MONTREAL -- The Order of the White Rose, awarded in honour of the victims of the Polytechnique Montreal femicide, was awarded to Willow Dew, who followed in her mother's footsteps in chemical engineering.

The University of Alberta graduate noted that there are still barriers for women in engineering, even 32 years after the December 6, 1989 tragedy.

The 23-year-old graduate says she faced sexism during her studies. She recalled an internship where she was denied the opportunity to go into the field, claiming it was not a place for women.

"So I didn't have that opportunity to learn. It's that kind of thing that's not always a very aggressive barrier, but it prevents us from feeling welcome in the engineering world," the Alberta native told The Canadian Press in French.

"I think people are more accepting that women can be engineers ... that our gender does not determine our future. But it takes time and hard work," Dew said on the after a ceremony Thursday where she was awarded a $30,000 scholarship.

The prejudice Dew faced was far from a deterrent to her pursuit of engineering. She decided to pursue a master's degree in France in the field of biological and chemical engineering for a sustainable bioeconomy.

"It's about biological processes to meet the needs of our society, either for energy or products," she explained. "What I'm most interested in is plant-based energy, biomass. I think that's the future of energy and products that aren't based on oil and gas."

She then wants to pursue a doctorate and focus on research to develop renewable energy technologies.

The student was quickly introduced to the engineering community by both of her engineering parents. "They made me see the world through the eyes of an engineer. Even when I was 10 or 12, I think I knew I wanted to be an engineer," she said.

Her mother was an inspirational and confident engineering student when the massacre at Polytechnique Montreal killed 14 women.

Dew said it is "moving" to be awarded the Order of the White Rose in memory of these victims, adding in her speech that, "It is essential as an engineer to honour those students who were in our shoes before us."

The seventh recipient encouraged young women to pursue engineering despite the barriers and intolerance that still exist. She argued that more than 50 per cent of the population needs to be able to be a part of the thinking on climate change.

The presentation of the Order of the White Rose comes during a week of commemoration of the massacre. The memory of the 14 victims is being honoured in a series of activities that ends on Dec. 6, the day of the anti-women attack.

At 8:30 a.m. next Monday, representatives and student associations from Polytechnique Montreal will lay wreaths of white roses in front of the commemorative plaque located outside the institution.

In the evening at 5:10 p.m., the time the first shots were fired, 14 beams of light will be lit up every few seconds from Mount Royal. No gathering will take place due to the pandemic, but Polytechnique Montréal is planning a live broadcast on social media.

The public is also invited to observe a minute of silence during the event.

This report by The Canadian Press was first pubished in French on Dec. 2, 2021. 


This article was produced with the financial support of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Grants.