Posts By: Christina Heidorn

Black History Month: Presidents reflect on the impact of National Society of Black Engineers at U of T

NSBE past presidents

Since 1999, the U of T chapter of NSBE has helped increase Black representation, while fostering community among Black students at U of T Engineering

Kelly-Marie Melville (ChemE 1T2 + PEY) was in her dorm room, just two weeks into her studies at U of T Engineering, when a fellow student Korede Owolabi (CompE 1T5 + PEY) and member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) U of T chapter came knocking on her door.

“He gave me a full rundown about NSBE, and I didn’t fully understand the gravity of it at the time,” says Melville. “But once I started my classes, I got it.”

Melville remembers sitting in Convocation Hall, where all first-year engineering students traditionally gather for their first class together.

“It was intimidating for someone who just moved here from Trinidad and for someone who is just starting engineering. I remember thinking, ‘oh my goodness, there is no one here who looks like me.’”

NSBE, founded in 1975 at Purdue University, aims to promote, support and increase the number of Black engineers who excel academically and professionally. Each year, the NSBE National Convention brings thousands of members together for networking and professional development opportunities. The organization’s goal is to graduate 10,000 Black engineers annually by 2025.

The U of T chapter, founded in 1999, is the largest in Toronto. And for more than 20 years, NSBE U of T has played an important role in increasing Black inclusion at U of T, and in fostering a safe space among Black engineering students, who continue to be underrepresented among the student body.

Three years after that knock on the door, Melville was NSBE president (2009 to 2010), and found herself using the same recruitment strategy. “Sometimes I was even chasing students down in the hallways to talk to them [about NSBE],” she says.

One of the students she introduced NSBE to was Akira Neckles (ChemE 1T7 + PEY), who would also eventually become president (2016 to 2017). During her studies, Neckles remembers seeing only five Black students within her year.

“That can really make you feel like you don’t belong,” she says. “With NSBE, it felt like it brought us together. Within a program, we’re less, but within a group, we’re more.”

Over the years, each NSBE U of T president would bring a unique vision and leave their own legacy of impact.

During Melville’s term, she worked to significantly increase NSBE U of T memberships. For Neckles, her focus was on professional development, inviting organizations to U of T so that members were informed of career pathways, even before looking ahead at their Professional Experience Year (PEY) Co-op.

During Dimpho Radebe’s (IndE 1T4 + PEY, ChemE PhD candidate in EngEd ) presidency (2014 to 2015), she was challenged with keeping NSBE U of T afloat, as memberships began to dwindle.

“I think the biggest challenge for NSBE is that, although it is an organization created to support Black students, we’ve always said, we’re open to everyone and not exclusively to Black students,” explains Radebe. “But many students don’t realize that, and it makes our potential pool that much smaller.”

Radebe says one of her greatest achievements during her leadership was sending 10 students to the NSBE National Convention in Anaheim, Calif.

“That experience really inspired students to join because they can see the full power of NSBE versus when you don’t see many of us around at school,” she says. “Many of them ended up running for leadership positions after that.”

For Iyiope Jibodu (ChemE 0T8 + PEY), it was about “NSBE family and NSBE love.” As president from 2008 to 2009, he was instrumental in launching D-Battle, a student dance competition that would attract large crowds to the Sandford Fleming atrium. D-Battle started as an idea by Owolabi to increase membership — it would become a staple NSBE event for years to come.

“NSBE had a reputation as a professional student group, but we took the risk to host D-Battle, which turned out to be a fantastic platform to increase awareness on campus,” says Jibodu. “By having a fun event with mass appeal, we brought the entire Faculty together and showcased our strong and vibrant community.”

During Mikhail Burke’s (MSE 1T2, IBBME PhD 1T8) presidency (2010 to 2011), he would play a pivotal role in founding ENGage, an outreach program for Black students in Grades 3 to 8 that sparks passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). ENGage has been running for more than a decade out of the U of T Engineering Outreach Office, and would pave the way for Blueprint, a new program designed for Black high school students interested in STEM.

