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Kathryn Rielander

Kathryn Reilander

Professor & Coordinator in Electrical Engineering Technology, Algonquin College

Jessica Lynch Algonquin College

Jessica Lynch

Professor in the Construction, Engineering Technician Program, Algonquin College

Algonquin College’s We Saved You a Seat initiative is changing the school’s culture and encouraging young women to enter historically male-dominated fields.

There are incredible opportunities available for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), but many still shy away from these fields. Algonquin College is working hard to change that. The school is a leader in diversity through its unique program offerings and entrance awards, which help ensure it attracts and fosters an inclusive student community.

Algonquin College runs We Saved You a Seat, a project whose goal is to establish a diverse learning environment where all learners can succeed. Algonquin is actively recruiting women into STEM programs, creating programs where they can develop their talents, and creating space for more women in non-traditional careers.

Encouraging women in STEM

We Saved You a Seat was created by women, for women. “We were seeing so few female applications to our engineering programs year after year,” says Kathryn Reilander,Professor and Coordinator in Electrical Engineering Technology at Algonquin. “Often just 2–5% of the incoming class was female.”

One of the program’s primary goals is to increase the number of women in STEM, reserving up to 30% of classroom seats for qualified women. “Thirty percent has been shown to be a critical number,” says Reilander. “That’s where you get the best dynamics in terms of discussion, idea creation, and getting a different point of view.”

The program also addresses the challenges faced by women in STEM. “The big one is the need to do or be better than their male counterparts,” says Jessica Lynch, a professor in the Construction, Engineering Technician Program in Algonquin’s department of Electrical, Civil and Building Science. “Women feel they need to prove themselves constantly.”

We Saved You a Seat aims to change this dynamic by normalizing women in these spaces so they can simply do their best, and gives female students the necessary program support, including mentorship, financial incentives, and a safe space to learn.

Two Algonquin College students working on a project

Leading by example

Creating a safe space means ensuring that classrooms are inclusive and welcoming. “Subtle things in the classroom can make females feel alone,” says Reilander. To prevent women feeling marginalized, faculty at Algonquin take simple but effective steps like assigning mixed-gender groups, using female names in examples, and employing inclusive language.

Students at Algonquin can reach out to female mentors and also benefit from having female professors. “Teaching is an opportunity for me to show my students that women are just as capable, knowledgeable, able-bodied, and smart as our male counterparts,” says Lynch, who acts as a role model for her students.

The college’s gender-inclusive culture is the result of a school-wide, holistic approach. “We’re creating a dynamic, gender-inclusive environment at Algonquin and everyone is involved,” says Reilander. “We’re all part of this — the deans, the chairs, from the president down to the faculty to the student support specialists to the academic advisors, everyone is on board.”

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