Leading by example

Conestoga is committed to preparing young women for successful careers in the fields of engineering and technology.

We invite you to meet some of our administrators, instructors and recent graduates who are leading by example.

Did you know?

Fifty per cent of the managers in the School of Engineering & Technology are women.

Student Success Stories

Kristy Finnigan is a 2012 Graduate of Conestoga's Bachelor of Engineering degree in…

Julia Biedermann, PhD, P.Eng.

Executive Dean, Engineering, Technology & Trades (retired)

Math was my favourite subject when I was in elementary and secondary school. I loved to complete math challenges and enter math competitions. Despite excelling in math, no one ever suggested I should consider engineering as a career. It wasn’t until my first year of university that I discovered engineering and made the decision to switch programs. With engineering, I had the opportunity to apply my math skills to solving real world problems which made my studies and career even more rewarding.

It has been an interesting journey to get to where I am today. I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto and my Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo. I enjoyed being a student, working on independent research and sharing my knowledge through teaching assistant positions. Sprinkled throughout those years of post-secondary studies I also worked full-time, earned my professional engineer status (P.Eng.) and took two maternity leaves. I’ve experienced the challenges that all working parents share and learned to achieve a work-life balance.

I’ve spent the greater part of my career in post-secondary education. I began teaching at the University of Guelph in 1994 and in 1997 moved to Conestoga College to teach in the Civil Engineering Technology program. I held the position of program coordinator for two years before assuming the role of Chair of Engineering & IT responsible for the academic management of the civil, environmental, architecture and construction-related programs. In September 2013, I was promoted into my current position of Executive Dean for the Schools of Engineering, Technology & Trades.

I encourage all young women to consider a career in engineering. The ability to be successful in engineering does not depend on your gender; it requires an aptitude for math and a strong work ethic. An engineering career has many benefits including great career opportunities, good income earning potential, and a work environment that is often team-oriented and public-serving. In other words, it is a good option for any young woman to consider.

Learn more about Julia

Julia Biedermann
Julia Biedermann

Karen Cain, PhD, P.Eng.

Chair, School of Engineering & Technology

Growing up, I was never quite sure what I wanted to be. I was a typical teenage girl, with a love of fashion and a phone surgically attached to my ear. I had a great many interests and my favourite subject at school was math. I loved to shop and sew and knit and any other crafty type of thing I could get my hands on.

Did I know what engineers did? Not really. I thought about Architecture, but I wasn’t sure that I was artistic enough for that. Engineering appealed to me because it was organized and logical and at the end of the day, there was a correct answer – or a best answer at least. So, I headed out to get my degree in the field of mechanical engineering. Why mechanical? Well, it is not just about cars. Mechanical engineering is a very broad type of engineering, so I was able to try out many different subjects and figure out what I liked and what I didn’t. I took courses in materials and manufacturing, which I loved, and courses in automotive engine design and airplane performance, which I didn’t. The great thing was that I found what I loved. I love to test out different materials (steel and metals, plastics and ceramics) to see when they break. I love taking something that is broken and sleuthing out what happened to it – very CSI. And I love redesigning the machine, airplane, stapler, camera, and whatever else you can think of, in order to make it stronger and last longer.

When I got to the end of my studies, I thought why stop here. I continued to do a Master's and Ph.D., specializing in my favorite material – Composites. Why are they so special? Composites are the combination of two or more materials…like steel-reinforced concrete, Fiberglas-epoxy, carbon fibre and even chocolate chip cookies. They behave in weird and wonderful ways and can be stronger and stiffer than the toughest steel (not the cookies, they are just delicious).

During this time got married, had a child, wrote my thesis and developed a love of teaching. And that’s how I found myself at Conestoga where I taught for 10 years before becoming Chair of the department.

I found out that engineering is creative. It is inventing and imagining the future. Cars that drive themselves, lights that turn off when you leave the room, high-tech athletic fabrics that are anti-bacterial and glow-in-the-dark and, best of all, apps that tell you when your favourite shoe store is having a sale! And this is ‘in the now’. Can you imagine the future? If you would like to, then you should think about becoming an engineer too.

