NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Dr. Denise S. D. Stilling

Be GRITTY --- persevere and be persistent

Associate Professor, Industrial Systems Engineering
University of Regina

D.S.D. Stilling graduated with B.E, M.A.Sc. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Saskatchewan and is currently employed as an Industrial Systems Engineering professor at the University of Regina. In addition to being a wife, mother of four and active member in the community, her academic record includes teaching a variety of technical and applied design engineering courses and is one of the most sought after capstone project supervisor with successful projects leading to students winning local and national awards.

Her research has developed and transferred technology in fields of mechanical, agricultural, biomedical and biomechanical and industrial engineering. Research has included developing expert systems for coaching, biomechanical analyzing of pathologies and elite athletic performances, assisting in designing an opthamolic shunt, researching to detect and detonate landmines, reclaiming waste and designing value-added products and processes (creating biodegradable packaging from flax straw) and many other projects.

In addition to having held NSERC funding, she has received provincial funds and held industrial partnership contracts. She has an extensive record of contributions to the community and University for service (for example, she has been a faculty advisor from the onset of the Engineers Without Borders UofR Student chapter, chair for UofR Council Committee on Research, lead for indigenization in engineering, member of the APEGS 30 by 30 task group, member and a policy decision participant with the Royal LifeSaving Society, as an emerging writer/poet is the facilitator of Ink Prints at public library, and many others.

As an academic, what is your favourite part of your job?

Friday at 7:30 p.m. so I can travel 255 km to be with my family for the weekend. Seriously, I enjoy the research with the challenges of solving practical industry problems that will benefit society, and I feel rewarded when I share and inspire others as I teach undergraduates and graduate students. The U/G capstone projects and courses that I develop with strong design components or those involving interaction with industry are my preferred courses. I enjoy administration and service that includes collaborating and cooperating to advance programs, developing support networks and creating policies for ensuring values of integrity, impartiality, fairness, and excellence, along with those for ensuring a safe, healthy work environment.

The frustrating moments of my job are administrative red tape that strangles creativity and the transfer of technology and research where false and unfair allegations result in “bullying” and deterring progress.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

Current research is value-added products and processing from waste streams; in particular agriculture fibre (flax and hemp crop residue), crushed tires and reclaimed plastic packaging. The research encompasses the reclamation of waste, size reduction and manufacturing of innovative material, empirical and analytical property assessment and subsequently optimizing production, product design with life cycle analysis along with the transfer of technology into industrial systems engineering for commercialization. The results are discoveries to advance fundamentals for recycling and reuse to manage the inherent heterogeneity, inconsistencies and nonlinearities that pose processing, manufacturing, and subsequent designs and build challenges. Some of the recent successes are biodegradable dinnerware from flax straw, wood preservative carrier pad using flax straw, and acoustic damping material from crushed tire and agricultural crop residue.

The discovering phase is exciting but the benefits to society and the possible new revenue streams and opportunities being generated for others are equally rewarding. This research provides opportunities to work with industry and enthusiastic entrepreneurs.

What types of professions can students graduating in your field enter?

Professional positions held by graduates include being an industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, process engineering, project manager, engineering sales and instruction positions, researchers, etc. Their contributions are far reaching including professional contributions contributing to the health and safety of society and being an active member of society.

Is your workplace male-dominated? If so, how do you negotiate being a woman in a male-dominated workplace and/or field?

YES --engineering in both academics and industry is male dominated.

Being a member in a male-dominated field involves my being the best that I can be then giving another 25%!!!

Unfortunately, there is not gender equality; however, the “speak” by leaders and peers is for gender equality with the practice lagging significantly. The awareness of the gender inequality that occurs daily is often unrecognized.

My most effective strategy for gaining support is to share ideas with a male colleague who either will repeat or presents the idea so the ideas can be heard. I find being pleasant and persistent is the best way to negotiate being a woman in a male-dominated field. The abilities to forgive and to continue are valuable

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

The most effective strategy is to be inclusive from conception to practice and to be positive in showcasing diversity. The first step is awareness of the diversity: both the differences and similarities along with the benefits and challenges. Personally, by maintaining my personal values (inclusivity, humanity, integrity, impartiality, neutrality, etc.) in my professional environment and having my actions reflect these values is how I foster and encourage diversity in the workplace. When allowed, I sit on hiring and other committees where I actively foster diversity. As well, participating with groups with values that foster and encourage diversity such as Engineers Without Borders and similar organizations (Red Cross) has been an avenue for success in this area.

What kinds of systemic support could institutions provide to help encourage girls and women to pursue careers in science and engineering?

Here is a list to generate additional possibilities:

What advice would you give to girls or young women who are interested in careers in science or engineering?

Be GRITTY --- persevere and be persistent

Most importantly maintain a sense of humor as well as the ability to forgive others, always and often! Be happy and laugh daily!

You can do whatever you’d love to do and want to do. Remember you are capable of more than you ever believed possible. Always remember why you wanted and love your chosen career because there will be obstacles and challenges that you never imagined, but if you truly want to do it, just go for and do it!.

Lastly, have a support system: such as, a mentor (male or female) to support you. I also have a touchstone talisman for support --it can be a motivating quote, poster or an entire poem like “IF” by Rudyard Kipling.

As a professional in science or engineering, who are your role models and mentors?

For a role model . . . Leonardo Di Vinci. Da Vinici was an engineer, scientist, anatomist, artist, painter, sculptor, and architect! – I feel Da Vinci was a genius who epitomized the Renaissance humanist concept. His scientific inquiry, keen powers of observation, and quest for knowledge and understanding guided his thinking and behavior resulting in mechanical inventions centuries ahead of his time and graphic representations that advanced the life science and art. (He makes an awesome Teenage Mutant Turtle too!)

My number one mentor and support is undoubtedly my husband who has supported and mentored women in his male-dominated field of being a conservation officer. He always listens and encourages my endeavors through the inequalities and barriers. Truly, I have a mosaic of support and role models there are not only those whom I want to imitate and emulate, but also those whom I strive not be like in any way whatsoever. (I try to be one of those role models who people want to be like.)