Athena SWAN and Other UK-Canada Collaborations on the Topic of Diversity and Inclusivity

The month of October has been incredibly productive for our women in engineering project (led by yours truly, Natalie). Early in the month, I had the pleasure of attending the Athena SWAN conference hosted by York University, and just a couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to England to link up with professionals in the engineering discipline that are working toward positive change.

Athena SWAN is a recent initiative spearheaded by the UK to increase representation of women and minorities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields. It is a program designed to reward institutions who consistently work toward promoting diversity and inclusivity, and its success lies in its rewards not being permanent. Institutions that carry Athena SWAN medals must continue to support inclusivity and diversity, else lose their medals for lack of improvement.20181009_061248This focus on accountability and endurance of effective programs and practices over time is precisely what our research in Canada is targeting. The Athena SWAN conference held at York University sought to understand how to bring the Athena SWAN framework to Canada, as many of our resources and problems are similar but there are marked differences that must be acknowledged. Key themes that emerged from this conference were the need to acknowledge the differences between recruitment, development, and retention in our research and discussions about diversity; the need for initiatives and collaborations to run at a national level; and the need for institutions to be transparent to the public about both their successes and failures. I hope to embed these themes in our continuing work on the retention of women in engineering across Canada, and to involve more and more institutions in our research program. It is clear that incentives to participate in the drive to include underrepresented folks in STEM are being developed more and more, and that means that we will hopefully start seeing the people who need to be participating start participating, to avoid preaching to the choir.

2018 Fire and Evacuation Modeling Technical Conference – Maryland

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the 2018 Fire and Evacuation Modeling Technical Conference (FEMTC). It was hosted by Thunderhead Engineering and held in Gaithersburg, Maryland, right around the corner from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This three day event spanning from October 1st to 3rd was a single-track agenda which allowed participants to watch all presentations and engage with all speakers. Attendees ranged from engineers to geo-scientists to researchers and a few students. The presentations were a fantastic balance between technical material and more high-level fire and modeling topics. I presented on the first day on stadium egress modeling our team has been conducting over the past year in collaboration with ARUP. The open access version of the paper can be found here and the presentation video at the bottom of this blog post. Our research was well-received and represents stage one of the project, in which stage two will be built upon over the next eight months. One of my favourite aspects of the conference included the fact that many of the Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) software developers were in attendance. Since many of the presentations were geared towards certain aspects of FDS, a lot of the Q&A periods not only consisted of audience questions, but also of comments from these FDS developers of precise recommendations and precautions to take when utilizing FDS for specific purposes.