Alana Bailey (Year 3 CivMin) is NSBE U of Ts current president and has had a term like no other — having to lead from home during the pandemic. Despite this challenge, Bailey has set out ambitious goals.

Her mission when she took office in May was to have each executive member recruit at least five students — this led to a growth of more than 60 members by September 2020. Under her leadership, NSBE U of T has been more involved in Faculty recruitment events, as well as leading their own high school outreach efforts.

This year, NSBE U of T has also brought in more external sponsors to support initiatives — most recently, NSBEHacks garnered a wide range of sponsorships with leading companies such as Google, NVIDIA and Shopify, just to name a few.

Bailey hopes this effort builds toward retaining sponsorships year-round, providing funds for members pursuing professional development endeavours.

“If students need help to go to a conference or to enrol in an expensive course, our hope is to have the supports to actively help them achieve that,” says Bailey.

Bailey has three months left in her term, before she takes up her PEY Co-op position next fall. She plans to stay in close contact with NSBE, and she isn’t alone in wanting to stay in touch — many former presidents and members continue to advise, mentor and participate in NSBE U of T events.

That includes Burke, who is now the Dean’s Advisor on Black Inclusivity Initiatives and Student Inclusion & Transition Advisor at U of T Engineering. Over the last decade, he has seen and participated in many efforts by U of T Engineering to address Black underrepresentation — and NSBE has always played a role.

“There’s been a shift in what the Faculty feels empowered to do and it’s a good start, but there’s always room to do more. We have to continue to lean into the discomfort of talking about the lack of Black representation and about anti-Black racism on campus,” he says. “Organizations like NSBE are key advocates in driving the Faculty to engage in that change.”

This story was originally published in the U of T Engineering News.


Winter storms and power outages: Chair of EngSci’s energy systems major on creating a secure system

Aimy Bazylak on CTV

 

A massive winter storm system recently caused large-scale power outages affecting millions in the United States of America.

Professor Aimy Bazylak (MIE) was featured on CTV Your Morning to discuss the situation in Texas and why energy storage is critical for Canada’s energy security as extreme weather events caused by climate change become more common.  Professor Bazylak is the chair of EngSci’s energy systems major, and serves as EngSci’s associate chair.

Watch the interview here.


Serving their community: EngSci students win University of Toronto Student Leadership Awards

UTSLA 2021 winners

Year 4 EngSci students Katie Allison and Kevin Zhang were recognized for their commitment to their community and to student organizations.  (photos courtesy of Katie Allison and Kevin Zhang)

 

Two EngSci students are among this year’s recipients of the prestigious University of Toronto Student Leadership Award (UTSLA).  The awards recognize graduating students who have shown outstanding leadership, made sustained or high-impact volunteer contributions, and provided exemplary volunteer service to the University of Toronto.

Katie Allison (Year 4) created improvements to student resources and club operations that will have an impact for years to come.  She served in several leadership roles in the Engineering Society (EngSoc), including as Design Team Association Director, At-Large Representative on the Board of Directors, and Vice-Chair Operations for Orientation.  Working with the Faculty, she prepared advanced safety training and a shared workspace in the Myhal Centre for the Engineering Society’s design teams.  It will be used to create innovative projects and teach students valuable skills. She also started a discussion group to address student safety through better prevention of and response to incidents of sexual violence.

Allison also served as Director of Operations for EngSci’s annual Engineering Science Education Conference (ESEC).  She recruited and trained dozens of volunteers and organized logistics for this important event serving 500 first and second year EngSci students.  She also served as volunteer first responder and was previously recognized with a Certificate of Meritorious Service for her work in the line of duty as part of U of T’s Emergency First Responders (UTEFR).

As chair of IEEE’s U of T chapter, Kevin Zhang (Year 4) believed strongly that financial barriers should not prevent students from accessing skill improvement workshops and career development opportunities.  He helped quadruple support from industry partners and the university, allowing hundreds of students to attend over a dozen technical and professional development events for free.

