Engineering student recognized for leadership and supporting women in STEM

Shayna Earle wearing a hard hat outside a massive industrial building labelled Bunge.

Third-year student Shayna Earle has been awarded the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation’s Enbridge Award to continue her work supporting women in engineering.

Soon after Shayna Earle received her bright green hardhat, she slapped a huge sticker on it.

It proudly reads: “Women in Eng.”

This third-year student and extraordinary community champion has been selected as a recipient of the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation (CEMF) 2022 undergraduate ambassador awards.

Earle will receive the Enbridge award, sponsored by the Canadian energy delivery company, which comes with $10,000 and an opportunity to present to high school students and advocate for women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“I love everything these awards stand for in terms of encouraging women not only to continue in engineering, but the idea of giving back to the community and fostering a future,” Earle said.

“It’s something that I’ve really tried to commit time and effort into because I know that lots of women in front of me led the way, and I’d really like to help.”

The CEMF selects award winners not just for their excellence in academics, but for being strong leaders and role models.

“I’m grateful that they see me as one,” she said, “even though being in a male-dominated space, it’s not the easiest to always see yourself as a role model.”

Earle, who is specializing in chemical engineering as part of the iBioMed program, is the co-president of the McMaster Women in Engineering Society, which works to help women and non-binary students feel empowered and supported.

Far from her home in New Brunswick, Earle joined the club in her first year to help with homesickness: it’s this beautiful community at McMaster, the “Fireball Family,” that has kept her going, she said.

“I can’t give enough praise…the hours and hours that these lovely women put in. I’m forever grateful and they’ve become like a little family,” Earle said.

She knows first-hand the self-doubt and various obstacles women in engineering confront in their career path. In order to ensure students have guidance from the moment they join the McMaster Engineering community, Earle has helped run the club’s longstanding program that regularly pairs first-year students with mentors to create a network of support.

What gets her through the imposter syndrome, Earle said, are the mentors in her field that can connect and reflect with the challenges she’s facing.

Kim Jones, associate professor in chemical engineering and chair of the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering, is a huge inspiration, she says.

Never “in a million years,” Earle said, would she had imagined herself on a job site. But this spring, she’s been fulfilling an industrial co-op position at Bunge in Hamilton.

Earle describes the experience as solving puzzles: a different problem every day followed by exhilaration when she comes across the solution.

“It’s a rush, it’s fantastic and it’s so rewarding,” she said.


At McMaster, Earle created the McMaster Engineering Competition’s first-ever Bio-Engineering Competition in 2019, has helped launched an inclusion and diversity in engineering allyship conference jointly hosted by WIE, the McMaster chapters of the National Society of Black Engineers and EngiQueers, and continues to put her heart into countless volunteering opportunities.

When it comes to research, Earle worked in the Latulippe Lab as an intern after receiving a BioCanRx summer studentship. She continues to work with Jones on an inclusive teamwork project and has been involved on multiple research projects pertaining to the experience of first-year students with Bosco Yu and Shelir Ebrahimi.

When Jones thinks of her student, she’s struck by her allyship and advocacy, passion for engineering education and devotion to improving it for marginalized groups: a true “leader of tomorrow.”

“She has maintained a firm commitment to bettering the world around her, whether through environmental improvements, biomedical approaches or recommending interventions for more inclusive engineering education. This interdisciplinary excellence gives Shay the potential to make breakthroughs in engineering that will fundamentally improve our society,” Jones said.

For Earle, the equation is clear: diverse teams yield better results. It pains her, she said, to think about how many people could be incredible engineers but are excluded.

“She is leading change to improve the experience of future engineers, making her a role model and ambassador for women in engineering. Shayna is an extraordinary ambassador for the engineering profession and I am proud she has been recognized with this extraordinary award,” said Carlos Filipe, chair of chemical engineering.

Supportive sisterhood

The resilience built in studying engineering and being involved in the community has influenced Earle’s other passions, where the bonds of sisterhood contribute to success.

A synchronized swimmer since the age of four, Earle competes on the McMaster varsity team. It’s a passionate and motivated group of women who push each other to perform their best, she says.

They swim hard and “spice it up”– surprising judges with energizing music arrangements of Pitbull and Lizzo, all the while placing among the top 10 teams in the country.

The support of these “bad girls of synchro” reminds her that “other people aren’t the competition.”

“Their whole role there is to literally support you, whether it’s physically in the water or in life,” she said.

One of the very few sports competed in solely by women at the Olympic Games, synchronized swimming requires extreme commitment, drive and perfectionism. It’s a sport where the timing of movements down to the millisecond, precise angles and mastery of physics can mean the difference between victory or disaster.

“I think it’s an engineer’s dream, honestly,” Earle says with a laugh.

From the pool to processing plants to the lab, Earle shines among women who are focused on building each other up.

“I know the experience. I’ve lived it and I’ve seen the impact that these role models can have,” she said. “I just want to be that person for someone, or many people, in an ideal world.”