Kritika Mehta knew what she was talking about when she urged struggling first-year Waterloo Engineering students to stick with it and just keep trying.
A year earlier, she was close to quitting the biomedical engineering program during her own difficult transition from high school to university.
Used to getting marks in the high 90s, Mehta didn’t know anybody in her class and scraped by with 60 per cent on her first engineering test.
“It was really tough,” she recalled. “You’re basically on your own.”
Supported by relatives in Toronto and after making a close friend in her program, Mehta had persevered and learned to put things in perspective by her second year.
That’s when she volunteered as a peer leader for 16 first-year female students in a Women in Engineering living-learning community at the St. Paul’s University College residence.
In one-on-one sessions and at weekly dinners, Mehta did a lot of listening and provided plenty of encouragement.
“Some of them were struggling, just like me in first year,” she said. “I could understand where they were coming from and I just told them not to give up, that they were still in a good place.”
Sharing her experiences with other young women allowed Mehta, 20, to better balance academics with a social life.
Now in her third year, it also helped her land a $5,000 scholarship recently from a foundation created in memory of the 14 women murdered at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989.
Winners 'demonstrate exceptional leadership'
The Canada Engineering Memorial Foundation is dedicated to attracting females to the profession by offering scholarships to “young women who demonstrate exceptional leadership.”
Mehta is the first recipient of the Nellie Giffin Engineering Award as a role model for young women in engineering and an ambassador for the foundation.
Although “shocked” by the national recognition, she sees it as validation of her own simple message about not giving up.
“I wondered what I was doing here at first,” Mehta said. “That’s why I took on that role – to tell these girls they don’t need to worry, that the transition into university takes time.
“I’m just a stronger person now. I could get a 60 and it wouldn’t damage me like it used to.”