Telesat pledges scholarships for women in STEM

Telesat STEM scholarship program for women. Credit: Telesat.

Telesat, the major Canadian satellite company now building a low Earth orbit constellation, plans to award $40,000 a year for scholarships to support female students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The money will be awarded in $5,000 chunks each – covering a majority of annual study costs – to eight women who are entering their third or fourth year of a STEM-related bachelor’s degree program at an accredited Canadian university.

Full criteria for the program are available at Telesat’s website, with this year’s round of applications open until 1 p.m. EDT on May 12, 2021. The scholarships will be based on a combination of academic performance, volunteer or community involvement, and extracurricular activities, among other factors – and Telesat pledges that Indigenous and visible minorities are equally welcome to apply, as they plan to emphasize diversity among the awardees.

“Let’s see if we can encourage more women to study in the field of STEM,” Michele Beck, Telesat’s vice-president of North American sales, said in an interview of Telesat’s goal in offering the program. The company’s numbers show that only 20 percent of STEM graduates of interest to Telesat’s work identify as female. 

“Let’s encourage them to get through the four years [of a degree] by supporting them through the scholarship program, by learning a little bit more about Telesat and our LEO Lightspeed constellation. Then perhaps, down the road, they’ll have an interest in joining our company – or at least even the sector, which would be satellite space telecommunications.”

Back in February, Telesat had several large announcements related to the Lightspeed constellation – that it and MDA secured a $400 million investment from the province of Quebec, and that Telesat has chosen Thales Alenia to build the US $5 billion constellation. Telesat also plans to spend $1.8 billion in the province of Quebec in relation to constellation activities.

With the company therefore anticipating growing quickly in the coming years, Telesat will likely need more people very soon. Telesat says it has a growing need in systems engineering work in particular, such as in figuring out the “link budget” – transmitting power and receiving power calculations in a satellite and ground station network.

Programming is another urgent item Telesat would like to have help with, such as in developing software tools to support the LEO constellation or related systems, or “management of our general fleet,” Beck said. Other regions of need are figuring out the service areas, the coverage and the throughput that each of the satellites will provide in the constellation.

Telesat plans to bring on at least some of the scholarship recipients as summer students or interns, but their long-term goal is to have a more diverse set of applicants available for these growing service areas. “The funnel that we have basically to draw from is quite low,” Beck said, and said the scholarship’s aim is to produce a “greater funnel to draw from” in the future.

Telesat plans to continue the scholarship indefinitely, along with a network of support that would include internships and eventually hiring on the women as full-time employees. In the longer term, these women would be encouraged to target more senior positions and positions of leadership, which is another area of STEM that traditionally suffers in terms of diversity.

For more information on the scholarships, eligibility and application, visit https://www.telesat.com/scholarships

About Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell
Is SpaceQ's Associate Editor as well as a business and science reporter, researcher and consultant. She recently received her Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota and is communications Instructor instructor at Algonquin College.

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