Chemical and Material Engineering Department Coming to Concordia

New Department Aims to Address Gender Disparity in Engineering

Amir Asif, the Dean of the Engineering Faculty. Photo Carl Bindman

Less than 13 per cent of practicing, licensed engineers across Canada are women, according to the regulatory body Engineers Canada.

But in a 2013 report from that same group, they found that female enrolment in specific fields of engineering were much higher. Chemical Engineering was one such field, at 33 per cent female enrolment. As Concordia will soon have its own Chemical and Materials Engineering department, there is hope that the school’s numbers will rise.

“Right now the average at Concordia in engineering is 17 per cent [of women enrolled],” said Karina Bagryan, co-president of Women in Engineering Concordia. “Based on other universities’ experiences, if we bring chemical engineering it’s going to help the issue.”

During November 2016’s Board of Governor’s meeting it was unanimously decided that a Chemical and Materials Engineering Department would be created at Concordia.

Amir Asif, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science, pushed for the new department. “Within Chemical Engineering there is an opportunity,” he said. “Since female students feel connected to Chemical Engineering.”

This is because many female science students want to be doctors, explained Fariha Kamal, the other co-president of Women in Engineering Concordia. She said that, for example, in CEGEP they might enjoy chemistry, organic chemistry and biology, but when they finish their time they realize they don’t want to be a doctor.

“They look into their options,” she said, and chemical engineering has a lot in common to health sciences in regards to its inclusion of organic chemistry and biology.

The new department follows a broad push in Concordia’s Engineering Faculty to attract more female students. The school introduced 25 new scholarships last year. “Eighteen are open to anyone,” said Asif, “but seven are for female students only.”

Of course, other factors influenced the approval of the new department.

“There is a major distinction between chemistry and chemical engineering that has started in the last 15 to 20 years,” said Asif. This distinction is rooted in the growth of hands-on applications of chemical research. “We thought it is a great time for us to offer a chemical engineering program.”

The new department, said Asif, will consolidate teaching and research across Concordia. And according to the proposal that was presented to the Board of Governors in December, the department is expected to operate at a $2.5 to $3.5 million surplus within three to four years.

The successful proposal for the new department describes the space needed for the new department. It points to two areas that will need to be renovated in the Hall building, on the 10th and 14th floors. According to the document, the 14th floor space is around 160 square metres and renovations will cost $1.3 million. For the 10th floor, the expected cost of renovating 500 square metres is $4 million.

“There’s a discussion with the federal and provincial government in terms of new space,” says Asif.

Until the renovations are complete, the department will be housed in the Science Complex at Loyola for the 2018-2019 academic year, when classes in the department are set to begin.

Asif said the department should start functioning soon, but that there isn’t yet a firm date. So far, they have hired one professor, Dr. Alex De Visscher, whose focus is in chemical and petroleum engineering. He hopes that the department will be up and running before this summer semester.