girls with pulley

Forty-six grade 11 women attended the weekend conference. Here teams are building a two-way pulley system as they work together to rescue the prince.

Can the princess’ armour withstand the fiery breath of the dragon she is sure to encounter on her mission? Will the hand-crafted cardboard bridge support her weight as she crosses the 2m moat? Is the newly built 2-way pulley system capable of transporting her armour over the castle wall and hoisting a 1kg key up to the top of the tower where the prince is waiting to be rescued? Finally, can the 46 grade 11 girls accomplish these heroic engineering tasks before the weekend runs out?

Yes. The armour withstood the dragon’s flames, which for the sake of convenience was actually a blow torch. Yes, the moat was crossed and the pulley system was used to help rescue the needy prince. More important, the young women from across Ontario got a taste of what it is to be an engineering student at Waterloo during the Catalyst Conference outreach program.

“This is so intense,” said Alyssha Schneider, 16, who was working on a cardboard bridge with her three teammates. Schneider, a grade 11 student at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute in Kitchener, is eager to make nanotechnology engineering at Waterloo her future.

“It’s also so much fun. Everyone is contributing their ideas and everyone is so smart. We all have the same interests in math and science, so even though we have never met before, we have a lot in common.”

Recipe for inspiration


Creatiing armour is one of the engineering projects the young women worked on throughout the weekend. At the 2014 conference, the armour (pictured) had to withstand a battering ram, in 2015 it needed to repel a dragon’s fiery breath.

The fun factor and “finding your people” is what makes this Waterloo Engineering event so successful. Bringing like-minded teenagers together for the weekend of clever engineering projects, toss in some cafeteria food and a two-night sleepover in residence and you have a recipe for inspiring these young women to take grade 12 physics and consider engineering as a career path, says Alison Scott, chemical engineering MASc candidate and engineering outreach volunteer. “It’s such a blast and you see these intense friendships form. I am always amazed at how outside-the-box these girls are with their projects.”

Now in its fifth year, the Girls Conference is one of the outreach initiatives Waterloo Engineering uses to stoke young women’s interest in engineering programs, says Claire Heymans, Program Coordinator, Women in Engineering. About 250 young women have attended since 2011, and although no formal statistics are kept for privacy reasons, the weekend experience does lead to female students applying to the engineering programs.


2015 Catalyst Conference: Grade 11 Girls Conference in front of E5

2015 Catalyst Confrence participants. Is this the first step to an engineering career?

Two such students, 17-year-old Prabhnoor Sangha and Isabel Trupp, both of Ajax, returned this year to the Catalyst Conference as “ambassadors” to help the new crop of participants get the most out of their weekend at Waterloo Engineering. Sangha and Trupp were in the program last spring, and their experience prompted them both to apply to different engineering programs at Waterloo (both were accepted).

“I came back to help inspire these girls about engineering,” says Trupp.

“I learned a lot about Waterloo Engineering when I attended last year. I’m excited about coming here full time in the fall!”