Zhang also led the Developer Student Club (DSC), which provided free workshops to students about cloud technologies.  He spoke at the DSC leads conference in San Fransisco to share this U of T success story with hundreds of student leaders.

Zhang also served as EngSoc’s Gradball Director and EngSci Club’s Dinner Dance Director, bringing his creative talents and organizational skills to these popular annual social events for hundreds of engineering students.

The UTSLA continues U of T’s long-standing tradition of recognizing outstanding student leadership, service, and commitment to the university. This tradition began with the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award, which was established in 1994 by the UTAA in honour of Mr. Gordon Cressy, former Vice-President, Development and University Relations.

The awards will be presented to the winners later in the spring.

For a full list of all recipients and to learn more about the awards, visit the UTSLA webpage.


EngSci student has a message for women and girls considering STEM fields: ‘You can’

Adriana Patino

Adriana Diaz Lozano Patino, a third-year engineering science student at U of T, is focused on finding innovative solutions to global water and energy needs (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

 

By Rahul Kalvapalle

As a young girl growing up in Mexico, Adriana Diaz Lozano Patino (Year 3 EngSci) was always very clear on what she wanted to do when she grew up.

“Since I was very young, I loved the idea of becoming a scientist – even though when you’re 10 years old, you don’t really know what that actually means,” says Patino, who is majoring in biomedical engineering.

Last summer, Patino completed an internship in MIE’s Water and Energy Research Laboratory, which researches innovative engineering solutions for global water and energy needs. There, she worked on research pertaining to sustainable sanitation and water desalination in Mexico and Bangladesh, respectively.

The lab is directed by Associate Professor Amy Bilton (MIE), whom Patino describes as “a phenomenal role model.”

Bilton and Patino are among a growing number of women scholars, students and researchers whose work is pushing the boundaries of traditionally male-dominated STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields while helping to spread a message of inclusivity – a message that underpins the International Day of Women and Girls in Science that was adopted by the United Nations in 2015.

Patino, a Pearson Scholar, says her summer stint in Bilton’s lab – funded by the Engineering Science Research Opportunities Program – made her doubly determined to pursue a career in engineering.

Her first project saw her assist with PhD research focused on designing sustainable sanitation systems for the periphery of major cities in Mexico.

“Around 11 million Mexicans don’t have access to safe sanitation technologies, particularly those who live in the periphery of cities,” Patino says. “Mexico, just like many countries that are deemed the global south, has this really interesting interface at the periphery of major cities where you see urban and rural characteristics merging together. These communities usually lack access to general infrastructure and services.”

Her contribution to the project focused on figuring out why households were being deprived of reliable sanitation systems, particularly in Mexico City, Puebla, Guadalajara and the State of Mexico.

Using data gleaned from Mexican government and non-profit sources along with information on geographic conditions in those regions, Patino was able to zero in on some of the key variables. They included: the distance of households from downtown, the legal status of the land on which people live and access to health institutions.

“I’m from Mexico, so I grew up around this and have a vague idea of it, so it’s very important for me to be able to work on something that can eventually help people back home. Of course, it would’ve been better to be able to go there and talk to them but alas, COVID,” Patino says.

“In general, I think it’s something that’s at the heart of what the Water and Energy Research Lab does, and what Professor Bilton really wants to get her students to look at, which is understanding the community you’re going to work in and the context around the problem you’re trying to solve – so that you don’t end up doing engineering out of context and end up with solutions that may sound really cool in theory, but in practice just don’t adapt to the cultural and social context.”

Patino’s second project saw her contribute to a PhD student’s research focused on combining UV LED and reverse osmosis technologies to create a sustainable water filtration system.

