Elsie MacGill Awards Gala honors 8 women in aviation and aerospace

By Natasha McKenty | October 26, 2022

Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 18 seconds.

Northern Lights Aero Foundation’s 13th annual Elsie MacGill Awards Gala, held on Oct. 22, 2022, honored eight outstanding women in aviation and aerospace. The nearly sold-out event boasted over 450 attendees, with 123 sponsored students in attendance. This year, for the first time, the Toronto-based celebration introduced a two-hour networking opportunity prior to dinner.

The ceremony, which was canceled in 2020 (due to the pandemic), was held at the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel in Richmond Hill, Ontario — without restrictions and at full capacity.

“Once again, we received many deserving nominations, indicating the number and calibre of women working in this industry in Canada,” the president of the Northern Lights Aero Foundation, Kathleen Lang, said in a statement.

Since 2009, the Elsie MacGill Awards have honored “up to eight women for their contributions in specific aviation and aerospace disciplines.” Nominees are recognized “through a combination of visuals, display materials, and speakers.”

2022 Elsie MacGill Award recipients (from left to right): Arielle Meloul-Wechsler, Gisele Garceau, Donya Naz Divsalar, Kim Winsor, Stéphanie Angrand, Damineh Akhavan, Zainab Azim, and Marlene Shillingford. Andy Cline Photo

The event is named after Elsie MacGill, the world’s first female aircraft designer. The women’s rights activist was appointed chief aeronautical engineer for the Canadian Car and Foundry Plant, and became known as the “Queen of the Hurricanes” after she became “pivotal in the production of the Hawker Hurricane.”

The 2022 award recipients are:

• Business Award – Arielle Meloul-Wechsler, Air Canada executive vice president

• Education Award – Stéphanie Angrand, instructor, Canadian Forces Leadership School

• Engineering Award – Damineh Akhavan, CEO of Global Women in STEM

• Flight Operations Award – Kim Winsor, Air Canada training captain

• Government Award – Gisele Garceau, professional engineer and commercial pilot

• Trailblazer Award – Marlene Shillingford, Chief Warrant Officer, 2 Canadian Air Division

• Rising Star Award – Donya Naz Divsalar, CEO of Caidin Biotechnologies

• Rising Star Award – Zainab Azim, future astronaut, Virgin Atlantic

Full bios for each of the recipients can be found on the Foundation’s Wall of Fame page.

Kathy Fox (left) presented Marlene Shillingford, RCAF chief warrant officer, 2 Canadian Air Division (right), with the Trailblazer Award. Andy Cline Photo

According to the foundation, the nomination criteria is based on “determination and perseverance; enthusiasm; leadership; personal accomplishments in aviation or aerospace; the ability to inspire others; [and] a contribution over an extended period of time (exception: the Rising Star Award).”

During the evening’s presentations, Murray Strom, senior vice president of flight operations at Air Canada, announced that CAE and Air Canada had partnered to double the 2023 Captain Judy Cameron Scholarships. Since 2019, the scholarships have been “granted to young Canadian women studying to become commercial pilots or maintenance engineers.”

“We are incredibly pleased to have CAE, our long-time flight simulation partner, join with us to double the number of Captain Judy Cameron scholarships that will be offered for 2023,” Strom said in a statement.”

Nick Leontidis, group president of civil aviation at CAE, added: “The Captain Judy Cameron Scholarship program aligns with our efforts of creating a movement that encourages young women to dream big. A movement started by pioneers like Captain Cameron, inspiring young women everywhere to pursue careers in aviation.”

The winners of this year’s Captain Judy Cameron Scholarship, awarded in partnership with the Northern Lights Aero Foundation, each received $5,000 toward their studies in aviation.

2023 Captain Judy Cameron Scholarship applications open on Nov. 1, 2022.

Nominations for the 2023 Elsie MacGill Awards open on Jan. 1 and run until March 31, 2023.

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