When Tommy Petrogiannis, BEng 88, joined the advisory board of Concordia’s Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science in 2017, he was confronted with the statistics measuring the number of women entering science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. “It’s improved since I was at university, but it hasn’t improved nearly enough.”
Following the sale of his company, Silanis Technology, to an American firm in 2015, the father of two daughters decided it was time to do his part to improve these statistics.
The Petrogiannis Family Award for Women in Engineering is his way of assisting women to enter STEM fields. Over the next five years, it will provide one female candidate with $20,000 annually to support her in her studies.
“We wanted to make sure to invest in the city, and obviously higher education is a critical part of making sure people are a productive part of that ecosystem,” says Petrogiannis, who also sits on the board of the Just for Kids Foundation, which benefits the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
Petrogiannis, who spent his career in tech, witnessed firsthand the gender imbalance in departments like research and development. And getting more women to pursue education and careers in STEM is as important for the women themselves as it is for their future workplaces.
“I’m a big believer that you need to have as diverse a workforce as possible. Great ideas come about when people from different backgrounds, cultures and social experiences interact. We wanted to try and promote that,” he explains.
Instead of seeking candidates with top marks, Petrogiannis is looking to assist women entering the Gina Cody School who have demonstrated a passion in a STEM-related field through community, social or student club involvement.
“I think a school’s main purpose is to teach you how to learn. If you’re passionate about something, the grades are secondary in my book,” he says.
Technology is a fast-moving field where you need to constantly learn in order to succeed. “Every day is a school day. The bachelor of engineering taught me how to learn well.”