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NLAF announces 2016 award winners

The Northern Lights Award Foundation (NLAF) board members are pleased to announce the seven winners of its 2016 Elsie MacGill Northern Lights Award, the pinnacle aviation and aerospace award.


June 3, 2016
By Northern Lights Award Foundation

Each year, the national not-for-profit foundation honours outstanding Canadian women who have made a significant contribution in their field and who continue to lay the groundwork for and attract other women to enter or excel in these industries.

“We look forward to honouring the achievements of this year’s remarkable winners. We consider all the nominations received as high-achieving women, who have had a meaningful impact on those around them,” says Anna Pangrazzi, President and Director of Sales for The Northern Lights Awards Foundation. “This year’s winners are awe-inspiring to us all, they succeeded in their careers with such courage and determination, they are role models to us all and they strive to inspire and motivate other young women to take up careers in aviation and aerospace. ”

The 2016 list of winners:
Pioneer Award – Rosella Bjornson was the foremost first officer on a jet and is a trailblazer for women in aviation. She received her pilot’s licence at 17 and earned her commercial and instructor rating while attending the University of Calgary. She became the first female first officer when she was hired by Transair in 1973, and the first jet qualified female airline pilot in North America. She was also the first woman member of the Canadian Airlines Pilots Association. She was grounded in 1979 due to her first pregnancy, and worked with Transport Canada after her second pregnancy in 1984 to help create new policy for this vital issue. Due to her efforts, female pilots were able to fly for the first 6 months during pregnancy, a major milestone for women in aviation. In 1990 she became the first female captain with a major airline in Canada (Canadian). She was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1997.

Flight Operations/Maintenance Award – Brigadier General Lise Bourgon is a highly respected maritime helicopter pilot with over 220 hours flying the Sea King. She has been a pioneer of gender integration and her career includes numerous milestones: she was the first female LtCol pilot commanding officer of an operational squadron, first female colonel wing commander, and the first female commander of joint task force- Iraq in Kuwait commanding over 600 CAF personnel. She has twice been the Canadian representative for the Women in NATO Working Group. She has worked on issues affecting women in the CAF and wrote her staff college thesis on retention and work-life balance. She has multiple degrees, the latest a Master of Public Administration.

Government/Military Award – Dr. Sylvie Béland, Internationally recognized aerospace and space scientist whose work has contributed to new technologies to the Canadarm2 and the International Space Station. She is the first woman aerospace R&D director at the National Research Council in charge of the largest laboratory in the country with a staff of 100. She has held a number of senior positions at the Canadian Space Agency and served a five-year term as Counselor on Space and Commercial Affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Paris. She also acted as a Permanent Delegate of Canada to the European Space Agency. She is now the NRC co-champion on the National Women In Science and Technology Committee. She has written many papers and a book on high performance resins and their composites, and has received many awards and honours.

Business Award – Jolene Mahody, EVP and CFO for Chorus Aviation is a Chartered Accountant and has received her Fellow of Chartered Accountant designation, which is awarded for outstanding career and community achievements. She joined Air Nova in 1992 and has had an impressive and varied career track that has seen her take on increasingly senior roles. Jolene played a key role in the merger of four regional airlines into what eventually became Jazz Aviation LP, a successful IPO in 2006 and the evolution of Chorus.

Education Award – Dr. Catherine Mavriplis, completed a Masters and a PhD in Aeronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology before pursuing postdoctoral studies in computational mathematics and aerospace engineering at Princeton. She is a licenced professional engineer in the state of Virginia and Ontario. She has been a member of the faculty at the University of Ottawa since 2008. In 2011, she was selected as the NSERC/Pratt and Whitney Canada Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, the first woman from aviation and aerospace to be selected as one of the national champions for women in science and aerospace and continues to work as an advocate for advancing women in aerospace.

Rising Star Award 1 – Holly Johnson has a Bachelor of Applied Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Toronto. She joined MDA as a student and has worked on the Canadarm program including performing the pre-mission simulation of the Canadarm robotic operations with the International Space Station. She was the lead systems engineer on the neurosurgical medical robotic (neuroarm2) transferring the technology of space to provide hands-free surgical imaging. She is also a Private Pilot.

Rising Star Award 2 – Navreet Saini graduated from Ryerson University’s aerospace engineering program in 2012, accepted an avionics engineering position with Bell Helicopter and has transferred to the Flight Test Experimental department. She has done internships with the Ryerson Institute Aerospace Design and Innovation, and with Bombardier. She worked on the ramp at the Brampton Flying Club during school and completed her pilot’s licence and night rating. Her goal is to work in the human factors and aviation sector.

The Foundation’s award program, the Elsie MacGill Northern Lights (EMNL) Award, is named after aviation pioneer and human rights advocate Elsie Gregory MacGill. The world’s first female aircraft designer, MacGill graduated from the University of Toronto’s electrical engineering program in 1927 and later became pivotal in the design and production of the Hawker Hurricane in Canada during the Second World War. During her career, MacGill was appointed to the Canadian Royal Commission on the Status of Women, and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Other key initiatives of the foundation are the Scholarship Program for the Rising Star winners and the Speakers’ Bureau, where those looking to host an event with a motivational speaker can access a roster of female speakers and role models from aviation and aerospace. As a result of Porter Airlines recently coming on board as the NLAF title sponsor, the Foundation will now partner in the company’s marketing and branding initiatives around their “Women Soar” program.