Women in naval architecture; the changing face of Robert Allan Ltd.

September 24, 2014

The business of Naval Architecture has for the most part always been a man’s domain. As Canada’s most senior firm in this industry, Robert Allan Ltd. has, over its 84 years of operation, only in the last 15 years or so seen this start to change, and markedly for the better. Although our administrative staff has always been very capable women, the design and technical aspects were always “man’s work”. Our first technical female employee was Marie Curtis, hired in about 1984, who then went on to work at Seaspan. The rapid growth of our business in past few years has coincided with the presence of many very talented women émigrés from Eastern Europe and from Asia. Added to these were a number of Canadian born and trained naval architects from UBC and Memorial University. Rather suddenly we had a significant female presence in the technical office. Today, nine of our total 63 technical staff are women, bringing a diverse set of talents and experience to the company. Three of these are also amongst the new generation of employee owners of the Company.

Following is a brief description from each of these women of what attracted them to the profession of naval architecture.


Andra Papuc, EIT (Naval Architect)

I started sailing in high school and what began as a fun summer activity turned into the potential of a lifelong career. From sailing to kayaking to outrigger racing, I couldn’t get enough of being on the water. This passion influenced my education and in 2008 I graduated from UBC with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering and a specialization in Thermofluids. I now spend my days working at Robert Allan Ltd., surrounded by drawings of boats and like-minded naval architects that share my passion and love for this mode of transportation.

Mavis Ye, P.Eng. (Senior Naval Architect)

Although there were not many experimental and lab opportunities for high school students back in the early 80s, I luckily had the chance to participate in a few, i.e. building remote controlled air plane models and a radio from a bared circuit board without joining the circuits. These captivating experiments drew my attention and interest towards the creations and practical development of engineering.

My hometown is a coastal city and its fantastic scenery of different vessels sailing on the sea is always eminent in my memory. The boats floating in the water with the characteristic curvature of the hull form is the combination of a fine art and all the kinds of engineering work that has been done on it: the structure, machinery, piping and electrical. These became important factors in leading me towards the decision of selecting a naval architecture major.

Bilyana Ivanova, P.Eng. (Senior Naval Architect)

I was raised in a coastal area so the sea was always part of my life. At 15 I was first introduced to sailing at the local yacht club and this made my bond with the sea even stronger. This romantic attitude towards the sea and boats definitely influenced my decision to enrol in the Naval Architecture program at University.

Sailing is still my passion, and even though my work at Robert Allan Ltd. involves designing working boats, I love my job and enjoy working in the maritime industry.

Dr. Hongling Zhang, P.Eng. (Naval Architect)

I grew up in a port city by Yangzi River. As a child, I was attracted by various types of vessel on the river, and dreamt to design a ship by myself. After University, I started my real career as a Naval Architect. During the past fifteen years, I have been involved with the design and construction of quite a few ship types, including very large Crude Carriers (VLCC), bulk carriers, container vessels, tugboats, fireboats, offshore supply vessels, barges, and science research vessel. It is an amazing feeling to see those vessels launched and running at sea. I enjoy the life of a naval architect.

Jian Zhang (Senior Systems Designer)

When I was young, I wondered how ships that sit in water could float. I entered University studying shipbuilding engineering, and completed my 4 year study in marine engineering. After that, I went to Shanghai, Singapore and moved to Vancouver, and participated extensively in ship designing and building. I have worked on the design of tugs, barges, container vessels, oil tankers, cargo vessels, offshore oil rigs, FPSOs and FSOs, etc.

The more work I do, the more I continue learning what I love to do. Ship building and design work is challenging and fantastic! I am very proud to be a ship designer.

Vesna Klipa (Naval Architect)

I was born in Rijeka, the biggest Croatian seaport, where my love for the sea started early. Many different types of ships were in port, ferries, fishing, sailing boats etc., creating a daily change of city décor.

Next to my love of the sea was the idea of when we “connect ourselves with the sea we are connected with a whole world”; a feeling of freedom and connectedness with countries and people around the world.

What attracted me to naval architecture was my comprehension that each vessel is so different, that it could be compared with us, people, each different and beautifully unique in our own ways. I was attracted to the creative process of ship design, the aesthetics and functionality of ship lines forming the hull. I planned to (and do!) work in a ship design office, exposed daily to the creative process of ship design.

Tian (Jenny) Yu (Marine Design Technologist)

I worked as a civil engineer for 3 years before joining Robert Allan Ltd., where I trained with stability, hull form development, and the concepts of naval architecture design.

After starting in the engineering field, I started loving what I did because engineering is kind of the art of balance between theory and reality. When the design is becoming more refined and more acceptable, it’s time for a cup of coffee and a bar of chocolate! Although engineering is indeed a male-dominated industry, instead of pressure, I am very appreciative of their intelligent, decisive leadership.

Ruquan (Lucy) Ouyang, EIT (Naval Architect)

Since Naval Architecture is also my father’s profession, it somehow influenced me to pursue a career in this field. I received a PhD in Naval Architecture & Marine Engineering from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China.

Vesselina Handjiyska (Naval Architect)

To me, it’s been a gift to be born and live near the Black Sea. I grew up playing on the beach and swimming in the sea. This connection with the sea is forever and it defined my future. In high school I had a trip Varna-Odessa-Sochi by boat. I found the ship fascinating. After high school, I enrolled to study naval architecture at the Technical University of Varna. It is not always an easy job. It requires persistence and hard work, but with the challenge comes great personal satisfaction.


A common theme emerges for these talented women, all having been exposed at an early age to the sea and ships and their respective beauties, and the challenges of participating in designing something that works well in such a demanding environment, and that hopefully is pleasing to the eye! Their talents have been a significant bonus to Robert Allan Ltd., and we welcome the diversity of such diverse input to improving the overall quality of our design products.