College summer camp aims to attract women and girls in trades and technology programs

By: Christina Klysh

When Tanya Hansen Pratt graduated from the Mechanical Engineering and Technology program at Red River College Polytechnic in 2000, she was the only woman and one of the only people of colour in her class.

“I was so accustomed to being othered that I stopped noticing it after a while,” Hansen Pratt said in an interview. 

She said this experience isn’t new for her — while growing up in a small town, she learned to embrace her surroundings and was always drawn to male-dominated industries. 

#EmbraceEquity was the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day and RRC Polytech’s panel on March 8. Panelists discussed how RRC Polytech can encourage more girls and women to pursue male-dominated programs at the college.

Now, as a teacher in the Mechanical Engineering and Technology program at RRC Polytech’s Notre Dame Campus, Hansen Pratt said she has seen an improvement in the diversity of the students and staff within the program since she graduated.

However, of her 56 first-year students this year, only three were women.

But college staff said this needs to change. 

Mandy Robinson, director of enrolment services, said that there are many female alumni from the college that could talk to young girls and women about pursuing a career in trades or technology. 

“Bring them back and have them talk at high schools,” Robinson said at the panel. “I think having those advocates for women in the field is something that we should be looking at.”

Hansen Pratt said she supports this idea.

“You’re showing girls what’s possible and putting people like me in front of them and saying, ‘Hey, I’ve been there, and you can do this too,’” Hansen Pratt said.

To help get more women and girls in trade and technology programs , RRC Polytech is hosting a summer camp — Girls Exploring Trades and Technology. The camp initiative is for girls ages 12 to 14 to learn more about high school courses and potential careers in the trade and technology fields.

Panelists answer questions from audience members at RRC Polytech’s International Women’s Day panel at the Notre Dame Campus on Wednesday, March 8, 2023. (Christina Klysh)

Current RRC Polytech students have also noticed the lack of diversity within students in trade and technology programs.

Raimah Bhabha, a student in the Business Information Technology program, said around 20 per cent of the people in the program are women.

“… If you’re only having cis straight white men defining what certain things look like, then you’re going to have that inherent bias in the technology,” said Bhabha. “That’s why having diversity and representation in this industry is super important.”

While there may be a lack of diversity within the student’s of trade and technology programs, RRC Polytech’s hiring policies aim to increase diversity within the staff. 

Hansen Pratt believes that the college’s commitment to having diverse staff is a positive step toward attracting more girls and women into trade and technology programs.

“That alone can be very encouraging, for students to see themselves reflected in the staff they see every day.” Hansen Pratt said.