A deep dive into diversity

Photo Credit: Jin Lee

Vanessa Raponi, founder and president of EngiQueers, a national non-for-profit LGBTQ+ advocacy group, tackles the complex challenge of improving diversity in engineering.

One second. That’s the amount of time it took Materials Engineering and Management student, Vanessa Raponi, to think about her big idea to change the world.

At the grand opening of Gerald Hatch Centre on October 18, students including Raponi, were asked to think about just that.

Raponi’s message, added to a large wall in the new experiential learning space, was strong and clear. “Anyone of any race, gender, sexual orientation or any walk of life feeling comfortable and confident and welcome in our beautiful profession. Diversity Rocks!”

As founder and president of EngiQueers (EQ) Canada, Raponi is turning her big idea into a reality. With 31 chapters in 9 provinces, the not-for-profit advocacy group calls for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ students in engineering schools across Canada.

EQ Canada was born out of McMaster EngiQueers, a student group Raponi started in 2013 after attending the Toronto Pride Parade with a small group of engineering students.

“We were stunned to see Waterloo and UofT Engineering marching with over 50 people each in the parade,” explains Raponi. “We made the goal then to have McMaster Engineering march in the parade the following year, and decided the best way to do so was to create McMaster EngiQueers.”

McMaster EQ’s first goal was to create a welcoming space for LGBTQ+ engineering connections at McMaster. When the group began attending conferences in 2015, students from other universities started to take notice and began reaching out to Raponi to learn how to start their own LGBTQ+ groups. In 2016, EngiQueers Canada was launched.

Now, as a chapter of EQ Canada, McMaster EQ’s initiatives have expanded to include inclusivity training for Welcome Week representatives, fraternities and other student groups; a Diversity in Engineering panel event in partnership with the McMaster Women in Engineering Society and the National Society of Black Engineers; and a Valentine’s Day campaign that raises money for charities focused on supporting LGBTQ+ causes.

“EQ reminds us that in order to talk about women in engineering we need to talk about queer women, women of colour, women with mental and physical disabilities. People are complex and it’s too simple to say we need more women in engineering. We need to get deeper than that.”

In addition to spearheading EQ, Raponi has gained several other achievements throughout her time at McMaster. She was selected as the 2017 Dillon Consulting Limited Undergraduate Engineering Scholarship winner, and was a past winner of McMaster’s business case study competition, MARS Apprentice.

As well, she was a member of the McMaster delegation of the international Engineering and Commerce Case Competition (ECCC) in Montreal, Quebec where she was awarded ‘Best Speaker’ by Siemens.

She played an integral role as the business manager of McMaster’s EcoCAR 3 team, a four-year student competition that aims to turn a muscle car Camaro into a hybrid vehicle, and has extensive co-op work experience through placements at Bombardier Aerospace, the Grenoble Institute of Technology in France, PepsiCo and the not-for-profit Engineers of Tomorrow.

Equipped with rich academic and experiential learning opportunities, Raponi looks forward to graduating in the spring. In July, she will work as an engineering developer for Spin Master, an international toy company based in Toronto.

“I’m basically Santa. Spin Master’s values are entrepreneurial spirit, fun and thinking outside the box – things I fundamentally agree with.”

Her passion for diversity in engineering will continue to grow as a member Ontario Society of Professional Engineers’ Diversity and Inclusion Committee. She is also working alongside her mentor and previous boss at Engineers of Tomorrow, Erica Lee Garcia, on a diversity initiative for the Engineering Change Lab, a national platform for individuals and organizations to address the systemic challenges of the engineering profession.

“We’re creating a “playbook” of best practices from state-of-the-art academic research to make it as easy as possible for companies and institutions to enhance current practices and focus on diversity in a different way.”

The goal for EngiQueers Canada is to expand in professional spaces. “I want to see more industry leaders delivering inclusivity trainings to their executive council, incorporate best practices, and ultimately set the stage for progress over the coming years.”

This article is part of a series of profiles celebrating the 60th anniversary of McMaster’s Faculty of Engineering. For more Big Ideas stories, go to the faculty’s website.

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