Industry leaders champion women in science at St. Margaret’s School

St. Margaret’s hosts industry leading women in STEM field, April 20 and 21

In a world that’s full of opportunity, don’t close the door on science, says an industry leader in Canada.

Donna Garbutt is the CEO of Maxxam, a Canadian market leader in analytical services and solutions to the energy, environmental, food and DNA industries. Shealso serves as a member of the Government of Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council.

The accomplished Garbutt will spend time with young female students in Grades 5 to 10 from across the province at the Head and Hearts to Action (HH2A), a STEM (sciences, technology, engineering and math) focused leadership conference at St. Margaret’s School in Saanich, Thursday night and all-day Friday. The conference asks the students to look past the challenges of the future and envision unique solutions.

“I like to encourage young women, and young people in general, that the reality is we use technology in everything we do,” Garbutt said. “If you use technology and want to work in it, then you need a foundation to understand it.”

Garbutt joins “rocket scientist” Natalie Panek, an aspiring astronaut currently working in space robotics, and Rosemary Chapdelaine, VP of aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Canada as keynote speakers for the future-focused, and girls-focused leadership conference. The event is for young female students across the Island, featuring innovative presentations, hands-on opportunities for participants, and speakers who have flourished professionally in STEM fields: rocket science, analytics, and computer engineering.

Garbutt’s company, Maxxam, runs more than 30 labs across the country (and more in the U.S.) including one that focuses on environmental materials testing on Tennyson Place.

Workshops on Friday will explore a wide range of topics including augmented and virtual reality, art and applications of 3-D printing, women working in the wild, as well as personal development topics like encouraging physical literacy, escape rooms as a problem-solving tool, and developing leadership skills through drama.

“We want to provide girls with all the tools required to put themselves front-and-centre as leaders in all realms of society and contribute their passion and ethical ingenuity in this fast-developing world,” says Cathy Thornicroft, St. Margaret’s Head of School.

Statistics Canada’s 2011 numbers showed an imbalance between the number of men (78 per cent) and women working in STEM careers in Canada that experts believe has changed only slightly (new census numbers are on the way).

The key to is to stay well rounded by studying the sciences, too, Garbutt said. Otherwise, you’re closing doors on a fast growing sector of the economy.

“This wasn’t the way it was several years ago,” Garbutt said. “Often there was a push [for women] to go into law, or something different, and the sciences got ignored a little bit, and [yet] that’s a big piece of where the economy is going.

“Don’t discount [STEM] because it’s maybe not something your parents or your grandparents did.”

reporter@saanichnews.com