Female aspiring engineers build race cars at University of Manitoba
University's Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) teams have more women then ever before
While many university students are taking a break this time of year, dozens of University of Manitoba engineering students are stuffed into the school's automotive engineering shops, grinding metal and cutting plaster.
And more than ever, those students are women.
The school's teams are prepping their racing vehicles for the final trials with the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
The university has four teams that design and build automotive vehicles — from planes to off-road vehicles. With nearly 200 students participating in the four teams, the school has one of the largest SAE teams in the world.
Being part of one of the school's race teams has become a tradition for students at the school.
But this year's Formula race team is anything but traditional. At the head of the team is a woman named Carolyn Blonski.
She says she's seen a change in female membership on the team during her time at the University of Manitoba.
When she started on the team four years ago, she was the only woman on the Formula team. Now she works alongside five other women.
Blonski says she always knew she wanted to be an engineer, regardless of her gender.
"I used to play this game called Rollercoaster Tycoon…. I remember talking to my dad about it saying, 'what do I have do for a living to actually design these for life and get paid for it?'" she said.
"He said, 'you'd have to be an engineer.' So I said, 'OK, that's what I'm going to do.'"
'Wouldn't have it any other way'
Designing cars wasn't something Blonski had considered.
"I really didn't know too much about cars before I joined the team. It wasn't really my thing," she said.
"Having to adjust to how guys communicate with each other and interact with their friends was a bit of an adjustment," she said. "But I love it. I wouldn't have it any other way."
The team's work over the last few years was so impressive that it caught the eye of a Winnipeg filmmaker. Last year, a film crew followed the team as it competed in the SAE races.
Now a screening of the finished documentary is raising money for the U of M's Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, which encourages girls and minorities in grade school to develop an interest in science and technology.
Women engineers in high demand
The change in perceptions of female engineers isn't just happening on engineering teams, but within elementary schools, university faculties, and industry, according to Nusraat Masood, the program administrator for WISE.
"We need more women to have a say in how our societies are run. And technology is a really big part of that," Masood said.
"Society isn't just homogeneous … everybody has different needs and perspectives. And that's where you get the best solutions from."
Masood said women are being sought after by consulting firms and engineering companies alike, giving them more negotiating power than ever before.
"[In the past] there was a question about if women had a place in [science and engineering] careers. Now it's established that they have a place."
The number of women on the University of Manitoba's SAE teams is increasing every single year, according to faculty adviser Ed Hohenberg.
"It used to be a rare thing to see women in this building and in the shop," he said. "[Now] they're not afraid to get greasy and come in and play with noisy power tools. And it's great."
As for Blonski, her hard work on the Formula race team has paid off. She's landed a job with Honda's research and development department in Ohio, where she'll be working in the company's upper body design department.
"I've found a career path out of it and I absolutely love it," Blonski said.
The documentary will be screened Wednesday starting at 6:30 p.m. in the engineering atrium at the U of M.