Biomedical engineering student Eleanor Li provides support for fellow women in a male-dominated field
Photos by YogaPanda Photography
SFU student, Eleanor Li has been chosen as one of Vancouver’s best and brightest students, and joins the list of nominees for Vancouver’s Top 24 under 24. The newspaper 24 Hours annually profiles students who excel in volunteer work, entrepreneurial spirit or technological innovation.
In addition to her major as a biomedical engineer, Li serves as president of the SFU Women in Engineering Group (WEG), and is the owner of Onana Knitted Accessories. Eleanor was also recognized as Co-op Student of the Year for 2012.
As president of WEG, Li guides fellow female engineering students in their studies. She is particularly passionate about increasing the number of female students entering into the engineering field, “Only around 14 per cent of the undergraduate engineering faculty consists of female students,” says Li. “Guys go into science and math because they believe they are generally good at these subjects, while for girls it’s easier to get scared and feel extra pressure when there is an unequal gender ratio.”
Li says this pressure does not go away once students graduate and enter into industry. “Approximately 20 per cent of industry consists of female engineers and there hasn’t been an increase in this percentage in a few years,” says Li, “I have heard of some cases where a lady and a man are up for a management position, and the lady is disregarded because of questions like: will she want a family, how much time will she take off work, and how long will she want to work?” By outreaching to female high school students, supporting female engineers at SFU, and hosting corporate industry nights, she hopes to see an increase in the number of female engineers.
When Li is not studying, or tackling gender issues, she runs her own knitting business, Onana Knitted Accessories. “I didn’t set out to start a business,” she recalled. “I saw knitted cozies on Granville Island, and I itched to go home and make one. I have always knitted, so I had the materials and just looked at a picture and went for it.” After she made a few, she posted her work on Facebook, where friends asked if they were sale. “It seemed too good to be true that people wanted to buy these,” Li said. These cozies are for mugs or tumblers and are “totally customizable.”
Although graduation is a few semesters away for Li she says she has a lot of ideas. “I want to join Engineers Without Borders,” she says, “I want to take the skills I have learned in undergraduate to go to underdeveloped countries and help them with things like water.” However, she says she wants it to be a learning experience for both groups. “I feel like I would learn so much as a person by doing that; I would learn so much through learning their culture.”