Order of the White Rose


Brielle Chanae Thorsen, 2020 recipient of Order of the White Rose scholarship


Above and Beyond Statistics

A quiet strength.

These are the words that come up when you first meet Brielle Chanae Thorsen, Mechanical Engineering master’s candidate at Queen’s University and winner of the 2020 Order of the White Rose Award. Even if she’s barely 22 years of age, this Albertan of Cree descent already has been through some painful ordeals, which she openly addresses. In 2016, two days shy of beginning her bachelor’s degree, math enthusiast Thorsen, against her will, became a statistic. “I became the 1 in 5 women to experience sexual assault while attending a post-secondary institution,” she reveals from the start.

What followed that event is a testimony of her courage and resilience. After numerous attempts to distract herself by getting involved in different campus organizations, she chose to pursue an investigation with the university. Even though she had to repeat her story, again and again, to investigators and then go back to class or write an exam the following day, she maintained a commendable academic average. Finally, cutting back on rowing training didn’t stop her from being recruited by Team Alberta for the 2017 Canada Summer Games. “I decided to not let his decision have power over me or alter the trajectory of my life,” she wisely says. “We all have unique challenges and traumas that we have faced in our lives. I have found that there is tremendous power and impact in sharing your story.”

Brielle Chanae Thorsen would not let this traumatic experience bring her down. Rather, she used it to build up the motivation she needed to bring positive changes to her community. That’s also how the sustainability specialist (whose work experience includes work in robotics and internships with energy agencies) got involved as a student delegate in different committees in her department, in an organization against domestic violence, as well as in science camps for Indigenous youth. She even was elected as the first Canadian National Student Representative for the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. “My dream is to see many Indigenous youth in STEM, doing great research while decolonizing academia and western institutions.”

With her master’s degree underway, Brielle Chanae Thorsen now intends to use her knowledge and skills to work with Indigenous communities to implement sustainable energy and move towards energy sovereignty. “It’s often non-Indigenous people that are coming into our communities, so I am just excited to be able to do this work. I’d like to work with my people and bring another perspective to engineering academia that isn’t there,” she says.

To do so as a Cree engineer from Goodfish Lake makes her particularly proud. Indeed, should it be reminded, women are still underrepresented in careers in engineering, and even if Indigenous peoples make up 4.9% of the Canadian population, they represent only 1% of engineering students in Canada. “There are many spaces that women, and specifically Indigenous women, have been historically excluded from. So, it is important that I use my privilege in entering these spaces to amplify their voices. Because they deserve to be heard.” Starting with her own, stating loud and clear: “I am a strong nehiyaw iskwew (cree woman) and I am a fearless female engineer.”

Brielle Chanae Thorse

Brielle Chanae Thorsen, 2020 recipient of Order of the White Rose scholarship (Photo: Chris Noakes)

Read the press release.