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Forging her own career path

Forging her own career path

In her Grade 13 yearbook, Annette Bergeron, Sc’87, wrote that her career dream was to lead a large engineering organization. That was almost 30 years ago, and Annette has ­accomplished that goal – twice – and a lot more besides.

These days the former Queen’s business and engineering lecturer and Alma Mater ­Society (AMS) general manager is finishing a one-year term as president of the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO), the body that regulates and ­licenses the province’s 76,000 professional ­engineers. She was voted in as president-elect in 2011, served in that capacity in 2012, and stepped into the president’s role for 2013. She’s the sixth woman in the organization’s 91-year history to hold the voluntary position.

That means a lot to Annette, who is ­constantly encouraging women to enter and assume leadership positions in the male-dominated profession.

“You have to make engineering attractive to women,” she says. “To do that, you have to demonstrate how engineering impacts society, because people really don’t have a good sense of what engineers do. They see doctors and lawyers on TV, but engineers are off in some corner, building bridges. But we do tissue ­engineering, we do biomedical engineering. We bring safe water to cities and towns. There are all kinds of aspects of engineering beyond building bridges.”

Vying for the PEO gig was a logical move for Annette, who previously served, twice, as the president of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, which advocates for, and provides various services to, the province’s engineers.

Annette’s duties as PEO president included advocating for a repeal of a section in the ­Professional Engineers Act that exempted industrial manufacturers from the requirement to have a professional engineer on site to oversee the design and installation of large equipment in workplaces. The PEO has argued that the industrial exemption, in effect in Ontario since 1984, jeopardized workers’ safety.

The other big-ticket item on her agenda was speaking on behalf of the PEO at the investigation into the June 2012 collapse of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliott Lake, Ontario, in which two people died. The investigator’s ­final report is due to be released in October.

For her work at the helm of PEO, last year Annette was named one of Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence by a Toronto-based ­organization dedicated to the professional ­advancement of women. Each year the group honours the country’s top female leaders in the non-profit sector, business, public sector, professional services and health.

The award was a satisfying acknowledgement of a career that’s still a work in progress. After earning a metallurgical engineering ­degree at Queen’s in 1987, Annette worked for eight years at the Dofasco steel mill in Hamilton, overseeing the installation of a new 24/7 production line. After that, she ­pursued an MBA at York University’s Schulich School of Business, which in turn brought her back to Queen’s. Here, she filled a variety of roles – lecturer and director of first year at the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, lecturer at the business school, and general manager of the AMS. 

Last year she devoted her attention to the PEO in Toronto and her duties as a member of the Kingston General Hospital board of directors, on which she has served since 2006 and will continue to do after her PEO term expires. These days she’s back at the School of Business, consulting and fielding calls from head-hunters for high-level leadership positions in the non-profit sector.

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[Queen's Alumni Review 2014-3 cover]