“Reverse osmosis uses pressurized membranes to filter water and UV LED is usually used to kill micro-organisms. These technologies have never been coupled before, at least from what we found in the literature,” Patino explains. “We wanted to be able to build a system that would be powered by solar panels, so it can be used in remote communities. Particularly, we’re designing around a case study of a school community in Bangladesh, taking into account the geography of the area and the amount of people the system would be serving.

“What we were trying to do was to set the stage for future master’s students to come and build on the system and hopefully, one day, test it in the field.”

Patino says she hopes to go on to pursue graduate studies and research – ideally at the intersection of bio-engineering and global development.

Her passion for using engineering to solve pressing global challenges is a trait that’s increasingly prevalent among engineering students, according to her professor.

“With a lot of younger students in general, there’s a lot of interest in thinking about how they can use some of their skills to think about overall betterment of quality of life for people around the world,” says Bilton, who earned her bachelor of applied science in engineering science at U of T before going on to complete her master’s and PhD at MIT.

Bilton describes Patino as a “very positive and energetic person” who went “above and beyond” in all of her projects. She also said Patino’s work ethic and perspective as a young woman and international student from Mexico are a testament to the benefits of embracing diversity in STEM fields.

“It’s a push I make within my own group – to try and make sure we have a diverse group of students from cultural, gender and across all the spectra. I think there’s a general recognition now – that probably wasn’t there back when I was a student – that having that diversity brings a different kind of strength in terms of being able to think more broadly about problems,” says Bilton, who is also director of U of T’s Centre for Global Engineering. “Especially when the work itself is focused on inclusion, global development and making sure everyone has access to services that improve quality of life.”

Bilton notes that efforts to welcome more women and girls into STEM research and study at U of T is a key part of the university’s wider push to advance the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals – one of which is gender equality.

“I do feel like there’s a shift happening in this area and we’ve come a long way,” Bilton says. “[But] we still have a ways to go.”

As for Patino, she’s also using her time as a student to encourage young girls to pursue an education in STEM fields through her work at Hi Skule, U of T Engineering Society’s outreach club.

“We want to make sure that other girls see that you can go into STEM,” she says. “It’s not scary, you’re going to be loved, you’re going to have friends and you’re going to have faculty who support you. We’re trying to bring across the message that it’s a pretty awesome field. There’s lots to learn and women sometimes feel like they’re not going to live up to it because they’ve been taught that, but it’s completely not true.

“Particularly in the engineering community at U of T, I’ve found that the students are very supportive of each other. I’ve always felt like I’m heard and I get access to things. I never felt there’s been any challenge in my way because I’m a woman.”

Patino concedes that pursuing a career in a STEM field isn’t easy – for anyone – but stresses that women and girls are more than equipped to excel.

“Like anything in life, there are always challenges. But never think that because you’re a girl or you identify as a girl, that you can’t do it,” she says. “You can.”

This story was originally published in the U of T Engineering News.


Black History Month: Celebrating Black women in STEM

Black History Month Women in STEM

 

Story by Liz Do & Tristan McGuirk

In celebration of Black History Month, U of T Engineering invited students and alumni who identify as Black (including African, African-Canadian, African-Caribbean ancestry) and women to reflect on their experiences in STEM, the barriers they’ve faced in their career journeys, their inspirations, and the advice that they have for young Black women students.

The perspectives of these six women exemplify the diversity of their lived experiences — and illustrate the ongoing need for Black inclusion and systemic change in STEM fields.

Read the full story in the U of T Engineering News.


Meet our alumni: Nathalin Moy (EngSci 1T6+1), energy policy analyst

Nathalin Moy

Nathalin Moy (EngSci 1T6+1) uses her engineering knowledge to help design public policy. (Photo courtesy of Nathalin Moy)

 

Technology does not exist in a void. To have a meaningful impact on society, its creators must consider social, cultural, and ethical impacts. New technological developments must also work within economic and legal constraints, and can inform government policy decisions.

