Growing up with three younger brothers, Shay Dekock-Kruger always felt like one of them.
No one told her there were things she couldn’t do because she was a girl.
Fascinated by math and physics, today she’s an engineer-in-training with B.C. Hydro.
Being dismissed because of her gender, the 24-year-old UBC grad said, “was never an issue.”
But the so-called STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, math — don’t have a great record when it comes to gender diversity and it’s more dismal at the management level.
What can be done? How can the STEMs attract more women? Those are questions a lot of people ask, especially given today is International Women in Engineering Day.
“I don’t think we have enough women in the pipeline,” said Dekock-Kruger, a member of the Penticton First Nation. “We talk about the importance of having role models, we do these little outreach events. I think everything counts toward something.
“Engineers are making some of the biggest technological advances in society, whether it’s creating cutting-edge technology in health care, all the way to determining which energy sources we’re going to be feeding into to produce our electricity.
“Society is 50 per cent women, 50 per cent men, so why is it only 10 or 12 per cent women who are making these decisions?
“These are questions I ask myself. It would be nice to change the narrative and have more women in engineering. I’d like to see more women in engineering and STEM fields.”
Dekock-Kruger is working at the B.C. Hydro Edmonds office in Burnaby.
Growing up outside of Penticton was idyllic.
“I felt very lucky to grow up there. I was very fortunate in that my parents owned a decent amount of property and I grew up kind of on the land.”
One of the fascinating parts of engineering, she said, is taking simple earth elements and turning them into something useful that gives people the quality of life they enjoy today.
You can’t see electricity, she’s said, but it’s all around you; flick a switch and a room is bathed in light.
“It blows my mind we’re able to turn just water into electricity with all these complex systems. It takes a lot of engineering, thought and will power.”
Dekock-Kruger, 24, didn’t always want to be an engineer. She originally wanted to help her First Nation community by becoming a doctor. By some measures, engineering school is even tougher than medical school.
She graduated at the top of her class.
“If you’re anything like me before going into university, I didn’t know how strong, how smart or how capable I really was,” Dekock-Kruger says in a video she made for B.C. Hydro’s Aboriginal Outreach program.
“This educational journey has proved to me that I can do anything I set my mind to. Your path might change along the way, like mine did, but just know: You are strong, you are smart and you are capable.”
After graduation a couple of years ago, she joined BC Hydro’s engineer in training program.
It allowed her to rotate through four departments, including working with remote First Nations communities that are not on the provincial grid and get electricity from diesel generators.
“It’ll be really interesting to see what happens in those areas in the next 10 to 15 years, hopefully shorter than that, going from diesel to renewable energy technologies,” she said.
She’ll be back in her home department of substation design in a couple of weeks, helping come up with safe and reliable design solutions for substations across the province.
It’s an amazing job, she said. “I’m super excited about it.”
Last month, she was back in Penticton to the Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School on the Penticton reserve and SenPokChin school in Oliver, talking about careers in engineering. It’s rewarding to give back to the kids at home, she said.
“I feel I’ve been given so much. I think the most valuable part was just sharing my experience, why as Indigenous people we should be studying engineering.
“My biggest take-away from that, the message I want to share with the students, all this traditional territory we live on, we have all these systems that are built on it now and I think it’s really important for us to become educated about the systems, to try and work with it the best we can now.”
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