Polytechnique awards engineering scholarship to Indigenous student from Alberta

By Cole Fortner and Kelsey Patterson

MONTREAL – An Indigenous student from Alberta is the latest recipient of an engineering scholarship created to honour the victims of the Montreal massacre of 1989.

Brielle Chanae Thorsen was awarded the Order of the White Rose scholarship from Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique on Thursday morning in a virtual ceremony.

The $30,000 prize is given to a female Canadian engineering student who intends to pursue her engineering studies at the graduate level.

“I want to follow in the footsteps of my father, who is also an engineer,” said Thorsen in a statement. “Throughout my academic career I’ve had the opportunity to explore different facets of mechanical engineering. I’m now in a position to make an informed choice about what inspires me most, which is specializing in sustainable energy.”

Thorsen is currently pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

The Cochrane, Alta., native says she ultimately wants to give back to Canada’s First Nations.

“I am a strong Nehiyaw Iskwew (Cree woman) and a fearless female engineer,” she said. “I plan to use my knowledge to benefit Indigenous communities in the north, and to run my own business.”

The Order of the White Rose commemorates the victims of the Polytechnique tragedy.

On the evening of Dec. 6, 1989, a gunman entered the Montreal university, killing 14 women in an anti-feminist mass slaying before taking his own life.

“We all need to remember the women who came before us, especially the victims and survivors of the Polytechnique tragedy,” said Thorsen. “We must all have an equal opportunity to pursue a rewarding career without being the targets of discrimination or violence, regardless of our gender, race, sexuality, or religion.”

Police enter the Ecole Polytechnique after gunman Marc Lepine opened fire at the school in Montreal on Dec. 6, 1989. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Shaney Komulainen

Thorsen was selected for the prestigious award based on her strong academic record and achievements – both in and out of the university setting.

Her notable achievements include:

  • Developing projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to help mountain search-and-rescue teams;
  • Being elected to the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES);
  • Taking part in the Queen’s Aboriginal Access to Engineering (AAE) initiative;
  • Receiving the Queen’s University Peer Leadership Award;
  • Organizing the IndigeSTEAM Power2Choose Indigenous youth summer camp;
  • Volunteering for Sagesse, a Calgary-based domestic violence prevention group;
  • Representing Alberta in rowing at the 2017 Canada Summer Games

Thorsen is the sixth recipient of the Order of the White Rose scholarship, which was created in 2015 – the 25th anniversary of the shooting.

The previous winners are Edith Ducharme, Viviane Aubin, Ella Thomson, Liane Bernstein and Tara Gholami.

WATCH: Last year’s commemoration of the Polytechnique massacre 

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