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News Release

November 04, 2003

Prof to hold distinguished women in science and engineering chair

A University of Guelph engineering professor today received a prestigious chair from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) designed to increase participation of females in science and engineering and provide role models for women considering careers in these fields.

Valerie Davidson will hold the NSERC/HP (Canada) Chair for Women in Science and Engineering (CWSE) for the next five years. The announcement was made in Guelph by Brenda Chamberlain, MP for Guelph-Wellington, on behalf of Industry Minister Allan Rock and by Tom Brzustowski, NSERC president, during a special event at the university.

"This goes beyond making sure that women have equal access to good careers built on knowledge," said Brzustowski. "When a large section of Canada's best minds are disproportionately absent from science and engineering, the loss in Canada's potential to advance economically is huge. To date, the number of women engaged in long-term research careers is well below reasonable expectations. Our CWSE program is bringing a fresh, much-needed momentum to solving this problem."

Davidson is the first U of G professor to hold a CWSE chair, which is supported by a $50,000 annual allocation from NSERC. The funding is being matched by Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Co. and supplemented by the university.

“This is a day of considerable pride for the University of Guelph,” said president Alastair Summerlee. “Dr. Davidson will elevate the university’s reputation for strength in science and engineering and contribute to the future of innovation in this country as the next generation of outstanding researchers look to her for guidance and inspiration."

Davidson’s goals include emphasizing opportunities for women in computing applications in science and engineering, particularly those that involve biosystems. Currently, women make up about 30 per cent of Guelph's undergraduates in the School of Engineering, well above the average among Canadian engineering schools. “We've always had a unique engineering culture that ties into the university's strengths in the biological sciences,” Davidson said. In computer-related engineering and science programs, however, the average is closer to 10 per cent. “Many faculties are facing the same challenge: very few women are opting for computing science or computer engineering programs. The collaboration with HP Canada is ideal for addressing this problem because HP is recognized for innovation and technical leadership.”

Davidson plans to use a novel team approach to address the situation that includes integrating the departments of computing and information science, physics, mathematics and statistics, and chemistry and biochemistry. Female faculty from the various departments will work together to develop initiatives and activities designed to reach girls in elementary to high school and women through their university studies and into their post-secondary careers. “Our female faculty and staff members are excellent role models, and the chair program will help to co-ordinate outreach activities and to evaluate the effectiveness of different initiatives,” she said.

One of five regional NSERC chairs, the CWSE has a mandate across Ontario. Davidson will work to develop a provincial network to help women at a number of stages – from early education to post-secondary programs to early careers, including academic careers.

Alan Wildeman, vice-president (research), added: “Prof. Davidson brings a reputation for leadership and strong industrial, academic and administrative experience to this chair. She has taken a prominent role in setting research directions for the university, and we applaud her for this exceptional accomplishment. We also want to thank NSERC for its support and HP Canada for its generous donation of funding and employee participation that will enable Valerie’s team to excel.”

HP Canada is supporting the chair through annual cash contributions and in-kind support, including having its employees take part in on-campus mentoring programs and activities at the elementary and high school levels.

“We are excited to further strengthen our relationship with the University of Guelph through this innovative and purposeful chair,” said Paul Tsaparis, HP Canada president and chief executive officer. “HP and the university share many common goals, including a strong commitment to providing high-quality educational opportunities and drawing attention to the many opportunities for girls and women in the fields of science and engineering. This initiative is a perfect blend of those objectives.”

A U of G professor since 1988, Davidson has established a successful interdisciplinary research program in food and biological engineering on campus. In 2002, she was the co-recipient of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers Award for support of women in engineering and engineering excellence. She is an active member of the Women in Engineering Leadership Institute, a network of female academics in engineering across North America.

Davidson, along with other engineering faculty, was also instrumental in the School of Engineering being named the first recipient of the Women-Friendly Engineering School/Faculties Award from the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation in 1999.

NSERC first launched the chair program in 1996 to increase participation of women in science and engineering. This is the second round of chair holders, with Davidson being the first new chair to be announced. NSERC will eventually name three other CWSE chair holders across Canada, in the Atlantic provinces, British Columbia and the prairie provinces. A fifth chair for Quebec will continue to be held by Claire Desch nes at Laval University.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.

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