A committed volunteer and a natural leader, Uppal has created several avenues for his peers to engage in leadership and volunteerism, both within the university community and beyond. His interest in innovation and entrepreneurship, plus his passion for creating positive change, led him to develop the Nspire Innovation Network and its flagship event, the National Business and Technology Conference. He also created the Take Action! Organization which works to contribute to the community while developing socially aware youth leaders. This organization now hosts two university chapters (at Queens and U of T) and has more than 400 members. In 2011, Uppal was selected to participate inThe Next 36 – a national entrepreneurship program – where he tied for the highest marks in the program.
INTERVIEW WITH SAKSHAM UPPAL
Can you tell us a bit about the Gold Medal award you are receiving and how it all came about?
The Gold Medal is an annual award granted by Engineers Canada to one or two graduating engineering students that have demonstrated “outstanding contributions to societal issues through community involvement, outstanding achievements, and leadership in the profession at the student level.” The process for being selected was fairly extensive. I was first considered amongst a pool of nominees in the Engineering Science Division and nominated as the Division’s candidate to the Engineering Faculty. I was subsequently selected as Faculty’s nominee to Engineers Canada. Lastly I was selected from the national nominees for the award.
I was nominated based on my work over the past several years. My interest in innovation and entrepreneurship led me to help develop the Nspire Innovation Network and its flagship event, the National Business and Technology Conference. Similarly my passion for volunteering and creating positive change motivated me to found and lead the Take Action! Organization, a student-run initiative that contributes to the community through volunteerism and develops socially aware youth leaders in the process. The organization hosts two university chapters (UofT and Queen’s) and has over 400 members. Last summer I also participated in the inaugural cohort of the Next 36, a national entrepreneurship and leadership program. It was a life altering experience that offered me the chance to connect with top Canadian business leaders and launch a mobile venture with $50,000 in seed capital.
I also had the opportunity to actively volunteer in the student community and beyond. I held multiple leadership roles in the Innis Residence Council and served as an executive for both the UofT Nanoclub and the Engineering Science Education Conference (ESEC). In the community, I acted as a volunteer consultant for Endeavour Volunteer Consulting for Non-Profits and provided pro-bono advisory services to a non-profit organization. As part of my ongoing effort to cultivate a global perspective, I volunteered abroad for two weeks in the summer of 2010 and helped build schools in an indigenous Costa Rican village. This summer I will similarly volunteer as part of the UTACCEL (UofT Association for Canada-China Exchange of Leadership) program as a seminar leader for two conferences in China.
From a professional experience perspective, I was able to build a better understanding of multiple fields (IT, software, mobile, consulting, and global development) through completing internships at TD Financial Group, Research in Motion, Polar Mobile, Deloitte and most recently the United Nations World Food Programme.
Everything considered my undergraduate experience in Engineering Science has been diverse and thoroughly enriching!
What does it mean to you to have won the Gold Medal Student Award?
I am extremely humbled to be receiving the Engineers Canada Gold Medal Student Award for leadership. Although my motivation has always been to have a positive impact on my community, being recognized for my efforts over the past several years is very reassuring that the work I am doing is creating value for others. I am extremely thankful for the support of my family, friends, mentors and teachers who have all contributed to my development and without whom I could not have challenged myself to go the extra-mile. Being selected for the award also reminds me of the role of engineers in society and our growing newfound responsibilities. Engineers by principle are able problem-solvers and I am confident that by applying our skills to larger societal issues and also assuming leadership positions in fields beyond traditional engineering we can find solutions to society’s most pressing problems.
Could you tell us a little bit about your 2012 summer plans in China? Where will you be working? What subjects will you be teaching?
As part of the UTACCEL group, this August I will act as a seminar leader for two conferences in China. The first conference in Beijing will have an international theme and I will be engaging Chinese high-school and undergraduate student delegates on the topic of entrepreneurship. Select delegates will also have the chance to apply their learning by working on a business pitch for the duration of the conference. For the second conference in Guangzhou, the conference theme is social entrepreneurship and I will be acting as a general mentor and seminar leader.
What made you choose to take up this opportunity after your Engineering Science degree?
Staying true to the intentions of the program to create “Engineers for the World”, I find there is a tremendous amount that you can learn about yourself and the world by challenging yourself to explore new settings and roles. The world is undoubtedly becoming a global village of sorts and it’s in a person’s best interest to learn more about other cultures. I am eagerly looking forward to connecting with the delegates and learning from them, and while doing so also experiencing Chinese culture first-hand. At the same time, it seems like a great opportunity for me to share some of the learning I have had over the past several years in being exposed to entrepreneurship. I also hope to act as an ambassador of sorts representing Canada’s up and coming generation of leaders.
You’ve applied to work with the UN World Food Programme in Rome. What is does this position entail?
To provide background on the organization, the World Food Programme (WFP) is the food assistance branch of the United Nations, and the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing global hunger. I am currently completing a summer internship at the WFP headquarters in Rome. My position focuses on conducting impact analysis of the organization’s nutrition focused activities. The work involves a variety of skills including extensive research, modelling, and understanding policy implications. The subject area of impact analysis and program efficiency is still a developing field and it’s exciting to be given an opportunity to contribute to it in the context of the WFP’s work.
What do you hope to do during your time at the UN? What do you hope to learn and gain through this experience?
During my time with the UN I am hoping to accomplish three main objectives. The first is to learn as much as I can about the intricacies of global development – specifically what works and what doesn’t. This is definitely no minor task though. There are significant differences between the field (i.e. program implementation) and the office (usually where programs and policy suggestions are conceived). I am fortunate that many of my WFP colleagues have worked in the field implementing programs and interventions, and I intend to learn as much as I can from them regarding their experiences. My second objective is to gain a better understanding of the factors that play a part in policy creation and government decision-making. My third, and likely most important, objective is to create value through my work during my limited time with the organization. I want to leave thoughtful and well substantiated work behind that can immediately be implemented and further developed in the future.