When Natalie Panek was studying mechanical engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering (and helping to build the University of Calgary’s first solar car in 2005), there were women in her field to look up to, but she had to look long and hard to find them.
Now Panek, the mission systems and operations engineer with Toronto’s MDA Space Missions, is doing what she can to make sure other young women who want to be scientist or engineers have mentors to encourage them.
Panek, BSc’07, the winner of the 2013 University of Calgary GOLD award, has joined the newly formed Cybermentor Advisory Council to help guide the online program that links girls in Grades 6 to 12 in Alberta with women in science and engineering.
“Along the way I have had female mentors, it’s just you have to look for them harder,” Panek says. “With Cybermentor, you have easy access to a whole lot of women doing amazing things.” She has mentored several young women through the program — emailing back and forth — and she says it’s “pretty amazing” to see how the girls open up and ask more questions over the course of the year.
“They’re all questions that I had when I was in high school wondering about university and the career paths you can take or how to apply for scholarship funding,” she says. “It’s really rewarding to be able to pass on that knowledge that I really had to look so hard for.”
As a member of the Advisory Council, Panek’s looking forward to helping guide Cybermentor to “the next level” and she also wants to do what she can to attract more attention to women in science and engineering.
“I’ve said it before and I will say it many times: Young women recognize reality TV stars but they don’t recognize female engineers or scientists because they’re not really at the forefront in the media.”
Panek is committed to changing that. The space engineer and rocket scientist has given TED talks and made other appearances encouraging women as well as advancing her own career, where right now, she’s working on a number of projects, including developing dextrous tools for on orbit servicing and working on a lunar dust mitigation study.