Learn more about Karen

Karen Cain
Karen Cain

Jessica Steffler

Civil Engineering Technology - Environmental, 2005

After graduating from Conestoga in 2005, I went straight into working for a contracting company, first as an estimator, then as an inspector. From there, I worked in technical sales which led to my current role as the Director of Career Promotions for the Ontario Civil Construction Careers Institute (OCCCI).

The OCCCI is a not-for-profit organization established by the civil construction industry to help manage the expected labour shortage. My role involves conducting outreach to high school students as a way of attracting interest in the construction industry.

I enjoy being a representative of this dynamic and exciting industry. Connecting with students, exposing them to the career possibilities that construction holds is certainly worthwhile. The added benefit comes when I am able to be a source of information and support for young women who are considering a career in construction engineering; this is both fulfilling and inspiring to me.

Learn more about Jessica

Jessica Steffler
Jessica Steffler

Anita Sparre


Thoughts and ideas about my future career path were seeds that started to germinate when I was in high school. I followed my curiosity and enrolled in technical courses like drafting, electronics and auto mechanics. In my last semester of high school I enrolled in an engineering co-op placement to get an understanding for the work involved. Purely by happenstance, my physics teacher overheard me talking about my co-op placement and afterwards asked me to consider applying for a unique program created in partnership between Conestoga-Rovers and Associates Ltd. (CRA), Conestoga College and the Waterloo Region District School Board. I applied and was the successful recipient of this program in 1996. The program was a 4-year commitment to work at CRA; one year full-time before entering Conestoga College for Civil Engineering Technology as well as summer employment throughout College.

Upon graduating from Civil Engineering Technology in 2000, I continued my career at CRA for another five years designing and inspecting subdivisions, roads, water supply and wastewater collection systems. While employed at CRA I became a part-time professor at Conestoga College; teaching 3rd year students how to use 3-dimensional software to design civil engineering projects. Later in my career I also became a part-time project adviser at Conestoga College for 3rd year Civil Engineering students; guiding the students through their final land development project.

In 2005, I decided to focus my career on development engineering and moved to the City of Kitchener where I was as an Engineering Technologist in the Development Engineering department, reviewing and approving engineering submissions for subdivisions and site plans. Years later and still in love with the development engineering field, I was drawn to the Town of Milton in 2012, which is the fastest growing community in Canada. At the Town of Milton I’m one of two coordinators in the Development Engineering department, where we supervise a group of engineering technologists and inspectors processing subdivision and site plan applications. Working in municipal government provides me with a very good work-life balance and opportunity to liaise with other related professionals such as planners, lawyers and accountants.

What started out as a seed for me in high school has grown into a flourishing tree through mentorship, determination and hard work. Being a woman working in engineering for almost 20 years, I can say that developing my interpersonal skills was as useful as my technical training. I encourage all ladies to explore your technical talents (this might take courage), develop your interpersonal skills, and participate in networking events. I really enjoy working in engineering and I’m pleased to see more women joining me!

Learn more about Anita

Anita Sparre
Anita Sparre

Iolanda Longo

Integrated Telecommunication & Computer Technology (2008) and Electronic Engineering Technology - Telecommunications (2005)

While I was enrolled in Conestoga's Electronic Systems Engineering degree program I had an internship at BlackBerry for the Software Enterprise Business Unit. This role turned into a full-time career upon graduating and offered me challenges and great opportunities to grow for eight memorable years. I gained technical skills with product design and strategic planning, software development, people management and release management that expanded upon what I had learned at Conestoga.

In 2014, I moved to California to accept a Senior Release Manager role at Salesforce for an Infrastructure Engineering team in San Francisco. The excitement of the scope and impact of the role as well as the corporate culture of Salesforce is what encouraged me to make the big leap to accept the offer. The corporate culture at Salesforce is commonly referred to as the "Aloha Spirit" by being genuine, inclusive, caring and compassionate while moving at an extraordinary rate to obtain innovative success. This balance of fast-paced innovation and focus on giving back to the community through a number of philanthropic opportunities is what makes my current job so unique and an exiting next chapter in my career.

Learn more about Iolanda

Iolanda Longo
Iolanda Longo