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This article was published 4/12/2017 (1292 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The massacre of 14 female engineering students in Montreal was before Ella Thomson was born, but it so moved her, she assembled a memorial service at University of Manitoba three years ago.
Last week, Thomson honoured those women again by accepting the Order of the White Rose and a $30,000 scholarship. The scholarship was created to remember the Ecole Polytechnique shooting from 1989 and encourage more female engineers.
"It's a huge honour. It stems from an awful tragedy but I think it's an important symbol of the fact that women are participating equally in engineering," said Thomson in a telephone interview.
The annual award, established three years ago, goes to a female engineering student who excels in academics, technical achievement, community service and outreach. At the ceremony in Montreal, Thomson also received a necklace and 14 white roses in memory of the young women killed.
Thomson, 21, grew up in St. Vital and attended Balmoral Hall, a private girls' school. She chose to go into electrical engineering because "its about inventing new things and trying to get things working better."
She completed her undergraduate work at U of M earlier this year, finishing in the top 10 grade point average out of 6,000 undergraduate students. She is currently studying for her PhD in electrical engineering at Stanford University in California.
Thomson also launched a volunteer program for International Hope Canada, which gathers donations of used medical equipment in Manitoba and Ontario to send to developing countries. Thomson started a program where engineering students volunteer their time to test and repair equipment before shipping. "It's a good way for engineering students to use our skills that we've learned but also help save a lot of the equipment," she said.
The Ecole Polytechnique massacre was carried out by a man targeting female engineering students because he claimed feminism had ruined his life. It is the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history.
Thomson said the tragedy informed her of the violence women have faced in the past when pursuing male-dominated fields.
"It's very meaningful to me to get the award. As a female student in engineering, I want to do the best I can but I also want to do as much I can to encourage other women and young girls to think of pursuing engineering as a career," she said.
She estimated about 20 per cent of her fellow engineering students at U of M were female. "It's a huge increase from the past but there's also still a big discrepancy," she said.
"I'm sure throughout history a lot of women would have made excellent engineers but when girls aren't encouraged to pursue careers in the sciences, you're losing half of your potential talent in that field," she said.
That's changing a lot and there are programs in place now to encourage more girls to think about engineering.
"You're only increasing the number of minds you have in a particular field," she said.