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Zhouhang (Amelia) Dai, ninth recipient of the Order of the White Rose

December 4, 2023 - Source : NEWS

At an emotion-filled ceremony held 34 years after the anti-feminist murders of December 6, 1989, Polytechnique Montréal today awarded the Order of the White Rose Scholarship to Zhouhang (Amelia) Dai, an engineering student who is committed to achieving an equitable energy transition and a more sharing future.

Zhouhang (Amelia) Dai, neuviène récipiendaire de l'Ordre de la rose blanche. (Photo : Denis Bernier)
Zhouhang (Amelia) Dai, ninth recipient of the Order of the White Rose. (Photo: Thierry du Bois)

A University of British Columbia (UBC) chemical engineering graduate, Amelia has been studying toward a PhD in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) since this past fall. She plans to develop technical expertise in electrochemistry for applications in sustainable energy, as well as explore the interdependency between the technological, social, economic and political dimensions of the global energy challenge.

Polytechnique created the Order of the White Rose in 2014 as a way of paying tribute to and keeping alive the ambitions of the 14 women murdered on campus on December 6, 1989. The annual $50,000 scholarship is awarded to a Canadian female engineering student wishing to pursue graduate studies in that discipline in Canada or abroad.

Building technical expertise and championing diversity and inclusion

Awareness of the gravity of climate change—and a growing recognition of the importance of the clean-energy transition for creating a sustainable future—motivated Amelia to turn to engineering for solutions for closing the cost and efficiency gap between fossil fuels and renewable fuels.

With the objective of developing equitable renewable energy for the world, she realized early on that meeting such an ambitious goal requires not only technical expertise but also the inclusion of voices that are traditionally marginalized, and collaboration with leaders across cultures and disciplines to explore the intricate challenges posed in the global energy landscape.

During her undergraduate studies at UBC in chemical and biological engineering, Amelia actively sought opportunities to explore the roles of energy and engineering in society from different perspectives, including through internships ranging from an electrical utility to multinational corporations, from academia to industry, and from lab to manufacturing scales.

She credits these experiences with deepening her technical proficiency and broadening her understanding of the global energy sector. At a research group at UBC, for example, Amelia explored proton exchange membrane water electrolysers for green hydrogen production, with her efforts earning her the first place at the AIChE Pacific Northwest Regional Conference. She also interned in the Cell Development Lab at Tesla for a year, optimizing li-ion battery design and production.

Upon graduation, Amelia was recognized as head of the class in the Faculty of Applied Science (APSC) and featured as an APSC Rising Star. Following her interest in working in innovative and inclusive environments with cross-disciplinary teams, Amelia is pursuing a direct-entry PhD program in chemical engineering at MIT.

“I am seeking to become a more effective changemaker by working with a team of multidisciplinary and multicultural leaders to unravel the technological, social, economic and political interdependencies in the global energy challenge,” she says.

Amelia’s commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion was sparked in her childhood, when her family received a warm welcome on immigrating to Canada. Integrated into a multicultural community, she was encouraged to share her culture as well as learn about others. This inspired her to play a leadership role in community-building throughout her educational journey, for which she was recognized with numerous awards.

She also attributes her appreciation of community to her experience in Shad, a Canada-wide summer program for high school students. “There, I learned that human beings are wired for connection,” she says. “I made the commitment to own each moment as my authentic self and support others to become better versions of themselves—affirming my values in lifelong-learning and community-building.”

After experiencing gender- and race-based prejudice, Amelia sought opportunities to enhance diversity in STEM-related fields. She designed a mentorship program for high school girls with Women in Engineering and organized events promoting justice, equity, diversity and inclusion with Volta Foundation, a non-profit organization serving the battery community.

Advocating for safety is another priority for Amelia, who lost a key mentor at UBC due to a workplace accident. Together with co-workers and friends, she helped implement improvements in the workplace and in day-to-day life to honour her mentor.

“As someone who makes exploring the unknown a habit, turns adversities into catalysts for change, and finds appreciation and hope for life at every stage, I strongly resonate with the Order of the White Rose, learning from the past and staying present to create a better future,” she says.

Maud Cohen, Rachel Bendayan, Zhouhang (Amelia) Dai, Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire, Nathalie Provost et Michèle Prévost. (Photo : Denis Bernier)
Left to right: Maud Cohen, President, Polytechnique Montréal; Rachel Bendayan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Member of Parliament for Outremont; Zhouhang (Amelia) Dai, ninth recipient of the Order of the White Rose; Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire, Honorary Chair of Polytechnique Montréal's Board of Directors and godmother of the Order of the White Rose; Nathalie Provost, survivor of the 1989 shooting, godmother of the Order of the White Rose and General Manager, Analysis and Expertise, Centre and Sud du Québec, Ministry of the Environment, the Fight Against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks; Michèle Prévost, Full Professor in the Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering, member of Polytechnique Montréal's Board of Directors and Chair of the Jury of the Order of the White Rose. (Photo: Denis Bernier)

Promoting the outstanding contribution of women in engineering

White roses symbolize the commemorative activities for the tragedy that occurred on December 6, 1989. The Order of the White Rose was created in 2014 to honour the women who lost their lives or were injured, as well as the families, faculty, staff and students affected by the incident.

Nathalie Provost, who sustained injuries during the fateful event, and Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire, who was the first woman to graduate in civil engineering from Polytechnique in 1963, are the scholarship’s godmothers. Michèle Prévost, a full professor and member of Polytechnique’s Board of Directors, chaired the Order of the White Rose selection jury this year.

Jury members are appointed by Polytechnique Montréal. They include the deans of the engineering faculties at the University of Calgary, McGill University, Queen’s University, the Université de Sherbrooke, the University of Toronto and Waterloo University. The scholarship candidates are assessed based on their academic record (30%), technical achievements (35%) and non-technical achievements (35%).

“In honouring the memory of the remarkable women who were my classmates, the Order of the White Rose is fulfilling a mission to uphold and pass on values for the future," says Nathalie Provost. "Amelia’s journey and those of the other scholarship recipients are a source of inspiration, encouraging more and more young women to embrace science and dare to realize their boldest aspirations, in the process offering boundless potential for the advancement of society.”

“The Order of the White Rose is an initiative that honours academic excellence, a future full of promise, and outstanding contributions to the common good,", adds Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire. "This new generation embodies our hopes for a sustainable, inclusive future for society, and I am certain that these young talents will play crucial roles in meeting the challenges that lie before us.”

“The jury members were impressed by Zhouhang (Amelia) Dai’s achievements and personality. To quote what they emphasized at the deliberation meeting, Amelia demonstrates ‘a journey and a personality truly inspiring, coupled with outstanding service to the community. Her academic drive is going to change the world,’” notes Professor Michèle Prévost, Chair of the Jury of the Order of the White Rose.

“An extraordinary new generation is waiting in the wings. Each recipient of the Order of the White Rose, in her own way, embodies the drive for excellence and the daring of women in engineering, as well as a remarkable commitment to building a future that is sustainable and inclusive. With their leadership and their accomplishments, they will become the change agents that our society so urgently needs,” emphasizes Maud Cohen, President of Polytechnique Montréal.

“Regardless of which discipline we work in, I believe that the core responsibility of engineers is to apply scientific problem-solving for the sustainable benefit of society, and this includes promoting inclusivity in the engineering space to ensure voices traditionally marginalized are acknowledged,” concludes Amelia Dai.

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