New alumni networking group links women of Skule

A new alumni group aims to leverage the powerful network of women engineers across Canada and around the world. ELSIE, named for Elizabeth “Elsie” MacGill, the first woman to receive an engineering degree in Canada when she graduated from University of Toronto in 1927, unites female Skule grads just launching their careers with those more established.

From left: Marissa Desrochers, Elika Mahdavi, Irena Mahdavi and Najwa Azer of ELSIE.

From left: Marissa Desrochers, Elika Mahdavi, Irena Mahdavi and Najwa Azer.

The independent networking group is run by Founder Irena Mahdavi (ChemE 0T9+PEY), Co-chairs Marissa Desrochers (ChemE 0T9+PEY) and Najwa Azer, and Advisor Elika Mahdavi (IndE 0T9+PEY). While at Skule, none of these women felt in the minority—it wasn’t until after graduating and entering the workforce that women engineers became harder to find. They began organizing casual brunches and social events with their female friends from school, and all agreed that they had minimal contact with working women engineers. After deciding to pursue a career in finance, Irena joined the networking groups Women in Capital Markets and 100 Women in Hedge Funds, and sat on four boards and committees. It was through a Women in Capital Markets event that she connected with a director at RBC Capital Markets who alerted her to positions at the company. She interviewed and was hired.

“We realized how valuable it was to be plugged into a network,” says Irena. “It seemed like a waste not to motivate this group of successful women, to network and help each other out.”

ELSIE’s most recent event was held Aug. 17, 2013 at the chic REDS Wine Tavern in downtown Toronto. As an icebreaker, attendees of all ages lined up across from each other at a long table in the room and took a minute to tell their partners what brought them to the event and a bit about themselves and their career goals. Then they switched partners and repeated the exercise. “It got them into the habit of telling their story, and it took them out of their comfort zones,” says Elika. “And they loved it.”

The group’s goal of providing mentors and sponsors for women post-graduation aligns with Dean Cristina Amon’s. “While our outreach programs are important tools to promote engineering to women, I firmly believe that strong and visible women role models are an essential part of encouraging more young women to choose engineering as a profession,” said Dean Amon in a 2011 interview. ELSIE’s next objective is to expand its database to include industry leaders from a wide variety of fields—to have someone in the network to support every graduate whether they’re just getting started, or getting back on their feet.

“For lack of a better word, ELSIE is a sisterhood. It’s not just a professional group, it’s a safety net,” says Irena. “It’s important to belong to a network not in the event that something happens, but in the inevitable event that something happens,” adds Elika.

ELSIE’s next event will give Skule women a boost before they’ve even graduated: the group is hosting an event for third-year undergraduates to introduce them to RBC recruiters looking to hire summer interns. RBC has invited the group to tour its trading floor. “We want to put our ladies at the front of the line,” says Irena.

To request to join ELSIE and view pictures of past events, visit the group’s website at

More information:
Marit Mitchell
Senior Communications Officer
The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering

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