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Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day 2021

June 23, 2021

On International Women in Engineering Day We’re Honouring Our very Own Engineering Heroes

We’re thrilled to celebrate and honour the many women who make up our team of engineers, on International Women in Engineering Day, held annually on June 23.

This group of professionals inspire us by tackling challenges head-on, imagining solutions beyond what’s readily available, and pushing the boundaries on what’s possible outside of their roles as engineers.

“At DIALOG we have an amazing opportunity to impact our community through the projects we design. Having a diverse group of perspectives working on those projects make them so much better,” says Diana Smith, Partner and Mechanical Engineer. “Projects may be enhanced because of individual experiences, a different way of brainstorming and problem solving, or varied technical solutions. I’ve been able to work closely with some of the incredible female engineers and technologists within our industry. I am optimistic that we will continue to encourage young girls to join engineering professions and promote those unique viewpoints.”

Inspired by this year’s theme of “Engineering Heroes,” we sat down with three of our very own heroes to better understand their unique story within engineering, how they navigated possible challenges, and ultimately how DIALOG has allowed each of them to spread their wings in unexpected ways.

Shaking the Box and Pushing the Envelope

Janice Mills, Associate, PEng | MEng | LEED® AP

Janice Mills wears many hats: associate, contract administrator, mother, art enthusiast, and engineer. She currently finds herself working under the architecture umbrella, after first entering DIALOG as an engineer more than 13 years ago.

Her path to engineering was not direct however. Janice was accepted to university, with scholarship, to pursue her longstanding dream of becoming an immunologist or microbiologist. It was at that time her dad initiated a conversation that would change her career trajectory.

“We had a heart to heart conversation,” Janice recalls “and he asked ‘are you sure this is what you want to do? You know you’re going to probably be sitting in a lab, for 40 to 60 hours a week, doing lab work. Are you sure that’s what you want to do?’”

This was a light-bulb moment for Janice, who decided to pivot by applying to Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. “There was only two programs that had spaces left, one was radiology to be a radiologist and one was for civil engineering technology,” she says. “And so I was like, okay, completely different track I’ll choose civil engineering technology, even if it’s just for a year.”

As luck would have it, Janice liked the program, a lot.

With a built-in co-op component to the three-year program, she was placed at a material testing company, where she returned until the completion of her diploma. It was at the insistence of her manager that she decided to continue her education. “He told me ‘Janice you’re better than this, you need to go back and you need to do your degree.’”

Following an additional two years at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Janice graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering.

Unsure of where to go next, she called upon the Dean of Civil Engineering for advice, “I had asked him if he could work anywhere, if he could take a sabbatical and work anywhere, where would his top five places be?” Top among them? Cohos Evamy in Edmonton, now DIALOG.

Following an interview that left her certain Cohos Evamy was the place for her, she was offered a position to join the Edmonton studio, news which garnered an enthusiastic reaction, “I think my roommates were scared. I was jumping up and down, screaming.”

A year into her new job, Janice pursued her Masters in Structural Engineering part-time, all while juggling her full-time job, and the arrival of her first child.

After graduating and becoming a registered engineer, an opportunity presented itself to move into the architecture discipline as a part of the contract administration (CA) team. What was intended to be a temporary placement, turned into the next chapter of her career.

“I had to make the decision to go back to the structural team, or stay in the CA team,” she says. “I decided to stay in the CA team. Partly because I’m passionate about it, and I also felt that the structural team is very, very strong. Not just in the Edmonton studio but in all the studios, and to bring some of the knowledge and everything I had into the architectural team, I thought it was really nice to bridge that gap.”

When asked to reflect on the support and mentorship that has helped her along the way, she recalls her first experience working on a large project at DIALOG, the Kaye Edmonton Clinic. Expecting to remain in the background, she was quickly thrust into a leadership position by Jeff DiBatiista. “Having someone that immediately showed confidence in what I was doing, was very important, and still is.”

Now, some 13 years later, Janice enjoys the privilege of seeing her projects intertwined with her own life. From the delivery of her two children at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, to her current work on the TELUS World of Science expansion that she will one day enjoy with her family, “so many of my projects have impacted my life.”

Beyond her professional interests, Janice sits on the Edmonton Public Arts Committee which develops visions and objectives for the Edmonton Percent for Art program and makes recommendations regarding the City of Edmonton Public Art Collection. She also joined the Edmonton Design Committee which reviews and provides recommendations to applicants and the City of Edmonton regarding development applications and rezoning.

These pursuits help break the mold of what’s expected of an engineer, “I want people to know that engineers are creative, they’re leaders, they’re problem solvers, and thinkers.”

Her advice to women interested in pursuing engineering is to push beyond the challenges that may arise.

“Being a woman in engineering and construction is challenging. It has taught me that everyone lives within certain roles, self imposed or societally imposed, and most people are unlikely to step outside of the boundaries inherent in the roles that are prescribed to them. Reimagining boundaries has defined the person I am today; from a Woman, to a Mother, to an Engineer. Reimagination requires adaptability, honesty, courage and a critical perspective. I would like to share this with others and tell them “SHAKE THE BOX!” Ask questions, push the envelope, make tomorrow’s world better – built or otherwise!”

Going With the Flow

Alfiya Hasan, Design Technology Specialist, BArch | MEng

Alfiya Hasan knew early on that her calling was to create. First in architecture, then engineering, and now on the tech side where she currently resides as a Design Technology Specialist.

“My understanding of engineering has really evolved through the years. My father is a civil engineer, so I would say that the inclination has a bit of a legacy aspect to it as well,” says Alfiya. “My earliest memory is visiting his sites as a kid and asking innumerable questions because I was very, very curious as a kid.”

As time went on, this curiosity endured.

