a STEM club for girls: the Canadian Association for Girls in Science (CAGIS). I’m sure you can guess where I got the inspiration for the name. I wanted to provide my friends, who had negative and stereotypical views of STEM, with the amazing role models I had, and show them that STEM could be exciting, fun, and hands-on. The CAWIS board, to my surprise, was supportive and told me to go for it. I wrote a short article explaining my concept that was published in the CAWIS newsletter and later, the Niagara chapter provided me with my first grant - $40 for postage to send letters to girls who would go on to be our first members. Twenty-eight years later, CAGIS has 13 chapters (and counting) across Canada; a testament to the power of role models.
Some of those CAWIS board meetings were in preparation for the 5 th Canadian Conference of Women in Engineering, Science, and Technology, which was set to occur in Toronto in 1992. It was a conference that was organized collaboratively with a number of individuals and the initial organizing members of CAWIS, led by my Mother, Evelyn Vingilis, and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), led by Sandra Redshaw.
The first night of the conference, my Mother did not have any child care available and brought me along. She needed to be in a meeting, so she left me on a couch beside the registration desk. My Mother asked some friends at the registration desk to keep an eye on me and was worried because I was often shy if too many strangers were around. Her concerns were unfounded; she returned to find me with a name tag I had made myself, listing my position as founder of CAGIS, and leading an animated discussion about girls in STEM with several VIPs, including presidents of other organizations and members of parliament including the Honourable Mary Collins, Minister Responsible for the Status of Women.
While I was in my “stakeholder engagement” session, my Mother was leading a meeting that was forming the Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades, and Technology (CCWESTT), the organization of which we are a part today. The meeting brought together the founding organizations of CCWESTT, with representatives from CAWIS, WISE, Women in Trades and Technology (WITT), Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST), and Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science, & Technology (WISEST). The organization went on to start with Susan Best as its first president. My Mother finished her term as president of CAWIS and reduced her involvement in the area with a move to a new city and a new job.
Many years later, at the age of 17, when CAGIS was already functioning with several chapters across Canada, my Mother suggested I attend a conference in Newfoundland. She thought that I would meet some likeminded organizations and women. It was my first time attending a conference as a delegate and going on a trip by myself. I did not make the connection at the time, that this was the same conference I had attended as a child many years earlier. I was welcomed warmly at the conference by women in SETT and by other organizations. They invited CAGIS to be a CCWESTT member organization. CCWESTT’s board, at that time, was made up of all member organizations, and so, I began my formal involvement with CCWESTT. Now, 20 years later, I look back at the tremendous work CCWESTT has done to support women in science, engineering, trades, and technology and how the organization has developed over time. I additionally look back at the shoulders of the greats who have come before us in leading this organization including Nan Armour who maintains her involvement to this day, our most recent past presidents Neemee Batstone and Liette Vasseur, and notably, the late Margaret-Anne Armour, with whom I had the privilege of giving the keynote address at the 14th conference in Halifax.
I would like to thank CCWESTT organizations and individuals for the incredible work they have done to support women in SETT and for the mentorship they have provided to younger women and girls; role models are a powerful thing.