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Janna Henzl : The Chemical Equation for A Girl in Motion

Janna Henzl is currently in her third year in the Chemical Engineering program. She’s currently one of many women in engineering taking campus by storm through her involvement in extracurriculars, her dedication to her academics, as well as her equally important priorities towards her mental and physical wellness. I had a chance to catch up with Janna after her long day of classes and tutorials. With a lot of warmth and energy, here’s what this week’s campus celebrity had to say:  

What inspired you to choose engineering as a career path?  

I knew I wanted to go into a science program. I just wasn’t sure where I wanted to wanted to go. I just really liked science. But I had a family friend who was doing her PHD in electrical engineering and she was kind of just like try and give it a shot. If you don’t get in then that’s fine and if you do, why not try it. So I applied to one engineering program and I got in so I just wanted to try it out.

Was Waterloo your first choice for post secondary?  

I did want to go to Waterloo. The co-op program sold me. I just wasn’t sure what program so I applied to a couple of science programs and engineering.

What would you say your biggest accomplishment has been in the program so far?

To be honest, I’m not much of an academic. I’m here for the degree but I’m a big believer in all your extra curricular are what make up your experience. So for me the biggest accomplishment for me right now is a work in progress. I am currently chairing the Ontario engineering competition. It’s keeping me busy for sure. But it’s so much fun to do all the planning and preparation and interacting with people in the community and sponsor organizations. So if I were to list one achievement it would be my involvement with that.

Can you tell me more about the Ontario Engineering Competition?

So it’s a provincial competition. So basically every university runs their own internal organization where they host their own mini competitions. And then they send the winning teams to us. We do seven different competitions. They’re all engineering related. Some are more technical than others. For example, we also do a debate competition just to kind of test how people communicate and things like that. The unique thing about the competition is that it’s hosted by a different university every year. So earlier this year, it was hosted by Ryerson University, next year we’ll be hosting it. And then the year after it’s going to Carleton University.

How did you get involved as chair?

Well I had gotten involved in the Waterloo Engineering Competition from last summer and the one before that that we ran. Our VP external mentioned that they were looking to bid and put together a pitch on why your school would make an ideal host. And we went from there. I put together the bid and presented it to the board that we report to and we won it!

That’s amazing! What has been the greatest challenge?

Definitely the balance. Trying to balance the workload, the sports, and trying to keep healthy has been the biggest challenge. Another one is dealing with the stereotype of being a woman in engineering. It’s so funny sometimes you talk to people our age and they say, ‘oh that doesn’t really exist anymore, it’s fine!’ And then you’re like ‘hmm not so much.’ My perspective has been kind of interesting. I’ve never really had problems with the older generation. They’re generally very caring. Most of my bosses during my coop terms are male but they’re usually very supportive despite my gender. But I’ve definitely had problems with people my age. Kind of – not being mean – but definitely belittling what I can do. It very interesting to deal with people your own age being that way.

Have you faced any discrimination from your bosses?

I’ve never had a boss do it. I’ve def heard stories of other girls in workplaces whose bosses have done that. But I find it’s more of a company culture thing. If you are in an organization that celebrates diversity then they reflect that. Everywhere I worked, I’ve never had a problem with it. I’ve heard of some smaller companies that have had 1 female student amongst 10-15 other male engineers and its definitely hard.

How would you rate the ratio between men and women in your program?

Chemical is actually pretty good. I think we’re around 30% girls. I can definitely count them past both my hands which is an accomplishment. It definitely varies. Mechanical and computer is a lot less.

Can you describe your coop experiences?

I’ve had a lot of office jobs. So it’s been a lot of analysis and paper work and stuff like that. I haven’t faced a lot of discrimination. The last job was more hands on. I played on the floor, saw the construction and projects, and played with the machines. Most people are actually welcoming. Maybe it’s because I’m a student.  The actual workplace would probably be a lot different. They understand that I’m learning.

How can we empower more girls to join STEM programs?

I believe that girls turn away is because they feel they’ll be belittled in their programs. But as long as you can get the point across that the culture is not like that, it would be a lot more of a pull for them. I was scared that people were going to judge me because I was a girl but that’s one case in a thousand. As long as girls know what they’re applying they’ll know it’s not like that. People are generally pretty nice.

What advice do you have for girls looking to join STEM programs?

Take a chance and go for it! You can fall in love with it, which is great because we get more women in stem. If you find that you hate it, then that’s good too so honestly I think it’s worth taking that risk.


Tasnia is currently a student at the University of Waterloo in the Honours Rhetoric and Professional Writing Coop Program. With an interest in journalism and the communication industry, her passions include reading, writing, and watching commercials on YouTube. Follow her on twitter @tasnia_n! 
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