UBC engineering graduate receives the 2023 Order of the White Rose

Amelia Dai, recipient of the Order of the White Rose
Amelia Dai is the ninth recipient, and the first from UBC, to be awarded the Order of the White Rose by Polytechnique Montréal. (Credit: Thierry du Bois / Polytechnique Montréal)

Amelia Dai, a University of British Columbia chemical and biological engineering graduate, was awarded the Order of the White Rose Scholarship by Polytechnique Montréal at an emotion-filled ceremony today, 34 years after the anti-feminist murders on December 6, 1989.

Now a PhD candidate in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dai is committed to achieving an equitable energy transition and a more sharing future.

“I am seeking to become a more effective changemaker by working with a team of multidisciplinary and multicultural leaders to unravel the technological, social, economic and political interdependencies in the global energy challenge,” said Dai, who graduated top of her class this year and was recognized as a UBC Faculty of Applied Science Rising Star.

Polytechnique created the Order of the White Rose in 2014 as a way of paying tribute to and keeping alive the ambitions of the 14 women murdered on campus on December 6, 1989. The annual $50,000 scholarship is awarded to a Canadian female engineering student wishing to pursue graduate studies in that discipline in Canada or abroad. 

Dai is the ninth recipient of the Order of the White Rose, and the first UBC graduate to receive the scholarship.

“In honouring the memory of the remarkable women who were my classmates, the Order of the White Rose is fulfilling a mission to uphold and pass on values for the future,” said Nathalie Provost, a survivor of the 1989 shooting, one of the scholarship’s ‘godmothers,’ and General Manager, Analysis and Expertise, Centre and Sud du Québec, Ministry of the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change.

“Amelia’s journey and those of the other scholarship recipients are a source of inspiration, encouraging more and more young women to embrace science and dare to realize their boldest aspirations, in the process offering boundless potential for the advancement of society.” 

Diversity needed to develop equitable renewable energy

With the objective of developing equitable renewable energy for the world, Dai realized early on that meeting such an ambitious goal requires not only technical expertise, but also the inclusion of voices that are traditionally marginalized, and collaboration with leaders across cultures and disciplines. 

“Regardless of which discipline we work in, I believe that the core responsibility of engineers is to apply scientific problem-solving for the sustainable benefit of society, and this includes promoting inclusivity in the engineering space to ensure voices traditionally marginalized are acknowledged,” she said.

During her undergraduate studies at UBC, Dai actively sought opportunities to explore the roles of energy and engineering in society from different perspectives. 

She completed 36 months of internships ranging from research labs to industrial manufacturing, including research experience in Tesla’s Cell Development Lab for a year, optimizing li-ion battery design and production.

She also explored how engineering shows up in communities by volunteering with the Engineering Undergraduate Society, the chemical and biological engineering student council, and Women in Engineering at UBC.

I believe that the core responsibility of engineers is to apply scientific problem-solving for the sustainable benefit of society, and this includes promoting inclusivity in the engineering space to ensure voices traditionally marginalized are acknowledged.

Dai was first drawn to engineering when, after Grade 11, she participated in a month-long STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) and leadership summer program organized by Shad Canada.

“There, I learned that human beings are wired for connection,” she said. “I made the commitment to own each moment as my authentic self and support others to become better versions of themselves — affirming my values in lifelong-learning and community-building.” 

After experiencing gender- and race-based prejudice, Dai sought opportunities to enhance diversity in STEM-related fields. She designed a mentorship program for high school girls with Women in Engineering, and organized events promoting justice, equity, diversity and inclusion with Volta Foundation, a non-profit organization serving the battery community.

“As someone who makes exploring the unknown a habit, turns adversities into catalysts for change, and finds appreciation and hope for life at every stage, I strongly resonate with the Order of the White Rose, learning from the past and staying present to create a better future.” 

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