No one knows that better than Nathalin Moy (EngSci 1T6+1), who graduated from EngSci’s Energy Systems Engineering major.  She combines her engineering education with public policy training in her work as a policy analyst as part of the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) Regulatory Policy team at Natural Resources Canada.

Moy helps guide the implementation of the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, which governs projects as diverse as interprovincial and international pipelines and powerlines, energy exports, oil and gas exploration, and offshore renewable energy.

Her interest in public policy was sparked in a third-year course on energy policy, but really took hold in her final year in EngSci.

Bridging the gap

Policy decisions, especially around energy, must be made with input from diverse stakeholders: technical experts, government policymakers, the general public, and others. One of the challenges for engineers is learning how to communicate complicated technical issues to audiences that may not have a technical background and—just as importantly—how to listen to perspectives they may not have considered.

Moy identified this gap in her fourth-year thesis project—The Engineer’s Role in Climate Change Policy—which applied an engineering approach to a qualitative research question.

Sparked by the 2016 launch of the Canadian climate change action plan, Moy investigated the role engineers can play in climate change policy. Through literature reviews and interviews with engineering, policy, and climate change experts she developed a conceptual model of the relationships between the various stakeholders involved. She identified a historical lack of involvement of engineers in shaping public policy, despite their relevant technical expertise. To encourage more engineers to step into the policy arena, she suggested education reform to help teach engineers the skills needed to engage in public policy processes.

“My thesis was a pivotal experience that prompted me to take the leap into public policy,” says Moy. “It also served as the motivation for my fourth-year capstone project—it’s the ‘why’ where the capstone work was the ‘how’.”

In her capstone design project, Improving Engineering Student Engagement in Energy Policy, Moy created a public policy assignment for third year courses that brought together U of T Engineering students and public policy students from the Faculty of Arts & Science to learn from each other’s expertise. Interdisciplinary student teams wrote briefing notes for hypothetical government representatives based on current energy policy issues. While the engineering students learned how to better communicate technical issues, the public policy students learned about the technical constraints that must inform policy.

Moy’s work helped both groups of students develop a better mutual understanding of the challenges on all sides of public policy.

Helping engineers consult the public

Moy continued delving into these interdisciplinary topics as a Master’s student in the Sustainable Energy Engineering and Policy program at Carleton University. Her thesis, titled An Engineer’s Guide to Public Engagement in Renewable Energy Projects, examined how public engagement relates to technical design in renewable energy projects.

Moy’s thesis includes eight guidelines to help engineers better incorporate public engagement into their work. She hopes that her work will help engineers create more effective public engagement, and may even inform new policies.

“In making the transition from engineering to public policy, the biggest revelation for me was that the approach to problem solving is basically the same,” says Moy. “There is an engineering design cycle, and there is a policy cycle. Both start with identifying a problem and go through a systematic process that ends with implementing a solution.”

A powerful combination

Moy sees the particular strengths of an academic background that combines technical engineering knowledge with policy. Many of the most serious problems we face today, like climate change, are too complex to be addressed by technology alone. “The grand scale behavioural change that needs to occur cannot happen without policy intervention,” says Moy. “To this end, neither an engineering degree without an understanding of the policy context, nor a policy degree without an understanding of the technical nature of the issue, can effectively tackle the problem at hand.”

Professor Aimy Bazylak, who serves as EngSci’s associate chair and the chair of the energy systems major, has seen a shift in expectations around how engineers engage with society to protect the public and ensure ethical conduct. “More than ever, we absolutely must take our impact on society into consideration, which can only be done by listening to a diverse community of voices,” says Bazylak. “I’m particularly inspired by graduates like Nathalin who are driven to create a sustainable society—at home and internationally.”

Moy’s involvement in social science disciplines exemplifies a common trait among EngSci students who often have multidisciplinary interests. She also credits her time in EngSci for helping to prepare her for her current job as part of a small team working on many different projects. “This position appeals to me in the same way that EngSci did,” says Moy. “There’s a good balance of breadth and depth that allows me to be a subject matter expert and yet understand and contribute to other related files going on around me.”

