Mapping out a career in a male-dominated industry


For 22-year-old Erin Terpstra, a hidden love of geography and mapping altered her course in life for the better.

It took three years of university for Terpstra to discover her unknown talents, which would lead her to SAIT’s geomatics engineering technology program.

Terpstra is in her first semester of the program, where she is one of five females in a class of 60 students.

When asked how it felt to be part of a minority that makes up less than 10 per cent of the program’s population, Terpstra said that she was not surprised there were only five females in the program.

She said that the geomatics engineering program is not well known to women, and she thinks that there are misconceptions surrounding what one can pursue after completing post-secondary schooling.

“Unfortunately, I also believe many women are not raised to have these certain types of skills [involved in engineering] or have an interest to pursue geomatics,” she said.

SAIT’s website says that graduates of this program find work as surveying technologists in a broad range of industry sectors, and success in this program is attained by those who are comfortable with mathematics and enjoy working with computers and instrumentation.

Terpstra said she did not feel that her male counterparts treated her any differently because of her gender, but added that she did notice their surprise at her pursuit of this type of career.

She said that her program mainly has to do with surveying and using instruments out in the field, and although there are many other ways to apply this specific diploma in the work force, surveying can involve fieldwork that can last for weeks.

Terpstra is aware of the potential challenges that her newly chosen field entails, and so far she is enjoying her latest career pursuit.

Because she will encounter challenges as most students do during their time at school, it may be helpful for her to be aware of people in her industry that have set an example that is worth following.

One of those people is Dr. Elizabeth Cannon, the current president of the University of Calgary.

Dr. Cannon is not only the U of C’s first female president, but was also the university’s first female dean of the Schulich school of engineering, and she is a pioneer in the field of geomatics engineering.

A profile on Cannon from, an industry site for global navigation satellite systems, says that she embraces being a role model for young female engineers.

“Making sure young women know what the opportunities are and helping them make informed choices is what it’s all about,” she said in an interview for the website.

It can be beneficial for young students to know that there are people who have come before them and have been successful in their pursuits.

So far, Terpstra’s first impressions of SAIT and the geomatics engineering program have been positive.

“It’s an easy-going program so far,” said Terpstra.

“I love SAIT, I would recommend this school to anybody.”

A couple of years ago Terpstra was on a different path. While studying kinesiology at the University of Lethbridge (U of L), she discovered that her passion for the program was fading.

“I always found biology to be fascinating, so I began my pursuit in a program that I believed I would be good at,” said Terpstra.

“Sadly, this was not true.”

Terpstra said she began to lose interest in the program and realized that finding a job in the kinesiology industry would be very difficult unless she wanted to pursue an additional two years of university education after completing her degree, which she was not interested in doing.

Those realizations spurred Terpstra to take a semester’s worth of geography classes at the U of L where she “fell in love with mapping and learning about the world.”

It wasn’t until Terpstra’s third year at the U of L that she dropped out of the kinesiology program and, after doing some research, found her calling in the geomatics engineering technology program at SAIT.

“When I first went to school in Lethbridge, I had no idea what I wanted to be or what I wanted to do,” said Terpstra.

“So far this is exactly what I want to do for my career.”

Based on a 2013 SAIT employment survey, graduates of the geomatics engineering technology program have a 100 per cent employment rate.

When Terpstra completes her diploma in 2016, she hopes to pursue a career in oil and gas mapping.

Terpstra has come to realize that gender does not define a person’s identity or capabilities.

“In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman just as long as you thoroughly enjoy what you’re doing.”

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