By Ty Burke

Adjusting to university can be challenging, and Carleton’s Leading Engineering Applicant Program (LEAP) is helping make that transition a little easier for young women who are pursuing studies in engineering and information technology. Each year, LEAP invites prospective students to Carleton for a weekend of campus tours, lab visits, and opportunities for getting to know each other, before classes even start.

“Less than 20 per cent of Carleton’s engineering cohorts are female, and we’re really trying to strengthen those numbers,” says Nikhitha Gajudhur, Engineering Outreach Coordinator for the Faculty of Engineering and Design.

“When you study engineering, you don’t always see a lot of women in your classes, which can make it harder to connect with other female students.”

Group photo of participants, panelists, and Carleton Staff members at the 2020 REV UP event

“It’s important for us to emphasize that there are other female students across our programs and provide opportunities for them to interact and develop networks early on.”

When LEAP was first established more than a decade ago, the program invited exceptional co-ed applicants to campus. In 2015, with industry associations seeking to increase the number of women obtaining their professional licenses, and Carleton looking to grow the proportion of female engineering students in its classrooms, LEAP was adapted to focus exclusively on female applicants.

“I was interested in Carleton because it is one of only a few universities that offer aerospace engineering, but I’m from Mississauga, and I had never been to Ottawa before,” says Dency Amalraj, a LEAP participant from 2017 who is now a fourth year aerospace engineering student at Carleton.

LEAP attendees are provided with the opportunity to tour of a variety of Carleton engineering labs and information technology facilities.

“I visited for a weekend, and took a tour of campus and the engineering labs. We stayed in residence, and it was a sneak peek into what that would be like.”

“It was very hands-on, and I decided to go to Carleton as soon as I got back.”

“I really liked that the Rideau River was beside campus, and I met girls from different cities. I’m still close to some of them. We met during LEAP, then again during frosh week, and now we’re friends.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for in-person activities, but in October 2020, the Faculty of Engineering and Design staged a virtual reunion for students who chose to study at Carleton. Participants were given Uber Eats vouchers, and got together via Zoom.

Amalraj was a panelist at the event, and credits the program with helping answer the types of practical questions that aren’t covered in traditional recruitment materials.

“Students were able to ask very specific questions, like how examinations work,” says Amalraj. “That’s something that you probably would not learn from a brochure, or be able to find on the internet. The panel helps give a little insight into what studying at Carleton is really like.”

Aerospace engineering student Dency Amalraj served as a panelist during LEAP 2020 in February and returned to speak at this year’s online reunion.

When Micaela Bo participated in LEAP in 2017, she already knew she wanted to study at Carleton, but the program helped make adapting to university life a little easier.

“It helped me feel more comfortable, and that is the most nerve-wracking part of starting university, especially in engineering,” says Bo, who is now a fourth year biomedical and electrical engineering student.”

“It made me less nervous to know that I had already met some great people. There were many wonderful girls that I’m still friends with.”

Elizabeth John already had Carleton among her top choices when she participated in LEAP 2020 this past February, but the experience made it easier to make a final decision.

“I saw that Carleton had a welcoming community, but didn’t know much else about it,” says John, a first year student in the biomedical and mechanical engineering program.

“I admired how the university was striving towards females and engineering with LEAP — not to mention striving towards diversity within its community as a whole. When I visited the campus, I realized that this is truly the school that I wanted to go to.”

John also participated in the LEAP reunion event in October, and credits it with helping keep the ties with her fellow LEAP-ers active, even during a pandemic.

“It can be hard to interact with people in online classes, and I have enjoyed the online activities that we’ve done,” she says.

“It was really good to reunite with everybody that I met from the program. It helps maintain a connection with the university, even when you are not on campus.”

This past October, the Faculty of Engineering and Design hosted a virtual reunion for LEAP students who chose to study at Carleton.

The pandemic has been an unusual challenge for all students this year, but for first year biomedical and mechanical engineering student Ineesha Madana, LEAP 2020 helped make a difficult year a little bit better.

“It was probably the most fun thing I did all year,” says Madana. “It took me completely out of my comfort zone. You don’t really know anyone, and there are people all over from Canada, but everyone was in the same position, and we bonded over that.”

“I’m from Ottawa, but I had never been to Carleton campus before. After I went to LEAP, and got a feel for the faculty and professors, Carleton was really calling me.”

The next edition of Carleton’s LEAP program will be hosted from February 12-13, 2021.