Celebrating women in engineering

Faculty of Engineering
Equity, diversity and inclusion
Vanessa Prinsen, Imane El Karafi, Rukyya Badreldin, and Caroline Cloutier
From left to right: Vanessa Prinsen, Imane El Karafi, Rukyya Badreldin, and Caroline Cloutier.
Four uOttawa Alumna from the Faculty of Engineering are sharing their experience since graduating university and are offering their best advice to current engineering students. Meet Caroline, Rukkya, Imane and Vanessa, four women who are shaping the future through their profession.

A lifelong gamer, Vanessa is currently a gameplay programmer for Crop Circle Games. She started her career in the gaming industry at BioWare in 2006. She then spent several years working on medical technology before returning to game development in 2019. She holds a bachelor’s in software engineering from the University of Ottawa (’05) and a master’s in engineering from the École de technologie supérieure (’20). When she’s not helping craft new worlds, you’ll find her trying to get lost in them herself, whether through reading science fiction and fantasy, enjoying role-playing games or taking a walk in the woods.  

I’ve been fascinated by computers since childhood, but it’s the practical side of engineering that made me study software engineering. It took me longer to realize that I could have a career in video games. Even if it seems like pure fun, it’s also a sector with very specific technical requirements, tight deadlines and a heavy reliance on non-technical fields. In short, it’s got lots of interesting challenges!

Humility — not being afraid to admit when you don’t know something, or when someone else did something better than you! It’s easy to question yourself when you’re working surrounded by other brilliant engineers and developers. Instead of feeling envy or fear, highlight the great work of others and learn from them!

Vanessa Prinsen
Alumni voices

“We don’t expect people in school or starting their careers to be experts. Use that to set yourself challenges and discover new things! ”

Vanessa Prinsen

— Software engineering (2005)

 Lean into what scares you! Join a student club in a field you know nothing about. Give yourself a project or a role even if you don’t think you have the necessary skills. Ask someone — a prof or someone else — to explain a subject to you. That’s how you’ll learn. We don’t expect people in school or starting their careers to be experts. Use that to set yourself challenges and discover new things! 

Imane has worked at Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) since 2010, where she has gained skills in development engineering in areas such as engine assembly, preparation and certification; engine testing on the ground and in flight; project management; and sustainable development. In 2015, Imane took on a role in controls systems in the PW800 turbofan engine family. In 2017, she was named technical executive assistant for the P&WC vice-presidents of engineering. Imane then became product lead for the PW800 customer engineering unit, and finally, operations manager for international manufacturing projects.  

Imane graduated from the University of Ottawa in 2010 with a double major in mechanical engineering and information technology. In December 2016, she completed an executive MBA at the Université de Sherbrooke, Longueuil campus. 

My curiosity and problem-solving mindset motivated me to pursue engineering, to innovate and contribute to a better tomorrow. I decided to pursue mechanical engineering and information technology at university to enable me to work in the aerospace industry. This sector had always fascinated me. I watched my father thrive in it his entire career while I would ask him numerous questions about airplanes and engines and how they work.  

Today, after 12 years at Pratt & Whitney Canada, I still wake up every morning excited about the opportunities ahead to design, build and service the world’s most advanced and dependable aircraft engines.

Problem solving and teamwork were my key learning from university that I still use daily in my job. As we operate in a dynamic and complex environment at my work, we are often faced with situations where I need to work closely with our talented and diverse teams to find new solutions and concepts, without compromising safety, quality, the environment and economics. I am always impressed by the great outcomes of the hard work, passion and dedication of our people. It shows there is no limit to what we can achieve together.

Imane El Karafi
Alumni voices

“I am always impressed by the great outcomes of the hard work, passion and dedication of our people. It shows there is no limit to what we can achieve together.”

Imane El Karafi

— Mechanical engineering and information technology (2010)

First, be curious. Be perseverant. These two qualities are key to appreciating your engineering journey, whether at university or entering the workplace. If you adopt a growth mindset and ask the right questions, no matter what roadblocks or difficulties you will encounter, it will not set you back. To the contrary, you will learn from them and move on to new challenges where you won’t make the same errors as yesterday.

