Headshot of Shanleigh McKeown, who is standing in front of a scenic lake amidst mountains.
Shanleigh McKeown will graduate in June with a degree in environmental engineering from the USask College of Engineering. (Photo: Submitted)

USask engineering student leader wins 3M fellowship

Shanleigh McKeown, described as a tour de force in the world of engineering student leadership, has won a 3M National Student Fellowship.

By Donella Hoffman

Up to 10 fellowships are awarded annually to undergraduate students by the Society of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE). Together the cohort must develop and complete a funded project focusing on a big idea in teaching and learning.

“I’m really excited to meet the other students and see what their focuses are and see how we can work together since we all come from very different backgrounds,” McKeown said in an interview. “There’s quite a few social science students so it’ll be really interesting to see their perspectives on education because they’re coming at it from such a different lived experience than I have.”

McKeown, who grew up in Saskatoon and Humboldt, will graduate in June with a degree in environmental engineering from the University of Saskatchewan (USask) College of Engineering.

She was immediately drawn to student government when she arrived at university.

“I think in a lot of ways the point of government is to uplift your most vulnerable so that everyone in the community thrives, and I thought, ‘Ok, what’s the equivalent of that at the student level?’

“And, I always saw student government as something that developed different skills than what my academics did. I thought it was important to be a well-rounded person.”

In her application for the fellowship, McKeown was asked to provide her thoughts on leadership, which she describes as “the authentic work of love, kindness and compassionate accountability.”

“Love in leadership is empathy when it is hard, prioritizing equity over equality, and creating space for people to come as they are and be loved anyways,” she wrote.

“As a queer woman from a low-income family, I know what it means to feel like I do not belong in leadership. As a child, I never thought I would attend university, let along be gifted with the opportunities I have been throughout my post-secondary education,” her statement continued.

While pursuing her engineering degree, McKeown’s leadership positions in student government have been:

  • President, Saskatoon Engineering Students’ Society;
  • President, Western Engineering Student Societies Team (WESST) for two consecutive academic years;
  • Western Canadian Ambassador, Canadian Federation of Engineering Students (CFES);
  • President, CFES, representing 85,000 engineering students across Canada.

McKeown has also received scholarships recognizing not only her achievement but her resilience:

  • Engineers Canada Student Leadership Scholarship, focusing on leadership, resiliency, and vision for the engineering profession and community;
  • Elizabeth La Award for Women in Engineering, highlighting community involvement, contributions to leadership and community, and barriers to education that the recipient has overcome.

“I have been continually struck by Shanleigh’s unrelenting commitment to compassion, excellence, and community-building,” wrote Aparna Mohan, a CFES vice-president who served with McKeown. “Shanleigh is a tour de force in the world of engineering student leadership.”

Changing the CFES leadership culture to design projects around team members’ strengths, being available for technical and/or moral support, championing consensus-based decision-making and normalizing the prioritization of mental health helped the CFES have one of its most productive years to date, Mohan wrote.

It was McKeown’s Rhetorical Communication instructor, Rebekah Bennetch, who saw McKeown’s passion for learning and genuine warmth toward her classmates and suggested she apply for the fellowship.

“With her quick wit, kindness, and technical expertise, she is truly an exceptional student,” said Bennetch. “I'm thrilled that she is receiving the recognition she deserves for all her accomplishments, and I'm excited to see what she will achieve next.”

McKeown’s win is the third consecutive year that a USask student has been chosen for a fellowship and second time an engineering student has been selected. Samia Sami (BE ’21 Electrical) was selected in 2021.

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