Category Archives: The Edge

Celebrating the End

M came to my retirement party last month. I was amazed and so grateful to see her there. The last time I had seen her had been shortly after her graduation ceremony. It was in a grocery store — but that story is included elsewhere in this book.

When I saw her at my retirement party, M looked great! Healthy, confident and content. She seemed to be as honoured by my recognition of her — and that I remembered her — as I was about her making the effort to attend my party. We stood stock-still and smiled at each other for what felt like half an hour. Well, it was probably only a minute or two, but by the time I realized what we were doing I thought it must’ve been way too long. We hugged and chatted and caught up with each others’ lives. She’s working at a good job, living with her partner and they have a lovely baby; I’m so happy for her. Yeah, we shared pictures.

I pointed, “did you see R over there?” She looked at me, losing her smile a little. Turning her back on them she said, yes, she had seen him. I thought, what hurt she must still be feeling…

Later in the event, I wandered over to R. We talked briefly about my human rights tribunal case; he said, “I guess you’re glad that’s all behind you.“

I looked at him curiously: “No, no,” I replied, “it’s not over, yet.” I mean, the Tribunal hearing is still coming up, and, before that, hopefully, another day of mediation.

It appeared to me that he reacted with some surprise. Why would he think it was resolved already?

Actually, although I was worried R or E would show up and make my retirement party awkward, I was glad R came: I had wanted to tell him that I appreciated his attempts to improve the behaviours of faculty and students in our department — I mean, he did try —  and that I ended up being treated so poorly because he never receive the resources necessary to effectively lead a cultural change.  I believe R understood the issues of microaggressions and systemic bias but, without training, he just couldn’t make things better. So, I forgave him. He looked a little confused by that, too. I left it there.

Before moving on, however, I asked if he knew that M was in the room; he said “you know she’s the one that used to be a he?” or something like that. Anyway, I looked at him curiously again. Why was that the first thing he said? Why didn’t he ask me how she was or what she was up to…?


I am very grateful for the amazing things said by so many people at that retirement party.

Thank you, all of you who came and all who signed my card. Thank you for talking about how you shared stories of my use of active learning in engineering classes; for sharing pictures of me in the classroom; for talking about our fun times teaching the ISW; for stories about our many conversations exploring the work of my doctoral research; for talking about how I inspired you to work on fostering inclusion in engineering, just as you inspired me; for talking about the common experiences you and I had in our respective fields of sports and engineering, and how we supported each other through the tough times; for reminding me of my many accomplishments — did I really do all that? — and of the many ways I succeeded in improving and influencing the organizational culture of the college.

I guess I didn’t really fail, after all. I did bring the college a long way towards greater awareness of inclusion and fostering a desire to make positive change. And perhaps I can continue to enhance the college’s future from the outside.


I’ve disappeared again.

When I lost my ability to cope, in November of 2019, A was the only one I could talk to. She knew what I was experiencing — had gone through it herself — plus had the skills and practical experience necessary to take over my course.

She allowed me to hide. 

K was amazing – the closest thing I had to a friend in HR at that time, I reached out to her and began to tell her that I had to get away (and why) and that I had arranged for a replacement teacher, and I’d made my class notes available and I’d granted A access to my student grade book and — K was gentle but insistent when she cut me off and said I needed to take care of myself first. So, I did: I disappeared.

I learned to disappear early in life. My father’s job took him all over the world and he brought us all with him: my mom, my brother and me. Six months in Sweden, a year in Kitimat, three in Quesnel (although we moved while there), only a few months in Montreal. Really, it wasn’t until I was 13, in grade eight, that I finally had a full year in one school: boarding school in Switzerland.

Although my father stayed at that particular job for more than four years, I still ended up changing schools every year — one year with my grandmother in Point Grey, one in boarding school in Vancouver, one back in North Van — mom had moved home to stay with us — correspondence school for Grade 12. That was fun but messed up my undergrad, so I completed first year science at Langara along with my English 12. Oops. Finally, though, then, four years at UBC.

What all this moving taught me was that friendships don’t last. I mean, I’d be saying ‘see ya’ one day without knowing we were moving again. So, unless I met someone I really wanted to stay connected with, nothing I did while I was there mattered. I took this at first to mean I could do whatever I wanted and pushed some limits… 

Lucky for me, I was a good kid. I didn’t get into any serious trouble and I made some amazing friends, although we fell out of touch when I disappeared. My brother and I were close; he always watched out for me when he could, so I was safe even when I took risks.  

And some of those amazing friends I will always remember, like S who played french horn: she and I were like kindred spirits that year and played duets whenever we could. And D, my teacher from Le Chaperon Rouge in Switzerland, my mentor and friend, who was always there for me when I got terribly homesick. K, my dorm-mate in Switzerland, and Z who I met in Vancouver — she kinda lured me into so much trouble… um, ya… anyway, it was dangerous fun and it was good that we we got caught, ’cause it kept me from going too far. 

Besides, I knew I would soon disappear.

I never wanted to disappear back then, it just happened. And it continued to happen even past school, like when I went on maternity leave from my workplace in Toronto. My husband graduated from his Master’s and found work in Victoria, so we moved to the west coast. Once we were settled, I resigned from that Toronto position but it felt so odd: I hadn’t said goodbye. 

I had simply disappeared.

I didn’t like it but this time I was able to do something about it, so I made myself visible again. A year later, I took my young son back to Toronto and visited my colleagues to reforge ties. I have managed to keep some of those friendships still.

Disappearing was a trick I desperately needed in 2019. It is a very helpful resource… and I had to get myself away to protect myself and begin to heal. 

I still don’t like it and I will make myself visible again. 

Just not yet.

But soon.

White Noise

Mom! Stop humming!

