Worldwide Director and Founder: Melissa Rancourt

Do you remember the moment you decided to become an engineer?


Funny enough I remember the exact moment.  I had just finished the book Cheaper by the Dozen about 2 people (husband & wife) and their work in efficiency, production control, human factors – all these great subjects.   I remember I put the book down on the kitchen table and looked across to my Mom and said “Too bad this isn’t a real job.  I wish I could do the same thing.”  She told me – Yes, it is a real job, it is called Industrial Engineering – and Yes, you most certainly can do the same thing.  If it weren’t for my mother, I would never have even considered becoming an engineer – even though I had an aptitude for and liked math and science.  Sometimes you just need someone in your life that says to you – “yes, you can” - and at just the right moment when it can have a major impact on your future.  That’s what we all strive to do within greenlight for girls - to be that person for someone else.

Did you always like math class?

No.  In fact, I was quite afraid of math.  At a very young age, I was tested and it was determined that I needed to attend a higher math class with older children.  The problem was that I was the shyest kid in school and very afraid of change.  I didn’t want to leave the classroom at math class time.  I begged and pleaded with my teacher to allow me to take the test again so I could change my answers.  I wanted to stay with everyone else.  But the teacher wouldn’t budge.  So, I thought I would be smarter than them.  Every day, I would stare at the wall clock and at exactly 10 minutes before I needed to leave to go to the special class, I would tell the teacher that I had a headache and needed to go to the school nurse.  I would then spend the entire math class time in the nurse’s office, magically get better at the end of the hour and go back to my normal classroom.  I did this for one full week.  Everyday.  It was, of course, only day 2 when the school figured out my little trick but they let me continue to see if I could work it out on my own.  When that didn’t happen, they intervened – and to their credit, they worked on helping me with my shyness and fears.  When I developed the courage to go to the new math class a few weeks later, I found to my surprise that I was ahead of the class.  I felt silly for being so afraid of math class – it was easy and I realised that my greatest fear was that I would not be smart enough.  It was at that point in my life that I had begun to love math class.

Is it easy being a female in a technical profession?

Normally, I don’t think about being the only, or one of the few, women in a business meeting or in a classroom or doing scientific or technical work.  It isn’t until someone points out the difference that I actually notice.  That said, when that occurs, it isn’t easy.  It can be challenging.  But, I like challenges and it’s okay to be different.   I remember one day when I was first starting out my career, I was working on a shop floor in a big company.  I was very young – only 20 years old actually – and leading a team of engineers to improve the small motors division of one of their products.  The shop floor employees were very sceptical about me – one person refused to do his work when I walked by.  So one day, when I walked by, he stopped putting together the motor and challenged me to do it for him.  He thought that this young girl couldn’t really be an engineer (he actually told me that).  Luckily I had lost my shyness at that point in my life and marched right up to him and completed his work and put together the motor.  He decided not to challenge me after that moment.  He actually became quite helpful in the project.

What’s your favourite science TV show?

I am proud to say that I am a geek.  I watch the Big Bang Theory TV show over and over again – and love every moment.  In fact, we now have an interactive workshop relating to the TV show in our events.

Why did you send the e-mail that launched greenlight for girls?

I have been volunteering for years (more than 20) to encourage girls to enter the field of engineering.  While of course it has been rewarding, it has also been frustrating to see that the % of female engineers hasn’t changed (in any region of the world) in 20 years – in fact, it has decreased in some areas.

I sent the e-mail and launched this initiative because it felt like just the right moment.  But the initiative only works because others also felt it was needed and because we have been amazingly lucky to have wonderful people working to make all this come alive.

As the Founder working alongside our dedicated Board of Directors in Europe, US, Africa & Asia, I am very proud to say that I am a grown-up greenlight girl, an engineer and I’m a part of this enormous and amazing initiative that helps to inspire girls around the world that anything is possible!

See Melissa on LinkedIn or send her an email!