Women in STEM: A conversation with Cecilia Odonkor

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Ingenium - Canada's Museums of Science and Innovation

Canadian astronaut and neurologist Roberta Bondar once said, “Exploration is not something you retire from. It is a part of one’s life ethic.” That sentiment of continuity — of striving to break new ground — is critical to uphold, even as we celebrate the past achievements of women who have gone before us during Women’s History Month. 

Through its Women in STEM initiative, Ingenium is telling the stories of those who dared to think differently — in an effort to foster conversations around gender equity and promote careers for women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Similarly, the Dr. Roberta Bondar Career Development Program offers an opportunity for women working in STEM to network with industry leaders and peers, and get a behind-the-scenes look at the science and tech industries in Canada.

This month, the Ingenium Channel is highlighting a series of talented, Canadian women who are participating in the Dr. Roberta Bondar Career Development Program. In today’s profile we introduce you to Cecilia Odonkor, a biomedical and electrical engineer who is helping to build instruments for orthopedic surgeries.

A young woman wearing a plaid blazer smiles as she looks directly at the camera.

Ingenium Channel (IC): Tell me about your expertise as a biomedical and electrical engineer. How are you currently using your skills?

Cecilia Odonkor (CO): I have five years of experience in academic research, clinical research, and industry practice. Currently, I work as a systems designer at Zimmer Biomet, a Montreal-based company that builds biomedical devices to aid in orthopedic surgeries. I am working to improve a product that assists surgeons in positioning of orthopedic implant components intraoperatively during total knee arthroplasties.

IC: Is there a person who inspired or encouraged you to choose your educational path and career?

CO: There is not one person. However, I should mention that there are several healthcare professionals in my family, including nurses and doctors, and perhaps snippets of conversations with them unconsciously sparked my interest in the way the human body functions.

Like my father, I have always been interested and curious about technology, and I remain wildly fascinated by the human body. From my perspective, biomedical engineering is a perfect marriage of technology and the study of medicine.

IC: Is there anyone in Ingenium’s Women in STEM poster series that you find inspirational?

CO: Yes. I am encouraged by Dr. Eugenia Duodu and Ms. Charity Wanjiku’s commitment to using their energies and resources to create a change in their respective communities.

As an immigrant from Ghana and, just until recently, a longtime resident of Ottawa, the unceded Traditional Territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation, I have always understood that I must use my resources towards the continued development and improvement of my country. I am motivated by Ms. Wanjiku’s engineering work in her community.

As a Black woman in STEM, I have always been painfully aware of the underrepresentation of visible minorities in STEM spaces. Dr. Duodo’s work in providing STEM programs to low income and marginalized youth encourages me to continue my own work of ensuring that I am creating a STEM space and opportunities for youth that look like me. 

IC: Describe one of the challenges or biases you had to overcome on your professional journey.

CO: One challenge I faced was ensuring that I was given the due credit for my work and ideas, as opposed to a superior taking the credit. It taught me to be confident and vocal about my wins, as well as my mistakes. There is a powerful lesson that I learned from overcoming this challenge: When you go to a meeting, say something.

IC: Where do you hope to go from here?

CO: I am hoping to continue my community work with the Society of Women Engineers Ottawa Chapter and the Immigrant and International Women in Sciences organization, to empower women in STEM and to create space and opportunities for visible minorities in STEM.

IC: Do you have a favourite quote that you like to reflect upon during challenging times?

CO: “I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me”

~ Publius Terentius Afer, a Roman slave who became a playwright

Go further

Connect with Cecilia Odonkor, and learn more about the organizations she is a part of:

LinkedIn: Cecilia Odonkor

Society of Women Engineers Ottawa Chapter, which aims to promote the retention and advancement of all women engineers in the Ottawa area

Immigrant and International Women in Science Network, which provides support and mentorship for immigrant and international women in science in Canada

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Sonia Mendes

Sonia Mendes is the English Writer/Editor for Ingenium. She loves digging behind the scenes to tell the quirky, colourful stories of museum life and all things related to science and innovation.