From a young age, Dr. Cynthia Cruickshank had a fascination with how things worked. “I would take things apart and put them back together,” she remembers. “I also enjoyed math and science in high school, which is part of why I became interested in studying engineering.” Now an Associate Professor in Carleton University’s Faculty of Engineering and Design, she leads a research team of 10 graduate students in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, focusing on solar energy research and improving energy efficiency in buildings.

Youth programs fueling STEM interest

Today Dr. Cruickshank is also helping to inspire young girls to pursue careers in STEM through youth outreach programs. “I’ve had the chance to give talks through the Carleton Women in Science and Engineering group, speaking with high school students about different careers that exist for women within engineering,” she explains. “It’s important for them to hear about more than just the soft sciences because there are so many amazing opportunities where those sciences can be applied in areas such as electrical or mechanical engineering. There are many paths to choose from and female engineers are flourishing in all disciplines.”

Another outreach program that Dr. Cruickshank has spoken at is Virtual Ventures — a youth summer camp at Carleton that features programming just for girls and includes hands-on activities such as coding and game design. “It’s really important for female students to be exposed to engineering, or at least the concept of it, at a young age,” she says. “It helps them build an appreciation of what it can offer, but also demonstrates how it can improve peoples’ lives.”

Breaking barriers start with parents

While Dr. Cruickshank feels she was lucky to have an engineer as a father, who encouraged her natural curiosity and interests by providing opportunities for hands-on learning, she also believes all parents have the tools to encourage their children’s interest in STEM — whether that means promoting participation in school science fairs, enrolling their kids in summer camps like Virtual Ventures, or taking them to discussions at universities where youth have the opportunity to interact with female engineers and role models.

“If you enjoy problem solving or how things work or are simply interested in technology, there’s no limit to where those interests can take you,” she says. “Engineering is all about discovery and if you never stop exploring you’ll find the possibilities are endless.”