Emma Kaliel never dreamed that someday she’d be an engineer. And she’s not — not yet — but one day she will be, thanks in part to 4-H Canada.
“I have a lot to thank 4-H for,” said Kaliel, a member of the Double Diamond 4-H Multi Club in Westlock County. “When you stick with it, there are so many opportunities for you.”
Kaliel has been a 4-H’er since Grade 5, but her family has been involved for four generations — her great-grandfather started the 4-H club in Fawcett. For the past eight years, she has been actively involved in her club — completing beef projects, gaining confidence in public speaking, taking part in a club-to-club exchange in Nova Scotia, and most recently winning the prestigious L.E.A.D. Scholarship.
“If you’re only in it for a short amount of time, you don’t really see all that 4-H has to offer,” said Kaliel. “If you’re only in it for one year, you don’t see that. In six years, you could be doing a club-to-club exchange or winning scholarships.”
Every year, L.E.A.D. — Leadership Excellence Awards of Distinction — recognizes four young people from across the country who have been exceptional leaders within their community through 4-H. Each recipient represents one of the organization’s leadership development pillars: community engagement and communications; science and technology; environment and healthy living; and sustainable agriculture and food security.
This year, two of the four award winners were from Alberta, and one of those was Kaliel, who received a $20,000 scholarship for her higher education.
“I was amazed,” she said of her win. “There were so many people who brought me to this point, and I would never have got there without their help.”
Now in her first year of engineering at the University of Alberta, Kaliel credits 4-H for sparking her love of science.
“Even though I was in beef, there was still a lot of science to it,” she said. “It was interesting seeing that mix of agriculture and science.”
But it wasn’t until last summer, when she took part in the University of Alberta’s Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science, and Technology (WISEST) summer research program, that she started to consider a career in engineering.
“It seemed natural to decide that this is what I’d love to do for the rest of my life,” she said. “My grandpa’s a farmer, and he uses so much technology. I don’t think he’d be able to get half as much of the work done as he does without the technology that engineering has brought to him.
“It would be really interesting to be able to provide more technology for him and other farmers.”
But for Kaliel, engineering isn’t just a career — it’s also an opportunity to make a difference in the world.
“Nowadays, you can’t not do anything if you see something that’s wrong in the world. You have to try and fight to change that,” she said.
By going into engineering, Kaliel hopes to advocate for increasing the number of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM.)
“My summer with WISEST helped me realize there’s not that many women in engineering,” she said. “The numbers have definitely got larger, but it’s still not equal.”
And 4-H helped give her the confidence and the platform she needed to speak out about these social issues. In her last two years of 4-H, her public speaking projects focused on social issues such as xenophobia and discrimination against LGBTQ people in Canada.
“There’s such a stigma toward women in STEM and Indigenous people and LGBTQ people, and there really shouldn’t be — we’re all just people, and we all deserve respect and love regardless of who we are,” she said.
“4-H has given me an opportunity to talk about those sorts of topics. When you have a place to do it, you should take that opportunity.”
And that’s just what Kaliel hopes to do once she’s done university. Regardless of whether she decides to use her engineering expertise in agriculture or another industry — “I want to keep my options open and see where my calling leads me” — she hopes she can inspire other girls to go into the STEM fields and chase their dreams.
“I want to help other young girls in rural Alberta who don’t think they can do it,” she said.
“I wouldn’t have ever dreamed about going into engineering, and I want to help other young girls realize that they can do it, too.”