Student Type: Women in Technology Scholarship Recipient

Emilie Boras

You Probably Shouldn’t Do That. You’ll Get Grease All Over Your Clothes.

 Émilie Boras awarded $10,000 to support her mechanical engineering degree

In high school, Émilie Boras liked physics. She liked bio. And she liked knowing how things worked. “Blame this need on watching too much Discovery Channel How It’s Made in my youth,” she quips. But despite her interest in science and engineering, she still fell prey to gender bias in the school system: “In high school I wanted to take auto shop as an option and I was discouraged,” she recalls. “I was told, No you probably shouldn’t do that. You’ll get grease all over your clothes.

It made sense at the time . . . sort of. Émilie took a different class instead. “But now,” she says, “looking back on it, it’s like WHAT?! That shouldn’t be the basis for not doing something I wanted to do.”

Nowadays she doesn’t let gender bias stop her, even though it’s a constant challenge. Now in her second year of mechanical engineering at UBC (the third year of her degree), Émilie has found a way to combine her interest in all of these areas. She’s studying mechanical engineering, with an interest in bioprinting and exoskeletons (albeit with a growing interest in marine engineering).

Less than a quarter of Émilie’s classmates are women — and she feels it, every day. There aren’t many female role models on campus in the tech space, and while she has met some accomplished female engineers working in industry, there’s a lack of mentorship and support for women undergraduate students in the field. “The Women in Engineering group here at UBC organized a mentorship night where we got to speak to three women in industry and that was excellent,” Émilie says. “However it was just for a night. It’d be nice to have a mentor constantly throughout the year, or maybe even just the first year, or just at times where you need some support. Any kind of group where you can discuss your struggles or empathize with someone else who’s been experiencing the same thing is also very encouraging.” She suggests peer-to-peer tutoring by older female students as a place to start.

Besides her natural tenacity and conviction that she has just as much right to be in mechanical engineering as her male peers — and the conviction that she is equally capable as they are — Émilie got a boost of confidence from a $10,000 scholarship for Women in Technology from the Irving K. Barber British Columbia Scholarship Society. It’s a huge help, especially since she lives in Vancouver where the cost of living is high. “But if anything, the scholarship was more significant in that it was so motivational,” she says. “I know at least personally that I’ve been discouraged so many times in engineering. I just feel like I’m either not doing enough, or I’m not good enough, or I don’t belong there, or things like that, but it definitely reconfirmed: You’re doing the right thing. You’re in the right place. It’s fine.”

To other young women who are aspiring to careers in tech, Émilie says to stay true to your interests, and don’t give up. Ask questions. Be okay with failure. Keep your confidence high, because you’re worthy of being in engineering or computer science or tech. “Be more affirmative,” she says. “If you know that it’s right, you should be saying it with confidence — because people will listen better if you do it that way. And even if they do interpret you as being more authoritative or “bossy”: Whatever! You’re getting the work done!”

Congratulations, Émilie. We wish you well as you challenge gender bias at every turn, spreading encouragement for other women as you go.

Jobina Tamminga

Watch Me. I’ll Do What I Want To Do.

 First Nations student Jobina Tamminga receives $10,000 to support her studies in computer science and biology

For third-year UBC student Jobina Tamminga, her combined major in biology and computer science delivers enormous enjoyment — but it also comes with a hefty price tag. “Since I’m First Nations, normally you get your post-secondary paid for,” Jobina says. “But with my band, there’s only so much money, and there wasn’t enough to cover all students.” In her first two years of university, Jobina worked about 20 hours a week waiting tables, on top of her full course load, to cover her costs. Student loans helped, too.

This year, it’s a different story. Jobina gratefully received funding from her band, the Timiskaming First Nation in Quebec, taking the pressure off for tuition. And on November 13 at a ceremony at Government House in Victoria, Jobina was honoured as one of ten recipients of a $10,000 Women in Technology Scholarship from the Irving K. Barber British Columbia Scholarship Society (IKBBC) to support women studying math, computer science and engineering.

The scholarship will help Jobina pay back her student loans upon graduation, and eases the pace of life a little. “It allows me to full-on focus on what I’m studying, and explore some of my interests as well,” she says. “And it gives me time to relax!”

While the substantial sum goes a long way to help with post-secondary costs, Jobina says the real award is the acknowledgment of her efforts. “This is such a large amount of money that it allows women to take pride in what they’re doing,” she says. “It makes them think, Wow, what I’m doing is important. It also encourages them to continue on the path that they’re doing.”

While Jobina has a bright future ahead in her chosen field of bioinformatics, she didn’t always have her sights set on a degree in tech. In fact, she started at UBC intending to complete a BA in psychology. But upon taking a computer science elective during her first year, she was hooked. “It was my best mark in university,” she recalls. “I fell in love with it.” She switched out of arts, designing a double major in biology and computer science — biology because genetics fascinates her, and comp sci because she enjoys using logic and math to solve real-world problems.

It’s fair to say Jobina has worked hard to get here. She takes her studies seriously and keeps her grades high. During high school, she travelled to a city near her small community in order to finish physics 12, as it wasn’t offered at her school. And growing up, she watched her single mother raise four children while putting herself through university. “Seeing her push through people’s expectations [really helped],” Jobina says. “It was like, Oh, you have four kids, you can’t do that, and my mum was like, Watch me. I’ll do what I want to do. She definitely inspired me to push through my boundaries as well.”

It’s an outlook that has helped Jobina follow her own interests to great success, and she counsels girls to do the same: “The biggest thing is, if you’re considering whether [tech] is something you want to pursue, try it out in as many ways as you can,” she says. “Sticking to your passions and focusing on what will make you happy has helped me. It doesn’t matter if other people don’t think you can succeed or if they don’t approve. As long as you know that this is what you want to do.”

Congratulations, Jobina. We wish you well as you explore and design a deeply satisfying and rewarding career in tech.