Article

Bursaries open doors for women in construction

0 63 Labour

by Ian Harvey

The Canadian Association of Women in Construction bursary has proven helpful to women like Ana Saldarriaga, who has struggled to overcome the many hurdles newcomers face.

Skills training

To pursue her dream of being an architect, Ana Saldarriaga has travelled halfway up the globe from her native Colombia with her children and husband.

Since arriving in Canada four years ago, she has struggled to overcome the many hurdles newcomers face, including upgrading her education to Canadian standards, since her degrees weren’t recognized here.

“I had to finish high school and restart and I was already 24 years old,” she said.

Once in school, however, it was apparent to her teachers that she had something special and she soon found herself in the University of Toronto’s Architecture program.

And that’s where one of her professors suggested she apply for the Canadian Association of Women in Construction bursary.

“And I got it — $1,000,” she said.

“I pay a lot of tuition, so every little bit helps, and I have two kids as well, seven and three, so someone has to care for them while I study. Luckily my husband has a good job, so we can balance the house and study.”

The CAWIC amount may be relative to book and tuition costs but, the statement it made to the three recipients this year — including Mayuko Ng who is studying civil engineering at Ryerson University and Marianne Touchie, studying civil engineering at University of Toronto — was worth a million dollars.

“It’s hard especially in first year and for the mechanical engineering students, who go into a class of 100, and there are maybe two other women,” said Touchie.

“CAWIC makes you feel part of a network and that is so important.”

Both Saldarriaga and Touchie said one of the best experiences with the bursary award was attending the gala dinner where they met a room full of women professionals connected to the construction industry.

The CAWIC has about 130 members and this year hopes to boost that to 165. The group organizes fundraisers for such things as the bursary program and also provides a network organization for women from diverse areas of construction.

It provides help in getting started in the construction industry, mentoring, help choosing careers and where to go for specialized training for women.

“I met a Latina from Argentina,” said Saldarriaga.

“She’s a builder in the GTA and said she’d give me a job if I needed work. It was a very good door to have opened for you.”

Touchie, 29, agreed, saying the feeling of acceptance and knowing that her career path has already been walked by many women before her is a great confidence booster.

“Next year we’re going to start something for the women at the university because there’s nothing like this and it’s needed,” says Touchie who is hoping to specialize in green building construction and is planning to write her master’s thesis on the Toronto Tower Renewal pilot project.

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