Next generation of female engineers and potential transit designers get inside state-of-art facility – and up close with Metrolinx mentors

Group of engineering students toured the Whitby Maintenance Facility, and were given an intimate glimpse into what it takes to help shape the future of one of North America’s largest transit agencies.

As a young girl, Rachel Lynds spent countless hours taking apart and fixing small electronics.

No piece was too tiny. No system too imposing. Now a fourth year Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science student at Ontario Tech University, she also grew up practicing her skills as a junior mechanic, helping her father repair vehicles. Grease and grit were just tools of a developing passion.

While she once wanted to become a globe-trotting archeologist, it was her need to find a career that allowed Lynds the flexibility to challenge herself mentally, yet still be able to express herself creatively, that led to the seemingly destined choice of engineering.

And from there, inside a usually off-limits Metrolinx complex that helps keep the transit agency’s trains on track and running on time.

Image shows Rachel Lynds.

Fourth year Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science student Rachel Lynds. (Photo by Jennifer Capan)

Lynds was one of 20 female engineering students from Ontario Tech University studying various fields – including electrical, mechanical and software – who recently toured (Jan. 16) the state-of-the-art Whitby Maintenance Facility. The exclusive look behind the scenes had the students make their way through the approximately 500,000 square foot facility, where they learned about its history as well as the part it plays in GO Transit’s expanding future.

But for students like Lynds, especially given their skills, breaking things down into small, precise parts is important. So as the next generation of female engineers, as well as potential transit movers and shakers, they also spent time with prominent female Metrolinx leaders and engineers, including Karla Avis-Birch, vice-president of Stations Capital Delivery, and Annalise Czerny, executive vice-president of PRESTO.

The young engineers quizzed them on everything from the future of technology to what expansion looks like for Metrolinx in the coming years. They also discussed various challenges, successes and lessons learned along the way.

A group walks through the inside of a large maintenance facility.

The group tours the Whitby Maintenance Facility on Jan. 16, 2020. (Jennifer Capan photo)

Czerny told them that having just celebrated its 10 year anniversary of PRESTO, Metrolinx looks forward to the modernization of the program as well as upcoming enhancements. That means having talented people on board to guide that future.

“We want to remove barriers and make it easier for people to use transit,” said Czerny.

“I want to encourage you to be brave and bold with your career, raise your hand, ask questions. The world is moving so fast that you must always have a constant learning mindset, do not fear failure, and always ask for advice.”

“Being brave and present are some of the most important things that can set you apart.”

Avis-Birch told the group to take advantage of opportunities such as the inside look at Metrolinx.

“These types of events are very important”, she said. “Learn from your colleagues and never question why you’re at the table – you deserve it and you are valued.

“Do not be afraid to be the only woman, or the only person of colour, but use that reality to motivate you to create the change.”

A group stands and asks questions while inside the facility.

Applied Science students from Ontario Tech University ask questions of Metrolinx experts during their recent tour. (Jennifer Capan photo)

Through the years, engineering has primarily been a male-dominated field, but that is slowly changing.

“I think the profession has come a long way, and I can see that efforts are being made every day to make engineering more inclusive,” student Lynds said.

“I think one of the coolest parts of the engineering field is that you’re always on the cutting edge. You’re not only seeing and learning about the latest and greatest, but you also get to be a part of that development.”

She doesn’t quite know where she will end up, but Lynds hopes to be an agent for change and advancement – making an impact in her community.

As long as she can still break down, and then build up again, small electronics in her spare time.

Story by Jennifer Capan, senior advisor, Stakeholder Relations.