MME's Dr. Heidi Ploeg appointed as inaugural Chair for Women in Engineering

Posted on October 15, 2020


Dr. Heidi Ploeg, BSc’88, MSc’91, PhD’00, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, has been appointed as the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science’s inaugural Chair for Women in Engineering for a five-year term. This new role has been made possible through a $3 million gift from an anonymous engineering alumni member passionate about ensuring that more women become leaders in engineering education and practice.

“With this chair, we’ll have the opportunity to support women in all stages of their engineering careers and education from elementary school through to senior faculty levels,” says Dr. Heidi Ploeg, pictured here in 2019 with a member of her research team.

Women have faced significant obstacles to STEM careers over time, and continue to be under-represented in these industries. According to Engineers Canada, only 18 percent of working engineers licenced in Canada are women.

The new Chair has a mandate to increase the number of women who become practicing engineers and scholars. The gift will be used to fund research by the Chair, and to develop and deliver new curricula that is inclusive to women, including support for the MECH 333 course Gender, Engineering and Technology pioneered by MECH professor emerita Dr. Geneviève Dumas. The gift will also support existing outreach and support programs aimed at encouraging women and girls to pursue education and careers in engineering fields.

“We will be providing support for current programs such as Aboriginal Access to Engineering and Connections Engineering Outreach,” says Dr. Ploeg. “There will also be a seminar series to bring women experts in their respective STEM fields to campus, as well as training and mentorship programs for faculty, and new course development."

“I’ve had undergraduate students tell me, ‘It wasn’t until fourth year before I was taught by my first woman professor’ and that’s clearly wrong,” says Dr. Keith Pilkey, head of the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. “Dr. Ploeg is a world-class researcher and a highly accomplished teacher and engineer. She also has a background in advocacy, curriculum development, outreach, and in providing research opportunities for students in under-represented groups in Mechanical Engineering, including women. Her experience will be of tremendous benefit in areas where we know we need help: in growing the numbers of women on faculty, women applying to Queen’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs, and women pursuing careers in the engineering profession.”

Dr. Ploeg notes that the new Chair opens the door to a new generation of women scholars who will be fully supported as they develop their careers. “The promotion of women in engineering is something that all women in engineering do naturally,” she says. “It’s something I’ve always done as part of my work. It’s what I’m excited about, why I come to work, what I do at work anyway. This chair validates that. It really gives me the time and resources to carry on that work in a very visible and effective way.”

"This new Chair for Women in Engineering is an important step in the much-needed process of positive change," says Dr. Kevin Deluzio, Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. "It would not have been possible this year without this incredibly generous $3 million donation from an engineering alumni family. Dr. Ploeg has a vision to make engineering more attractive to a more diverse student body who are motivated to help make the world a better place. I'm excited that she has agreed to guide Queen's engineering at the vanguard of women engineering scholars in Canada. Thanks to our donor, she now has the opportunity and resources to have more of an impact to increase the number of women engineering students.”