Meet more EngSci alumni.


Toronto’s first-ever Black student-run hackathon returns for third year, going virtual and global

NSBEhacks 202 team

The NSBEHacks 2020 team, many of whom are back to lead NSBEHacks 2021. This year’s student organizers also include Adam Cassie (Year 3 ECE), Rebecca Lashley (Year ECE), Kyra Nankivell (Year 1 IndE) and Boleng Masedi (Year 4 ECE). This photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of NSBEHacks)

Bu Liz Do

This weekend, 300 high school and university students will have 24 hours to code, design, build, network and learn from mentors at NSBEHacks 2021 — an event that aims to equalize the footing of Black and other minority students within science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Alana Bailey (Photo: Daria Perevezentsev)

“Black-facilitated events like these are important because limited opportunities are often afforded specifically to Black students in STEM, as there aren’t many of us,” says Alana Bailey (Year 3 CivMin), president of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) U of T Chapter, and one of the lead organizers.

Launched in 2019 and founded by U of T computer science alumni Kyra Stephen and Temisan Iwere, as well as alumna Ayan Gedleh (IndE 1T9), NSBEHacks is the first Black student-run hackathon within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

“It was very important to me to make sure that things are easier for incoming Black students in tech,” says Iwere, who has stayed involved with NSBEHacks since graduating. “The technical industry can be very intimidating, especially when you get into certain spaces and realize that you’re the only one who looks like you. It can be an alienating experience.”

This year, NSBEHacks goes beyond city limits. For the first time, the hackathon is fully virtual, allowing participants to join in from across North America, the Caribbean, and Asia.

Temisan Iwere (Photo courtesy Temisan Iwere)

In addition to sponsors RBC, Accenture, Google, NVIDIA, TD, Bloomberg, Ecobee, Shopify, FDM and EA, the event has also partnered with Major League Hacking (MLH) this year. MLH is the official student hackathon league in North America and is providing free access to software to participants during and after the hackathon.

Keeping students engaged in coding and designing, even after they’ve virtually walked away from this weekend, is how the NSBEHacks team will be measuring the event’s success.

“We want to see students feeling confident and a sense of belonging. We want to inspire them to get involved with NSBE after, applying to STEM programs at U of T, and staying in touch with companies from our career fair,” says Bailey. “NSBEHacks is one of the ways to ensure that going forward, we are building strength in numbers.”

This story was originally posted in the U of T Engineering News.


Meet Engineers Without Borders: U of T Chapter Co-Presidents Natalie Enriquez-Birch and Lauren Streitmatter

EWB Co-Presidents Natalie Enriquez-Birch (Year 2 IndE) and Lauren Streitmatter (Year 3 EngSci)

 

By Rebecca Logan

Tell us about yourselves:

Natalie: My name is Natalie, I’m in Industrial Engineering. I started in Track One, and I decided to go into IndE. Right now I’m finishing my second year in Industrial Engineering but I’m actually in my third year at U of T. I did my second year in part-time engineering because I wanted to do some classes in Arts and Sciences. I’m trying to minor in Latin American studies and Indigenous studies. I’m from Toronto and have grown up here most of my life, other than that I also grew up in Ecuador because that’s where half of my heritage is from. I’m co-president this year and I’ve been involved with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) since my first year.

Lauren: My name is Lauren I’m in third year of Engineering Science in the Energy Systems option and I’m minoring in Environmental Engineering. I’m from just outside of Chicago but half of my family is from Canada in Toronto which is what motivated me to come here. I’m also co-president of EWB and have been involved since my first year.

How did you both get involved with EWB?