When further education came into focus, Alfiya chose to explore her many facets, “I also had a bit of a creative flair. It wasn’t just technical I was very artistic and still am, so the creative side paired with the technical helped me shortlist architecture.”

She graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Amity University in India, however that innate curiosity didn’t let her stay settled for long.

“It wasn’t too long after I started working as an architectural designer in Saudi Arabia, on site, that there was a turning point for me.” In wanting to understand her projects from a totally comprehensive viewpoint, she decided a change was needed.

“I realized that it wasn’t just about working with architecture and Building Information Modeling (BIM) together, you need to develop the understanding of engineering to conceive a project as a whole. I would interact with consultants and contractors, and that’s when I decided to pursue my masters in engineering.”

Graduating with a Masters in Building Engineering from Concordia University in Montreal, Alfiya began integrating her two passions.

A key component in this ability to switch gears and let her curiosity guide the way, is the trust in remaining open to opportunities as they presented themselves. “It’s just going with the flow in one thing after another, realizing where your inclinations are along the way. You have to be very open and flexible about where you’re heading and then, if you’re not rigid, the career paths sort of flows.”

This approach is what landed her at DIALOG in 2019, in the role of Design Technology Specialist.

“There have been a lot of questions that come your way when you start as an architect, then you do a masters in engineering, and now you’re a design technology specialist. Although it’s a technical aspect of the field as well, it’s an emerging role.”

While remaining open-minded yielded tremendous results, it was not without its challenges. When she first entered the world of tech she wasn’t certain it was the right fit. “I thought I cannot do this, about five months into that first job, I didn’t know if I could continue with it,” and depended on the help of those around her to push through.

When asked if she would recommend engineering to those unsure, she says if you’re a curious person, it can open up a world beyond what you have imagined. “The fields are so vast varied and diverse that you think about engineering and you know one aspect of it, but once you get into that aspect you realize no there’s this other one, there’s a third one and there’s so much more. And that’s exactly what has happened with me.”

“Do what you’re passionate about and if that’s engineering know that despite challenges, it is a very fulfilling career. You will be awestruck when you see something created out of nothing. If you’re a part of it, then you’ll be proud, which is an amazing feeling.”

With her desire to explore the unknown alive and well, her current role has captured her attention due, in part, to the constantly evolving world of tech.

“You really have to be hands on with technology if you’re at the forefront of this transition in the industry.”

Claiming Your Seat at the Table

Priscilla Eisner, Project Manager, MEng | PEng | PMP | LEED® AP BD+C

Priscilla Eisner has had the mind of an engineer for as long as she can remember. Now, working as an Architectural Project Manager, she reflects on her evolving career, and offers advice for young women on finding their place as leaders.

“One of the earliest childhood memories I have was when I was three years old, it was Christmas, and I was with my father,” Priscilla says. “I was playing with Lego blocks, and it’s so long ago now, but I remember it felt so amazing to create something from all of those small components and make it real. That was a revelation.”

Growing up in France, Priscilla went on to study at the Ecole Polytechnique Feminine (EPF) near Paris, where her inherent passion flourished from being exposed to a variety of engineering areas, studying a total of nine. Through an exchange with the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec she completed her studies with a Bachelor of Applied Sciences specialized in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Sherbrooke and a Master in Structural Engineering from the EPF.

Building upon many years working as a structural engineer and project engineer manager, Priscilla joined DIALOG in 2017 to pursue transit oriented projects.

Following the completion of the Edmonton Valley Line LRT project, Priscilla was at a cross roads – remain in engineering, or continue on the project management side, diving into the world of architecture and prime consulting.

She chose the latter.

This decision was informed by her desire to expand beyond the traditional engineering roles, and integrate further with DIALOG’s various disciplines. “You’re not boxed into one discipline here, you start integrating and understanding how things come together.”

The transition from working mainly with engineers to architects presented some nuanced challenges that forced Priscilla to look at varying communication styles, priorities, and perspectives. Her role as a project manager leverages her own dimensions, to bridge these gaps.

“I love working with designers because they’ve got this creativity and freshness that is impossible for me to bring to a project.”

Her evolution was made possible by what she describes as an environment that supports growth, ”it takes people who are highly open minded and willing to take a chance. They said let’s try something she’s never done before, and see how it goes.”

Looking back, she wants young women to understand that while challenges may arise, including imposter syndrome and the imbedded stereotypes they may encounter, you must find strength within. “I had to tell myself, I don’t care, I’m as competent as they are, able to speak my mind, and I deserve respect. And you can do this while still being kind, understanding everyone is human.”

When asked what she hopes to see evolve in her profession, her focus is on increasing the collaboration with contractors, leveraging technology to allow for seamless sharing of information, with a goal to “raise the bar in sustainability efforts.”

With the rest of her career ahead of her, Priscilla remarks on her experience at DIALOG, “it’s just been an amazing journey, I’m really glad they took a chance on me.”

All of Our Engineering Heroes

We want to thank each and every one of our women in engineering, all of whom contribute to our practice in outstanding and countless ways:

Alfiya Hasan, Amanda Calder, Amy Tran, Andrea Powell, Andrea Silva, Angie Mason, Breanna Dussome, Carrie Emes, Diana Smith, Elaine Hu, Haixia Deng, Helena Mills, Janice Mills, Jeannie Tat, Jessica So, Jordyn Kent, Kiran Natt, Larissa Ulcar, Marie Briones, Maulina Saroya, Megan Brooks, Megan Burton, Mollie Mithaug-Cook, Negin Vahdat Houlari, Olga Shuster, Priscilla Eisner, Rizwana Hussain, Sandra Renihan, Sara Zhang, Shea Gonzalez, Sholpan Altynbayeva, Stephanie Dalo, Trinh Vo, Vicki Hrap, and Victoria Buffam.