Giving back: Funding future engineers


- Anne Tolson


The terrible events of December 6, 1989, have always stood out in Michelle Mahovlich’s mind. Over the past 30 years, Mahovlich’s thoughts turned back, again and again, to the 14 young women who were shot to death at Montreal’s École Polytechnique and to the paths they never had the chance to travel.

“I was doing undergrad when the massacre at École Polytechnique occurred, so it has always been very significant for me—because the women who were murdered were the same age as I was,” says Mahovlich, who was studying geology in Ontario at the time. Mahovlich now works as Director of Engineering at the City of Langford, overseeing its public works and construction projects.

“It’s one of those things that has always stood out in my life, especially in a field where there’re not very many women,” she says. “There are those of us who are privileged enough to have been able to practise in engineering, while those young women never got that chance.”

To mark the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre and, at the same time, recognize the 30 by 30 initiative of Engineers Canada, Mahovlich decided to establish an award for a young woman entering UVic Engineering.

The goal of the national 30 by 30 initiative is to raise the proportion of newly licensed engineers who are women to 30 percent by the year 2030. Thirty percent is universally held as the tipping point for sustainable change. Mahovlich recognizes some young women may still be intimidated about going into engineering, and hopes that the UVic 30 by 30 endowment will encourage and support more young women entering the field.

Mahovlich personally funded the first award in 2019. It was presented to first-year student Isabel Dinneny at a gathering of engineering faculty, alumni, industry partners and friends, many of whom contributed to the endowed award. Dinneny, who hopes to pursue a path in aerospace or automotive engineering, said the award has erased any doubts she had about entering engineering.

I had some trepidation about choosing to entre a male-dominated field, but this award has shown me that even in a field where I will often be a minority, there will always be people supporting me. Receiving this award represents a vote of confidence in the power of young women to make a positive difference in the world.
Isabel Dinneny, recipient of the 30 by 30 Women in Engineering Award

Thanks to generous support from businesses and individuals, it is now fully endowed and will fund an annual award in perpetuity.

Donations to the 30 by 30 Women in Engineering Award are always welcome and will help the endowment—and in turn the annual amount recipients receive—​grow. You can donate online or contact 

A version of this article first appeared in the Engineering and Computer Science News, November 2019.


In this story

Keywords: alumni, philanthropy, award, gender, student life

People: Michelle Mahovlich, Isabel Dinneny

Publication: The Torch

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