Aurum Awards 2020: Denise Pothier (BEng’93)

By Mark Campbell | Photo credit: Danny Abriel

Denise Pothier (BEng’93) may have a background in chemical engineering, but she has truly distinguished herself in her dedication to building bridges. Not the ones that span waterways, rather the ones that forge connections between the engineering profession and underrepresented communities.

That commitment is evident in Pothier’s work with Stantec, where she is vice-president of practice services and Indigenous relations and serves on the company’s Diversity and Inclusion Council. But it does not end there. For 20 years, she has been advancing inclusivity in the profession through her involvement with Techsploration, which encourages young women across Canada to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers. She has also made strides in promoting diversity as chair of both Engineers Nova Scotia’s Women in Engineering Committee and Engineers Canada’s Indigenous Advisory Committee.

“If we are going to find solutions for the betterment of our world, then engineering needs to better reflect our society,” says Pothier. “Until that happens, the profession will not reach its full potential.”

Pothier’s determination to increase representation is motivated as much by her own experiences in a male-dominated profession as it is by her Acadian and Mi’kmaq heritage. For example, she remembers the culture shock she experienced when she moved to Halifax to study Engineering at Dalhousie and how she strived to fit in, not just putting in extra effort to overcome educational differences but also losing her accent.

“If I do have one regret in life, it’s that,” Pothier says. “But at the same time, if my adversities led me to where I am today, then I am grateful because now I am able to encourage women and Mi’kmaq youth to follow the same path. And when they succeed, they encourage others too, which means a whole network of people driving diversity and innovation. That’s an incredible thing to see and be a part of.”

These efforts to make a difference led Dalhousie University to honour Pothier with an Aurum Award. “I was absolutely speechless,” she says. “To see all the amazing things our alumni are doing encourages me to continue working toward the greater good and making the world a better place.”

For Pothier, that means making a difference in many other ways, such as volunteering with Feed Nova Scotia and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB). It also inspired her recent decision to step down from her long-time positions with the boards of CCAB and Techsploration, ensuring a new generation has opportunities to gain leadership experience and develop connections to succeed. Now, Pothier is looking to strengthen the economic outlook of the province’s rural communities, joining the boards of both the Nova Scotia Community College and the Centre for Ocean Ventures & Entrepreneurship to achieve that goal.

“Through Stantec, I’ve seen the best of what communities around the world can do, and I know that we do the very same  here,” she says. “I want to combine that knowledge and those practices to create more opportunities for our rural communities to thrive and grow.”

2020 recipients collage
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