Mentor of Distinction
"We want to show Aboriginal girls that there are a lot of successful Aboriginal women working in applied sciences so we can start building up those numbers.”
First Nations peoples understood the land and learned how to live off of it. In later years, farmers utilized land resources for food-growing operations where very little went to waste. From Liz Gandy’s viewpoint, there is much that modern industry can learn by looking back at the traditional use of land.
“This early land stewardship was simple, but we now see them as sustainable applications,” says Gandy, an independent consultant for environmental research and technology development and newly hired AWSN Coordinator of Aboriginal Programs. “Sometimes we need to be reminded that development, sustainability and natural capital – the value we put on our ecosystem – are not mutually exclusive. Our First Nations people and farmers have shown us that they are absolutely connected.”
Gandy recently started her own company, Terra Projects (the “T” stands for technology and terrestrial; the “E” for environment and energy; the “Rs” for resources as well as reclamation/remediation; and the “A” for either Aboriginal – or for All), which advises industry, government and First Nations groups on environmental projects. She also devotes a portion of her time to coordinating the new Aboriginal Operation Minerva program for Alberta Women’s Science Network.
“The Aboriginal program has the same objective that Operation Minerva has had for the past 20 years, which is to have girls in Grades 7, 8 or 9 job shadowing a professional woman in a science role. The difference is that we are looking to team Aboriginal girls with Aboriginal mentors who share the same culture or have an ethno-cultural knowledge of the challenges (like social isolation and cultural identity) that many of these girls face.”
Gandy, the daughter of an Aboriginal mother and a Chinese father, has a genuine understanding of these challenges. Her mother is originally from the Kawacatoose First Nation in southern Saskatchewan, a place Gandy spent some time during her youth.
I never grew up on a reserve, I am from Burnaby, BC which is a strong multicultural community so fortunately, I did not experience prejudice against my ethnic background. But I still relate strongly to the people in Kawacatoose and have witnessed some of their barriers to success. Sometimes it seems that for every positive step we take forward, there’s a step backwards.
Gandy says she found her passion for science early in life and had friends and family nurture that interest in her. “In high school, I was in a peer group that believed it was cool to get good grades, be interested in science and still go out and have fun on Saturday nights. Did I get lucky? Yes.”
After graduation, Gandy went to Capilano College (now Capilano University) in North Vancouver and enrolled in fine arts. She soon made the decision to follow her heart and return to her lifelong passion – science. She went back and pursued a degree in microbiology.
“I took on a heavy case load of chemistry, biology and environmental sciences while juggling a family life with three small children,” she says. “I absolutely loved it but it was very hard, especially being away from home for labs and lectures so often.”
Gandy’s family moved to Calgary in 2001, where she changed her undergraduate focus from microbiology to political science, stemming from her intrinsic interest in human rights. This new direction eventually enabled Gandy to funnel her political and science background into a career in the energy sector. Over the years, her professional role evolved to include economic and sustainable development, waste management and environmental protection and as well, being a liaison between aboriginal groups and corporate stakeholders.
It was while working in reclamation and remediation at ConocoPhillips Canada’s office in downtown Calgary that Gandy first participated in Operation Minerva. She used her expertise to communicate the aspects of her job while teaching students how an interest in science can translate into a wide range of careers.
“We would take over a boardroom and use a demonstration kit to show what happens when a pipeline break spills into a river. So we have a biologist and an ecologist and a soil scientist and a pipeline engineer working towards finding a solution to show the girls just how these groups come together in an incident like this.”
Gandy says that programs like Operation Minerva also have the power to show Aboriginal teens that there is so much more out there for them.
“Kawacatoose, for example, has a very strong post-secondary portfolio with law, social sciences and education being the top degrees celebrated most often. That is great. But we also want to show Aboriginal girls that there are a lot of successful Aboriginal women working in applied sciences – math, engineering, geosciences, geophysics, biology and medicine – so we can start building up those numbers.”
Grateful to the previous generation of women, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, who have opened the door for females in science and technology, Gandy hopes that girls will meet contemporary mentors like her and be able to see the reflection of their own bright futures.
“I would very much like them to look at me and see someone who is smart; someone who is cool and someone who is happy,” she says. “I want them to be able to feel my enthusiasm for what I do and realize that with hard work, they can do this for themselves.”
Since 2009, Liz has continued to work in Energy as an independent consultant and project coordinator on both technical projects and sustainable community development. Two major technology projects stand out for Liz so far in her career: in 2009, ConocoPhillips and Alberta Innovates – Energy & Environmental Solutions (AI-EES) sponsored a critical issues scan and a Challenge DialogueTM report and in 2010, the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative and AIEES co-sponsored the By-Products Inventory & Synergies Project (BPS), Phase I, which was completed in December 2014. “By adopting an industrial symbiotic approach and a holistic model for both the Challenge Dialogue and the BPS Project," Liz said, "these collaborative projects were successful, and that took an enormous amount of relationship building and organization.” The Project Summary Report of the BPS Project will be published on the AI-EES website December 2016.
Liz continues to believe that, “It is important for girls and to see women tackling tough environmental, innovation and technology subjects in oil and gas development."
“One of the critical influential components of AWSN’s Operation Minerva Projects’, Liz points out, “is the ‘job shadowing’ portion of the program where girls in grade 8 and 9, can witness professional woman in the workplace. And as the Aboriginal Girls Program Coordinator, we also added a visit to the University of Calgary to increase the exposure of the participants to campus life”.
Staying active with an organization located in New Mexico, project work at Energy Futures Network and her clients in waste management, she is also actively involved with Aboriginal community development, stakeholder engagement, youth & education, diversity and inclusion issues and challenges.