While Ashley Borzellino just celebrated her one-year anniversary working as a Development Inspector/Operator in the City of Brantford’s Development Engineering Department, it’s not the only title she’s been celebrating.
Borzellino, 25, was recently crowned Miss Canada 2023 in May, a title she never quite expected to have growing up.
During her time in high school, the Hamilton resident found herself an active participant in extracurricular activities. From dance to sports, volunteering and even being a member of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, Borzellino was happy to try different things.
With all around solid marks in her classes, Borzellino was stumped when it came to picking a post-secondary path. While many high school students gather career inspiration from their parents or families, she says that her family members are known to follow their own different paths.
“My family is really unique like that, everyone does something a little different. There are police officers, bus drivers, chefs, nurses, and music producers – everyone’s a little all over the map,” she said. “For me, there was nothing that I thought ‘oh, I really suck at this or oh, I really excel at this.’ At that time, It wasn’t that I was lost, it’s just that some people really don’t see themselves doing one particular thing and I enjoyed a lot of different things.”
Knowing she would either have to jump right into work or attend post-secondary, Borzellino soon approached her school’s guidance counsellor for insight. It was the counsellor that noticed the student’s math and tech marks and suggested she join a specialized tech SHSM (Specialist High Skills Major) program.
This particular SHSM program allowed the student to gain credits toward her Ontario Secondary School Diploma and two credits toward Mohawk College, all while spiking her interest in pursuing the field of engineering.
“I promised myself that if I did well, then I was just going to go forward with it in post-secondary. I didn’t really have anything that I loved, and I didn’t really have a passion or anything like that that I wanted to pursue so I just went for it, and I ended up really enjoying myself,” she said. “I got an internship with the City of Hamilton as my first exposure to working in the field and that’s kind of where I decided that I wanted a job where I would be in the office half of the time and in the field half of the time. I learned that I love being outdoors, I love getting to know people and building connections, and really practicing transferable skills and communication.”
Since completing her time in the civil engineering technology program at Mohawk College, Borzellino is now a Certified Technician (C.Tech.) with the Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists (OACETT) and has been working in her field of inspection for nearly four and a half years.
Her day to day work life includes inspecting job sites for new development projects, like subdivisions and stores.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020, Borzellino found that the hobbies and volunteering opportunities she always enjoyed had been put on hold.
“A lot of these activities had been shut down temporarily, but pageantry was still going on and I had seen an advertisement for a beauty competition, and I thought ‘well, why not? This seems like fun,’” she said. “At the time I wasn’t doing it for any particular reason, but I ended up enjoying the idea of pageantry. While I didn’t love that particular pageant, they were the ones that recommended I should do pageantry for a purpose because it makes the journey that more special.”
Borzellino began brainstorming what she wanted to stand for and what she had to offer in the pageant world.
“I was so stumped and I was thinking back to all the things I’ve done in the past and then I thought ‘why am I so stuck on this? I experience being the only woman on the job site or in the office every day, why don’t I talk about that?’” she said. “That’s when I decided that I would advocate for women in construction, women in trades, and women in male dominated industries.”
She also recognized that it wasn’t just women she was trying to reach with her message, but others too.
“I didn’t want to just focus solely on women because I wanted to resonate with everyone, so I modeled my advocacy around occupational diversity because it’s not just a women issue. It really touches on any age, gender or race because we’re all human and we all have the same feelings, it just might be a different situation, position or field. I think that in the workplace, we do have occupations that are heavier on a certain “look,” if you will,” she explained. “:Of course, when speaking about my experience, I’m always going to go back to women in construction and engineering because as I’ve explained to the judges and to anybody involved in my crowning that I was a great candidate and deserved to win because my promises and duties were going to be representing women in construction.”
With a purpose now in hand, in 2022 her mother spotted an ad for Miss Canada 2022, the longest running national competition since 1946.
Miss Canada prides itself for promoting as a personality and attitude contest that focuses on “authenticity, respect, confidence and congeniality” while also encouraging strong diverse friendships during the pageant week.
“They actually listen to your advocacy, they don’t look at just your physical appearance,” she said.
Leading up to the event, Borzellino arrived in Montreal a week prior to the pageant as contestants are encouraged to spend time with each other and build friendships – a factor she says enjoyed.
“I think the best part is making friends and having a good time, and that’s really important with the present system,” she said. “You don’t want to just join because you want to win, you want to join because you want to enjoy yourself. It’s going to take up your time and your time is not replaceable, so you want it to be a good experience. We have a few days with some activities and restaurant visits, and we just have a really good time when we’re there and it leaves you with a nice feeling even if you don’t leave with the crown.”
With her new title, Borzellino hopes to use her platform to encourage woman to take a chance to pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) even if they may be unsure of themselves.
“No matter what path you choose in life, there’s always going to be challenges. If you’re afraid of stumbling or failing, that can happen no matter what,” she said. “The most important thing is just to get back up and just to keep going. Everybody starts from nothing and at some point you’re going to have to face your fear no matter what you do. If something is holding you back from trying something that seems intimidating, don’t let that fear get in the way.”
Borzellino’s first public appearance as Miss Canada 2023, will be on June 17 at the Women on Site, a support and advocacy group for women and underrepresented people in construction, trades, manufacturing, STEM, and any other male dominated industry.