Engineering Change: A Woman's Commitment to Promote Diversity in Engineering through Co-op and Work Learn Opportunities

"I think there’s still a need to raise awareness about engineering as a great career choice for female students– there’s nothing scary about it!"

Zahra Asadi

Degree: Bachelor of Applied Science

Program: Electrical Engineering

Campus: Vancouver

Year: 5th year (as of April 2023)

Home country: Iran

[This story was originally posted and written by UBC Engineering:]

Why did you want to study engineering?

From a young age, I've been fascinated with technology and its evolution. It amazed me how innovations were consistently advancing, each new development revolutionizing the way we lived. I chose to study engineering to immerse myself in this process of evolution, aiming to contribute my own innovative solutions in the field.

I recognized that engineering was often perceived as a male-dominated industry. I wanted to challenge this societal norm, to stand as proof that anyone, regardless of gender, can excel in technology and engineering.


Why did you choose UBC?

UBC has its extensive, diverse engineering curriculum and its first-year general engineering program which allows students to gain a broad understanding of the field before selecting a specific discipline. Another compelling factor was UBC's Engineering Co-op program, which offers students the unique opportunity to gain full-time work experience in their chosen study area. This can be extremely advantageous for defining their career direction before they graduate.


You did the Vantage One program. What was that like?

The Vantage One Program provided a distinctive experience of being part of a smaller, more intimate group of first-year engineering students at UBC. This smaller cohort model fosters a supportive atmosphere, easing the transition for international students as they connect with their peers and utilize available program resources like dedicated academic advisors and English support courses. This close-knit setting encourages students to step outside their comfort zones and enhances their learning experience before joining the second year of UBC Engineering.


Why did you choose to specialized in Electrical Engineering?

Electrical engineering granted me the opportunity to develop my abilities and interests beyond software development into the realm of hardware. This choice gave me a more comprehensive perspective of technical projects, effectively bridging the gap between software and hardware components.


Any highlights for you as you look back on your experience?

One of the standout aspects of my time at UBC, besides the program and resources, is undoubtedly the diverse individuals I have had the privilege of meeting.

The opportunity to connect with people from various corners of the globe, each with unique backgrounds and perspectives, is something I would not have experienced elsewhere. Being a part of UBC community fosters an environment where interaction with a wide and diverse group is possible, a resource I deem more valuable than the academics and courses themselves. The friendships formed and the personal and professional skills I have acquired from these relationships at UBC is one of the most precious highlights of my journey.

Tell us about your co-op experiences.

As a participant in the UBC Engineering Co-op program, I had the unique opportunity to gain experience in various companies, roles, and cities, granting me invaluable insights into different industries before completing my degree. My initial co-op role was as a Cloud Engineer at Deloitte, where I was introduced to tech consulting and client interaction. This was followed by another position as a Software Developer at BlackBerry, working on thrilling projects and gaining a deeper understanding of how BlackBerry operates as one of Canada's largest tech firms. I completed my third co-op at Microsoft, where I worked as a Cloud Solution Specialist and was exposed to the latest cloud technology use-cases. My final co-op role was as a Data Engineer at Scotiabank, which involved working with technical tools and data processing algorithms. This diverse work experience has significantly enriched my practical knowledge and skills, preparing me well for my future career in the tech industry.

You also did Work Learn – what can you tell us about that experience?

Work Learn program provides students the chance to engage in paid, part-time positions that enable them to gain practical experience while still attending their courses. My first Work Learn position was a rewarding 8-month experience as a Software Developer at UBC's Emerging Media Lab, where we collaborated on Virtual and Augmented Reality projects to create educational tools. Later, I embraced another Work Learn role as a Software Developer, responsible for maintaining the UBC Forestry faculty website. I also worked as a Research Assistant, focusing on the equity and diversity among international female students at UBC. Through these varied Work Learn roles, I've gained diverse experiences and skills that have enriched my academic journey and enhanced my preparedness for future professional roles.

Check out my interview with UBC Emerging Media lab. 


What was your favorite course at UBC?

My favorite course at UBC was undoubtedly New Venture Design. This unique interdisciplinary course brings together STEM and business students to forge a path in entrepreneurship by creating a viable product prototype and accompanying business plan. I had the opportunity to team up with like-minded, entrepreneurial peers to pinpoint a problem, conduct customer validation, and craft an innovative engineering prototype. The course offered a comprehensive insight into the startup lifecycle, from the spark of ideation to the tangible form of prototyping, and from pitching our idea to potential investors to building a robust financial model, forming a go-to-market strategy, and even participating in competitions. It was a compelling journey through the essence of startup culture and entrepreneurship.


What was the transition like for you as an international student? Did anything surprise you?

As an international student, the transition involved a multitude of responsibilities beyond adapting to a new academic environment and different language, as well as fostering connections with peers. Real-world challenges outside the university setting were also prevalent. Initially, I had a tough time managing these demands and allocating my time efficiently. The surprising element for me was the diverse set of peers at UBC, many of whom were navigating similar struggles.

This shared experience eased my transition considerably, as it made me realize I wasn't alone in dealing with these challenges, and there was a whole community that could relate and offer support.

What do you want to achieve in your career?

In my career, my primary aspiration is to make a significant impact as an engineer. I aim to be a well-rounded engineer, proficient not just in my technical speciality, but also skilled in social interactions, communication, and informed about societal issues. My goal is to utilize these skills to identify and address problems, leveraging my engineering prowess to make positive changes in the world.

Any words of advice for high school students considering engineering?

If you possess an analytical mindset and have passion for problem-solving, engineering can be an excellent career path, regardless of your gender.

It's essential to challenge the misconception, often perpetuated by societal norms, that engineering isn't an appropriate or fulfilling career choice for women. I've observed a notable gender gap in engineering programs and workplaces, and as an advocate for women in engineering, I want to emphasize the need for more diversity in this field.

I'd strongly advise high school students, particularly girls, considering engineering to reach out to female university students in the field. Ask them questions, express your doubts, and gain firsthand insights about the program. You'll find that many females in engineering are highly talented, analytical, and successful.

Tell us about your favourite on-campus experiences!

Favourite coffee shop on campus: Great Dane
Favourite study spot: IKB
Favourite place on campus to meet with friends: North Side of Campus