Second, if you have the opportunity, enrol in co-op or internships during your studies. It allows you to explore different industries, build a professional network, and facilitates entry into the workplace after graduation.

Third, give back to the community by getting involved in extracurricular activities. Not only will you feel the reward of making a positive impact in the world, but you will also learn how to manage different priorities and deliverables.

Rukyya Badreldin works as a project engineer at Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM). She’s worked in the rail and transit industry for almost four years, and is responsible for construction oversight for Stage 2 of the Confederation Line extension. She studied civil engineering at the University of Ottawa and graduated in 2019. 

I loved all the technical knowledge I gained while studying civil engineering, but the most important thing I learned was how to work with other people. I was lucky enough to be involved in many extracurricular activities as a student. This included being on the executive committees for WISE, ESS and CSCE and part of many engineering competitions and conferences. My leadership and interpersonal skills were strengthened through these experiences. I use these skills in my current role and if it weren’t for those opportunities, I wouldn’t be able to do the work I do today.

My career, my first job, and what I studied doesn’t define who I am and what my future will be. I distinctly remember feeling concerned that my identity would be limited to my profession or specialty once I graduated, when, in reality, many engineers move into professions like law, teaching, medicine, accounting, etc., at any point in their career. The beauty of this degree is that it creates multifaceted individuals who can adapt to any challenge. Engineering isn’t a limitation. Rather, it opens doors that I haven’t seen any other career path open.

Rukyya Balreldin
Alumni voices

“Engineering isn’t a limitation. Rather, it opens doors that I haven’t seen any other career path open.”

Rukyya Balreldin

— Civil engineering (2019)

I would advise new students starting engineering to participate in extracurricular opportunities and take advantage of the resources offered by the Faculty. I visited the Mentoring Centre when I was in first year and it helped me in my studies. I participated in networking events that were offered by the Faculty and volunteered when I could. If I weren’t as involved in the University and the Faculty, I don’t think I would have developed the professional network I currently use. I built my interpersonal skills and, most importantly, I had fun! I made amazing connections, met great people and learned more about the opportunities in my industry.

Caroline Cloutier is the Director R&D for the National Research Council of Canada’s (NRC) Energy Mining and Environment Research Centre’s new advanced materials research facility in Mississauga, Ontario. The facility’s research focuses on material acceleration platforms, as a way to accelerate the discovery and development of materials that are needed for clean energy applications. Before joining the NRC in February 2021, Dr. Cloutier was a Senior System Engineer at Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America Inc. evaluating novel high voltage battery technologies. She holds a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Ottawa, a Master’s Degree in Metals and Materials Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Chemical and Biological Engineering, both from the University of British Columbia. Her impressive career in engineering spans from the oil and gas industry to the automotive industry, and covers clean technology venture capital, research and development, and manufacturing. Caroline is also an experienced musician. She was a first violinist in the West Coast Symphony Orchestra for over 10 years.

What I enjoyed the most was having a mixture of classes and hands on experience through the co-op program. These work terms helped me figure out what I enjoyed and what I didn't, and what were my strengths and weaknesses. It also helped me realize that it's not only about knowing the theory and applying it to solve a problem in an academic environment, but to really understand how it's applied in the real world, where the circumstances are less than ideal and a lot of compromises need to be made.

Do a lot of networking early on and try to find allies, mentors, coaches in multiple different fields and with various backgrounds so they can complement each other.  It’s also important to maintain the relationships through time. They might help you navigate through challenges you are facing at work, or be able to connect you with someone in the field that you are interested in working in later on.

To be self-aware of your biases. Leaders tend to like working with others who are similar to them. However, by surrounding yourself with like-minded people, you may miss the opportunity of finding an innovative solution stemming from the diversity of others who have completely different backgrounds, experiences, cultures, and communications styles… So value diversity in hiring and in your teams, seek and listen to others’ input, and consider their ideas and opinions in your decisions.

Caroline Cloutier
Alumni voices

“Value diversity in hiring and in your teams, seek and listen to others’ input, and consider their ideas and opinions in your decisions.”

Caroline Cloutier

— Chemical engineering