Lauren: I got involved in my first year in the Policy and Advocacy portfolio. We have six different portfolios in EWB right now and they vary year to year but Policy and Advocacy is still one we have now. I was interested in more of the social impact side of engineering. So that portfolio gave me the chance to participate in a petition campaign to promote the UN sustainability development goals. We also got to host events for International Women’s Day and I liked being able to work on different awareness projects while still learning about technical content. EWB was a place for me to get a balance from the technical content of school. In second year, I was in the Local Poverty Alleviation portfolio, and also an exec in VP Mentorship (now called VP Community), which is a position to help the community become more tightly knit. I really liked both those experiences, I really liked being in the club, the community and all the people I met, so I really wanted to run for president at the end of my second year.

Natalie: When I started at U of T, I knew I wanted to join a club right a way. As I was browsing the clubs in engineering, EWB is the one that spoke to be first because I’ve always been interested in social impact. I got involved and joined the Indigenous Reconciliation portfolio because it is one of my interests. It kind of exceeded my expectations in terms of how many opportunities there are to get involved because it’s such a big club, there’s something for everyone.

I was part of Indigenous Reconciliation and through that portfolio I actually went to Nunavut. I went to Iqaluit with some of the other members in the portfolio in first year. That was a really exciting opportunity and after first year I did a program with EWB Canada called the Junior Fellowship. Through that program I did an internship, I worked for a social enterprise in Uganda for four months. They were doing acceleration for local agribusinesses there and I was in a marketing role. In second year I decided to apply for the exec team and I became the VP of learning, which is one of our core values at EWB. We always try to have opportunities for people to learn about social impact. One thing I’m really passionate about is doing my own research and sharing it, so I loved that position. Running for president was a bit of a natural progression for me as I’ve always been really super involved with the club. I hadn’t always considered doing it but I got inspired when it was time to run.

What does EWB do?

Natalie: EWB is a social impact club and at its core it’s looking to create leaders who are critical thinkers and have a basis of understanding systemic change. In particular, we target engineering students and students in technically focussed STEM fields, in order to compliment their technical studies with an understanding of social impact. I think what people get out of EWB is being able to challenge the status quo. Especially within technical realms and ask the question, if I’m working for social impact or in a mission driven organization, how can I know a technical solution is the best solution? And be comfortable with that. I think that’s what’s interesting about EWB, we really want people to be challenging the way that they think about the world.

What does a typical year on EWB look like?
Lauren: When people join the club they can join as a general member, get a feel for it and not be attached to a portfolio. But usually after a certain point, at least most people will filter into at least one portfolio, some are in multiple. It’s whatever portfolio interests them, and it’s up to the initiative they take to get involved in that portfolio. Each portfolio works on certain projects and those projects almost always have room for more people to work on them, but it’s up to you to insert yourself into them and take on that work.

In terms of the actual trips and especially in the past two years, our trips have taken more of a local focus. The junior fellowship program EWB Canada runs, which sends a fellow to Africa, is something our club has not done in the same capacity because of COVID but also because of our changing relationship with EWB Canada. It’s also that’s an opportunity that’s only available for one to two students anyway. For the most part, people in our club participate by being part of a portfolio that is working locally. There may be the occasional extra opportunity you can sign up for but it’s less common.

EWB Chapter-run Student Leaders’ Summit in Muskoka, January 2019.

 

What are the six portfolios students can get involved with at EWB?

Lauren: Indigenous Reconciliation, Local Poverty Alleviation, Policy and Advocacy, Sustainability and Environmental Justice, Cyber Ethics/Digital Rights and Youth Engagement.

Can you tell us about your experience on trips?

Natalie: The trip I went on to Uganda was pretty life changing. While I was there I was working with a social enterprise and they ran a program to accelerate agri-businesses in the area. I ran the marketing side of that. So I would get the marketing materials ready to market to both prospective entrepreneurs as well as partners and other people who can support it because a social enterprise does need to make money but it’s not necessarily looking to make a lot of profit. What was cool about the junior fellowship is you get work experience and you also get to understand how the work culture in another place is different from the work culture you’re used to. I had never worked outside of Canada before but I also got an opportunity to travel and see the county as well as surrounding countries.

