Finding her place in STEM

As the only female in her secondary school computer science class, Elin Liu felt the pressure of representing women in STEM. A scholarship provided by donors Yves and Cynthia Bled gave her a boost of confidence. Now, she wants to help other female engineering students find their place in STEM.

By Beth Bohnert Office of Advancement

As early as grade 8, Elin Liu knew she wanted to apply to Waterloo’s Mechatronics Engineering program. "I joined my school’s robotics team because I enjoyed problem-solving and things that move," she says.

In secondary school, Elin’s favourite courses were in science, technology and math (STEM). However, as the only female student in her Grade 12 computer science class, "I felt that I was representing females in STEM and I was terrified of messing up," she says. "I was scared to ask ’stupid’ questions in class, I would second-guess my answers before participating in discussions, and I worried that I wasn’t smart enough to be in STEM."

Elin needn’t have worried. In Waterloo’s Mechatronics Engineering program, she found a supportive environment where she could further develop her skills. Through Tron Days competitions, cumulative course projects (she built a chess-playing robot) and co-op work terms, she also gained the hands-on experience she was looking for. And support from two Waterloo donors confirmed that Elin does indeed have a place in STEM.

Former professors Yves and Cynthia Bled established student awards at several Canadian universities. At Waterloo, they created the Yves and Cynthia Bled Women in Engineering Scholarship to support undergraduate students in engineering programs where women are underrepresented.

Through this scholarship, the couple said that they hoped more female students could reap the benefits of Waterloo Engineering programs and apply their skills to the world’s problems. Yves sadly passed away in 2019 and Cynthia passed away in August of this year. But because the Bleds chose to endow their award, the couple’s philanthropic legacy lives on and will benefit many more talented students like Elin.

Elin recently completed a co-op term at Apple, where she worked as a hardware engineer. While she’s not certain what her future holds, she’s grateful for the vote of confidence the scholarship represents. And she knows that she too wants to give back by mentoring future female engineers.

"To me, receiving this scholarship is a sign that ’Yes, I do belong here,’" she says. "I hope to increase female representation in engineering while also helping younger students feel like they belong here too."

How Waterloo donors are shaping the future

Whether they are helping students discover their potential or supporting research that addresses the world’s most complex problems, donors are making a difference.

An advocate for equity

Rico Mariani (BMath ’88) knows how challenging the tech industry can be - and even more so for women and members of other underrepresented groups. As part of his personal commitment to inclusion and equity, he created scholarships to encourage Waterloo students in these groups.

"It’s my turn to support the next generation"

Ian Evans (BES ’14, MSc ’17) shares why he decided to give back and the method that works best for him


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