It seems I’m always singing or talking out loud to myself. Sometimes it’s a conscious activity: practising a choir song, committing one to memory, singing at the piano. More often, though, it’s unconscious: an ongoing refrain filling my mind. 

Oops! Sorry. I didn’t realize I was humming. 

That’s actually not true. I am fully aware of the ongoing songs filling my mind. When they stop, I quickly turn on an audiobook. I’ve read almost two a week. Good thing the library has a good selection!

I tried doing some yoga the other day. I was very diligent through 2021, joined a guided yoga class almost daily. But the last few months, I haven’t been able to do any. Anyway, I went to pull the yoga mat out and before I could grab it I was filled with anxiety. My agitation was so strong, I knew I couldn’t do it.

I thought that resigning from the college would give me all the time I needed — and the emotional capacity — to get this book written. But I can’t even sit at the computer. I mean, email is no problem. My Board work is easy: reviewing materials,  attending meetings. Even the HR issue that came up last week was straightforward and easy for me to resolve. And I mean easy in the terms of my cognitive ability and ability to function.

When I open Scrivener, however, it’s a different story. I see the topics I’ve outlined and I’m immediately overwhelmed. My coach recommended I simply write about what comes to mind and let the book write itself. So, I started writing another blog post but then I had to stop.

I turned on my audiobook and sat down with a cup of tea.

I am afraid to think. It’s too much and I thought the resignation would open up space. Instead, it has brought up all the emotions I felt when I first left the college on medical leave three years ago. I’m terrified to dwell too long on these topics again. 

So, I busy my mind with music or someone else’s stories.

About beginnings…

I had the pleasure of learning about David Whyte this week at my Argonauts Trust Circle. This poem, The Journey, is so lovely; a perfect reflection of my experience of the end becoming the beginning.

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

from House of Belonging by David Whyte

The End

Audio of blog post

Well, I finally did it. After months of my family’s support and urging, I finally resigned from the college.

I am devastated. I’ve worked at the college for almost 30 years. Twenty years ago, I began the process of learning and collaborating with colleagues and peers around the globe, figuring out what is broken in the culture of engineering, defining what it could be, identifying the gaps and creating a plan to make the changes needed. The college supported my path, sponsoring two graduate degrees as I pursued this growing desire to make effective change in the school of engineering technology. Now I have formally given up the hope of leading the school into that future vision. I failed.

Yet, I have known of my inability to make that needed change for the past three years. In my opinion, the dean is well-rooted in the traditional culture; he is unable to comprehend the issues when they are identified.* That is not his fault: it is just where he is. I did not fully realize that, however, until our first attempt at mediation failed. I am hopeful our second attempt, if he agrees to one, will be successful.

With that hope and with this end, I begin my life’s work in earnest.

So, it is the end of one dream and the beginning of another, grander effort: the Edge. With this project, I share the back story of my research through a series of vignettes, infographics and discussion papers defining the strengths and opportunities we have in today’s global society in order to foster inclusion and belonging throughout the professions. I begin with engineering, recognizing that these learnings are valid universally.

Here’s the beginning…

*Note: this phase was edited for clarity on January 20th, 2023

The Cave

Plato used the allegory of the cave to describe society, understanding and the quest for enlightenment.

I use the allegory to help describe where the edge is.

You see, we can only know and comprehend what is within our experience. We can only imagine the possibility of more with courage and a willingness to question our assumptions.

Listen, as I describe the Edge using Plato’s allegory of the cave…

Or watch the video…  

Describing Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as a reference for The Edge
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Katherina: The allegory of the cave. How I like to use it!

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Katherina: Imagine a very deep cave with the opening looks out onto a beautiful vista,

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and about halfway through the cave there's a fire,

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and way down at the cave there's darkness,

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Katherina: there are people along the cave at different places within it. Those who are right against the wall.

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Katherina: All they see are reflections and shadows of things, and people who are in between the fire themselves. These shadows are up on the wall, and they only see the shadows. They only see these black and white two-dimensional moving images, that's, all they know of the world.

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Katherina: The people who are closer to the fire they can see a little more dimension. They still have a limited

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Katherina: color spectrum that they can see, but because they're closer to the light of the fire. They know that they can see that there are things that have three dimensions, and they can move in three dimensions.

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Katherina: there are people on the other side of the fire. They can see the fire, but they can also see this opening way down there that looks out onto something bright. It's a little,

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Katherina: whatever it it's way back there. Brightness, fire, and they can't really see the people against the wall, but they do see the other people milling around the fire,

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Katherina: and then, as we move closer to the entrance, we see that beautiful vista, and if we step Outside the cave we see gorgeous greens and blues.

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Here are the birds, and we see the world as it is, and all that is available to us.

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Katherina: The thing is that there are people in our society who are in different places within the cave,

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Katherina: and many of those people are

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Katherina: scared, uncertain, worried, apprehensive, about moving outside their realm of understanding and experience.

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Someone who has been to the opening of the cave can never describe it to someone who is at the wall, only seeing the black and white images on the wall.

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Katherina: They have no ability to perceive color. They have no ability to perceive three dimensions. Even The other people who are around them are very narrow, very thin, very shallow.

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Katherina: As long as they are satisfied in that place they'll never move. They will never move beyond towards the light outside. They can't even imagine it.

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Katherina: If you were to drag someone from the wall kicking and screaming towards the cave opening, they would be terrified. They would fight, fight back.

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Katherina: I believe there are people at every level,

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Katherina: and that everybody will at some point be receptive to learning more about the world, about society and about how we can interact.

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Katherina: I believe in my deepest heart that everyone is good intentioned, and all it takes is a kind word and the introduction of an idea,

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Katherina: and perhaps the support and caring and compassion to allow them to take that scary step beyond the edge of their understanding.

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Katherina: Thank you,