Meet Dr. Gina Cody: first woman to have an engineering department named after her
In 1989, Dr. Cody became the first woman to earn a PhD in the Concordia Building Engineering program. She has achieved more than 30 years of professional practice in the private sector as a professional engineer, corporate executive and principal of an engineering firm. Her accolades include receiving an Award of Merit from the Canadian Standards Association, a Volunteer Service Award from the Government of Ontario, and named one of Profit magazine’s Canada’s Top Women Entrepreneurs in 2010. Recently, she gave back to the university that welcomed her, by donating an unprecedented $15 million to Concordia University. In honour of the donation, Concordia University named their engineering faculty after her — the first woman to ever have that distinction. The naming of the faculty after a woman is a first and a new milestone for the advancement of women and minorities across Canada.
My first job ever was… As a teacher at an all-boys school in Iran that was owned by my father. During summers, he had me teach classes to boys who were 14 to16 years old. I remember him telling me, “If you can handle boys that age, you can handle anyone.” Thanks to my father, I never felt out of place in school or during my career as one of the only women in my field.
I chose a career in engineering because… I wanted to build things, so I went into civil engineering. I love engineering and I love math; I was always good at it. If something was broken — the television or a chair — I would fix it. My dream was to pursue a master’s and PhD.
My proudest accomplishment is… Becoming the first woman at Concordia to graduate with a PhD in Building Engineering. There were few to no women studying engineering at that time. I am proud that I was able to work hard towards my goals of pursuing higher education and becoming an engineer.
My boldest move to date was… Leaving my home country of Iran and leaving my family to move to Canada with only $2,000 in my pocket.
I surprise people when I tell them… My name is Gina Cody and I have an engineering and computer science school named after me.
The best part about moving to Canada was… Meeting with the late Professor Cedric Marsh at Concordia — it changed my life. Without that meeting and being given scholarship and work at Concordia, I don’t think my life would have taken the same path.
The hardest part about moving to Canada was… Having to leave my life and family behind in Iran. At the same time, it was an exciting moment for me with a future full of possibility ahead.
Being a woman starting a career in engineering in 1989 was… Not always easy. I was one of very few women working in the field. During my career, I never experienced some of the more blatant forms of discrimination and sexism that many other woman have. However, some men were expecting me to fail. I always had to prove myself. I knew I had to be better than my male counterparts, to be accepted as an equal.
My best advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is… Don’t be afraid. You have to put hard work into anything you do, but I believe that if you truly set your mind to it, you can achieve it. To succeed, you have to persevere.
My best advice from a mentor was… To enrol in my studies at Concordia. I didn’t know then how instrumental the late Professor Cedric Marsh would be on my education and career path. He was like a father, brother, colleague and we kept in touch until he passed away.
I would tell my 20-year old self… You are on the right path. Continue to work hard, set yourself goals and be persistent in achieving them — you are capable.
My biggest setback was… During most of my academic experience and professional career, I was often the only woman in the room. I don’t think it was a setback per se, but I had to constantly be on my toes and prove myself. I couldn’t afford to make mistakes. I couldn’t risk arriving at a meeting unprepared.
I overcame it by… Always being prepared. Every meeting I attended, I made sure I read the agenda and did my research. When you are prepared, have the right answers and know the subject matter, people notice.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… My competitive spirit. From a young age, I always wanted to be the best in everything I did.
I chose to donate to Concordia’s Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science because… Something I hold close to my heart is to help build a more inclusive, diverse and equal future, particularly in my chosen field of engineering. Concordia accepted me with open arms and I want to give the next generation the same opportunities I was fortunate to have.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… How much I love reading novels and that I can sew.
I stay inspired by… Working hard. It got me to where I am today. There were times that it didn’t feel easy, but I wanted to set a good example for my two daughters, Roya and Tina, and to others that might follow in my footsteps. I don’t want to take things for granted. I’m a determined person, so that on its own keeps going.
The future excites me because… I have hope that others will follow a similar path as mine. We need to support each other and our communities. We still have significant inequality in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), yet I am hopeful that we can solve this imbalance. This is personal my focus moving forward.
My next step is… I want to continue to advocate for women and immigrants — particularly those studying in STEM fields. I will support these causes until we have a society that truly embraces diversity, inclusion and equality. I am committed to this for my daughters. I am committed to this for girls and women around the world.