Welcome to Aboriginal Access to Engineering, Queen's University

Karen Decontie

Karen Decontie
Nation: 
Algonquin
Other science studied: 
Structural Engineering
Degree: 
Bachelor of Civil Engineering
Master of Engineering Civil Engineering - Structures
Job title: 
Structural Engineer
Favourite thing: 

"Challenging, feeling that you can build something that is useful to many people, ensure safety of structures for people; making a contribution to Canada."

When Karen Decontie was in high school, a teacher told her that she shouldn’t waste her time becoming an engineer. It was a good thing that she didn’t listen to that teacher because now Karen is a Structural Engineer for the National Parks in Alberta and British Columbia.

Karen, an Algonquin from Kitigan Zibi, Quebec wanted to be an architect when she was a child, but as she grew up she realized that structural engineering was more for her. She completed her Bachelor of Civil Engineering at McGill University in Montreal and her Masters of Engineering in Civil Engineering (Structures) at the University of Calgary in Alberta. Now she is the only structural engineer in her regional office and is asked to undertake design and do project management duties for projects concerning the buildings and bridges in her region.

Karen was involved in the upgrading of the bridges on Johnston Canyon Trail in Banff National Park, Alberta. This was a very important project because this site is the second most popular site in Banff National Park with 4000 visitors per day. She had to inspect existing structures, plan and design the repairs, and manage the entire project, over a number of years.

"The more engineers that we can have as First Nations the more decisions we can make on our own," Karen says, explaining that engineering has allowed her to contribute to society through her work. She gets a great sense of accomplishment in ensuring the bridges and structures she inspects are safe for the public to use, "There are structures that had to be closed immediately to public use and I have had to demolish bridges that were no longer structurally safe." She also knows her work is for the future: Canadian National Parks are protected areas and there are strict regulations ensuring that those parks will be preserved for generations and generations.

Even though the toughest thing for Karen to do, while she was studying to become a structural engineer, was to let go of her familiar surroundings and to leave her family she says that school "gave me the opportunity to learn different thinking. It helped me to gain self-esteem and believe in myself as a person," and that her family is always just a phone call away.

Karen enjoys making handicrafts, quilting star blankets, beading, leatherwork and playing with her son. She says that "it is as possible to have both a family and career as it is to be First Nations’ and a professional person."

 

See also:

Becoming an engineer — despite the odds (AMMSA, from 1994)

 

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