By Joseph Mathieu

Carleton Mechanical Engineering student Mieke Wilkinson has a lot to be thankful for.

The recent winner of a 2022 Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation (CEMF) Undergraduate Women in Engineering Scholarship comes from a long line of engineers and STEM cheerleaders who showed her how to explore a hands-on career while supporting other young women to do the same.

Since 1990, CEMF’s scholarship has been awarded annually to the most promising women in an accredited undergraduate engineering program in Canada. Wilkinson won the award for the Ontario region based on her leadership, volunteering and community involvement.

Wilkinson grew up in Kitchener-Waterloo and chose to study at Carleton for the chance to try its unique Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering Program.

“It’s difficult to say you’ll be going anywhere else for engineering when you live where I do,” she laughs.

Through Carleton’s co-op program, Mieke Wilkinson has been working as a research scholar at RWTH Aachen University’s Institute of Aerodynamics in Germany since May 2022.

On campus, she felt fulfilled with the close access to forest and rivers right in the heart of an active city. What really stood out was the personal investment her professors made; she found them approachable and always willing to answer her questions.

“They seemed to say, ‘we’re building you up to be more than just students. We want you to be people who are passionate about what they’re studying.’”

During her second year at Carleton, Wilkinson took on mentoring and facilitator roles. She conducted online workshops three times a week to help first-year students succeed in the Electronics and Mechatronics engineering course, and she tutored for the Elsie MacGill Learning Centre.

Wilkinson sees tutoring as a gift that she can share because she grew up with similar support.

“My house had the kitchen table as a math station if we didn’t understand something,” she says. “I’m the youngest child so my brother Matthew and sister Ineke helped me. And so did my grandfather, especially.”

One of her greatest influences was her grandfather Joseph DeGroot: an engineer, machinist and technical drafting teacher. During summers in her early teens, Wilkinson regularly helped him in the garage to fix up the lawnmower or build a rocking horse.

Joseph passed away in March 2018 and didn’t get see his youngest grandchild graduate from high school. Nevertheless, he was there with her—in a framed photo of them together at her kindergarten.

“As my grandfather and as a devoted teacher, it was important to me that he was a part of my graduation.”

Wilkinson holds a framed photo of her grandfather and role model, Joseph DeGroot, at her high school graduation.

Engineering is a Wilkinson family affair. Her mother Tanya DeGroot spent most of her mechanical engineering career in pharmaceutical manufacturing and management. Her father David Wilkinson is an electrical engineer who became head of operations for Waterloo North Hydro.

It was thanks to their encouragement to be curious and willing to fail that Wilkinson wants to support others.

“I love peer tutoring,” she says. “What I get out of it is this realization that we’re building something together.”

This seed may have been planted by one of her personal references for the CEMF award: Siobhan Watters, her high school principal and hockey coach. Watters started up the Grand River Collegiate Institute’s Code Like A Girl program and challenged her students to encourage others.

In Grade 11, Wilkinson gave tours to middle schoolers around her school’s lathe and 3D printers. She shoed them the technical design shop, where they could one day take carpentry, manufacturing and engineering classes.

“My principal was like, ‘we have to get more girls in STEM,’” says Wilkinson and she took that mission to heart.

Since May, Wilkinson has been a research scholar at RWTH Aachen University’s Institute of Aerodynamics. This is her second coop of four where, on an international research team, she experiments with optical measurement and data analysis to test the limits of aerodynamic aircraft design.

Wilkinson’s family played a key role in encouraging her pursuit of STEM, including her mother, Tanya DeGroot, who spent much of her mechanical engineering career in pharmaceutical manufacturing and management.

Her next co-op, also in Germany, will be at TU Dresden where she’ll work with 3D-printed bone graft substitutes—something near and dear to her athletic heart. She started at Carleton in biomedical mechanical engineering, but transitioned to pure mechanical engineering because of her interest in (and experience with) broken bones. She also found accessibility hardware very interesting from an early age.

“I designed a prosthetic leg in my last high school manufacturing class and I kind of realized that there’s actually so much you can do with engineering.”

Wilkinson hopes to find a career in which she can be philanthropic while also being like challenged. Wherever that path leads, she will remain as curious as ever and always talking to people.

“I’m really interested in the people side of engineering. I want to see where that takes me because there’s so much out there that I don’t know, so much out there that I want to learn about.”

Wilkinson hopes young women engineers of all streams will apply to next year’s CEMF awards because “it’s a great opportunity and a chance for them to become role models for someone else.”

Monday, August 8, 2022 in , , , , , ,
Share: Twitter, Facebook