Spotlight Series:
Willow Dew

What do you do?

Willow Dew is a graduate of the University of Alberta's undergraduate Engineering program. During her time as an undergrad, Willow has been involved in the University of Alberta's EcoCar team since 2016, where she spent the last quarter of her degree as Project Manager. EcoCar is comprised of mainly undergrad engineering students (with some help from other faculties) to design and build hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars. These machines use oxygen from the air and hydrogen from the fuel cell to replace the internal combustion that happens in normal electric and gas-powered cars. Willow felt that she learned a lot about sustainable energy and how we could meet the needs of society using alternative energies. She is currently on to bigger things as she is pursing a joint Master's in Biological and Chemical Engineering for Sustainable Bio-economy, with a focus on biofuels and biomass.

What inspired you to do what you do now?

"EcoCar spoke to me because of the technical components and the impacts on society made in terms of using alternative energy sources"

When she first joined EcoCar, Willow wanted to learn more about engineering because she initially had a vague idea about what she was interested in. The opportunities and activities that came about in her time in EcoCar aligned with the impact she wanted to have in the world. She then came to love working with sustainability and alternative energies, allowing her to focus on what she wanted to do with her engineering degree, and later pursue her Master's degree.

What does diversity in STEM mean to you?

"Having a diverse range of perspectives means that things you design, decisions you make, and products you develop can have the best effect on all people"

Willow believes that everyone who has an interest in STEM fields will be able to pursue it no matter their identity, perspectives, or experiences, and that these aspects should not hinder anyone from achieving their goals. She looks to organizations and thinks that striving for diversity will get you the best solutions while making the world a better place, a goal for many engineers and scientists. She also understands that, "looking at a single perspective doesn't make the world a better place for everyone", but, by opening up our circles to diversity, we will have a greater each for what we put out.

What are some challenges you have faced linked to EDI (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion) in your experiences/work?

Being a woman in the engineering, Willow sees the changing perspectives in the field from what she describes as an "old boys club" to greater diversity and representation. She believes that it is no longer acceptable to be critical of women and minorities in STEM, but attitudes about who constitutes a scientist and engineer still exist. Willow describes her experience where job opportunities would lead her to more office work than field work and, as a student, she would been seen as less competent than she actually is. But through these experiences, she found out that improving her skill as much as she could to get the job done, was one of the best ways for her to push forward. At the same time Willow realizes that struggles can look differently for different underrepresented groups, especially, when you're trying to cement yourself as a professional or overcome any kind of imposter syndrome, with the added weight of being judged for factors that have nothing to do with your competence. However, she is hopeful and confident that barriers will diminish as time goes on.

What are some ways individuals like yourself can help increase EDI in STEM?

"It is important to advocate for diversity in groups that you are a part of and groups that you are not a part of, not just for yourself, but for others coming after you"

Willow explains that we need to focus on looking past physical traits and listening to what others need to say without making assumptions. In organizations, especially, "it is important to be cognizant in hiring practices and how you build teams", which can look like addressing bias in interviewers or making sure all individuals are given equal attention in career fairs. Mentors should also be encouraged to give their time and energy towards supporting all groups because many can see you as a role model and that advocacy in the present will affect those who after. Willow also believes that being equitable with opportunities and resources distributed will make room for diverse backgrounds and voices to be included at the table.

Interviewers: Abhiroop Saha, Amirah Nazir (2021)Author: Amirah Nazir (2021)