Sandra Hantziagelis never imagined herself as an engineer. She didn’t know anything about the profession, but a chance meeting with an architect turned into a mentoring relationship that’s led to a rewarding career as a civil engineer at Toronto Pearson, Canada’s busiest airport.

“Engineering is kind of a hidden occupation and many people don’t really know what we do. But when I met my mentor and she told me about the work, I knew it was for me,” recalls Hantziagelis. “I like math and science, and I could use that to solve problems and design solutions that would allow me to contribute to society.”

Landing a job

With a master’s degree in hand from the University of Toronto, she began working at the airport in 2008, and now leads an airside operations team whose focus is making the airport more efficient when it comes to moving aircraft, people, and bags. “I pursued a graduate degree so I could further build my research and collaboration skills,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to take my graduate research, which was focused on airports, and apply it to my career.”

A shared vision

More than 47 million passengers travelled through Toronto Pearson in 2017, and 49,000 work at the airport, making it a dynamic place to be an engineer. Hantziagelis’ work, and indeed the work of everyone at Toronto Pearson, supports the shared vision of being the best airport in the world. “The airport is experiencing unprecedented levels of growth, and I enjoy the challenge of constantly building and re-developing our facilities in a live environment,” she explains. “The end goal, of course, is to make the airport a better place for our airlines and passengers.”

Investing in the community

While there's a host of exciting career opportunities for engineers and other professionals at Toronto Pearson, the airport is also doing its part to champion access to meaningful employment for neighbours in surrounding communities. Through its community investment program, the Propeller Project, Toronto Pearson dedicated $1.2 million over 2016-17 in two community projects and initiatives, with some funds supporting a select number of programs aimed at introducing young people to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

While more women are choosing engineering as a career, fewer than 20 percent of engineering undergraduates are women, according to the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering.

Despite this, Hantziagelis never felt that her gender was a barrier to success in the field or her education, although she agrees that the perception of engineering being strictly male-focused needs to change.

“While math and science are obvious skills, good engineers are also creative, great communicators, and critical thinkers,” she explains. “If you have the right aptitude and want to have a positive impact on society, then why not consider a career in engineering? Every day brings new challenges, and everyone wins if the right man or woman is in the position, ready and willing to help.”