I think the most important part of that experience was the people I was travelling with. There were about eight other people with me in Uganda, but in the program in total there were 15 from other universities across Canada. They’re still some of my best friends now, I still keep in contact with a lot of them. They share a lot of similar values to me and are like minded so sharing that experience with them is what made it such a great opportunity.

The trip I did in Nunavut was not affiliated with my EWB, it’s something I found out about through my involvement working on the portfolio. But the point there is that portfolios connect you to opportunities but not necessarily everyone who joins a portfolio will go on a trip. In terms of a trip I took to Uganda, it’s not something that’s happening in the same capacity. Not just in our chapter but in the organization, this year they restructured the program so it doesn’t look the same as it did in the past. Most people who join EWB don’t go on a trip it’s kind of rare and especially right now because of COVID and other reasons, it’s really not at all the main focus.

What has the EWB been up to now that everything is virtual?

Lauren: Luckily since we’re not a building focussed tech design team. We aren’t struggling too much with not having the ability to meet in person and build so we’ve been able to adapt a lot of our events to online settings. All six of our portfolios are still running, pretty much in full capacity. They’re still able to run through Zoom. There are regular learning events, project meetings and weekly or monthly portfolio meetings. So lots of meetings happening in the club still.

Our policy advocacy portfolio is in the middle of creating a podcast, the first episode is about to be released. The starting up projects are in the research phase and are able to do that just as well. We also have more established projects, like the Local Poverty Alleviation portfolio is working on a food bank that’s stepped in and become the main food bank for U of T. The UTSU food bank closed during the start of COVID, so the food bank our club is working on has grown and expanded a lot. They’re working really hard on keep donations coming in so they can still keep supplying food to students in need. We still have a lot of the same sense of community. Now more than ever, it’s really on the individuals who want to get involved to get involved. It’s a lot easier for people to fall through the cracks online. For those who are taking the initiative to join different portfolios, projects and meetings, they are still able to participate pretty fully in an online setting.

What is the best way for someone to get involved with EWB?

Natalie: The best way to get involved is registering with a membership form but to get access to that link you’ll have to get in contact with us. Send us an email, let us know you want to get involved, we’ll send you a membership form and once you complete that you’ll get access to our Slack board space which is our main hub. On the Slack board space you get access to all the portfolio channels, where they tell you about their events, weekly meetings, projects and if they’re looking for people to increase the capacity of their teams. Once you’re on our Slack you’re set, you just have to make sure to check it. But reach out to people if you want to get involved and learn more about a specific project or portfolio.

Anything to add?

Lauren: We are open to everyone, beyond engineers. We really like having people from Arts and Science to join as well and create an environment where our projects are super interdisciplinary. The Eng and STEM students can learn from Arts and Science and vice versa.

For more information about Engineers Without Borders: University of Toronto Chapter please visit https://utoronto.ewb.ca.

This story was originally published by the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering.


EngSci students and alumni recognized for social enterprises

Lo Family Award winners 2020

Clockwise from top left:  Seray Cicek (1T6 PEY), Shrey Jain (Year 2), Zain Hasan (1T4), and Ryan Tam (1T8 PEY) have won Lo Family Social Venture Fund Awards.

A current EngSci student and three EngSci alumni are among the winners of the 2020 Lo Family Social Venture Fund Award.

The awards, established in 2020 Kenneth and Yvonne Lo and family, help U of T students and recent graduates take promising social enterprises to the next level.  They provide support for student-driven ventures that will positively impact the global community – particularly in Asia.

A total of 18 U of T students and recent alumni received up to $30K in funding, including:

Shrey Jain (Year 2 EngSci) for Flatten, a non-profit organization developing self-reporting surveillance tool for the COVID-19 pandemic internationally.

Seray Cicek (EngSci 1T6 PEY) for her company LSK Technologies, which makes rapid COVID-19 and other tests for use in doctor’s offices and workplaces.

Zain Hasan (EngSci 1T4) for Vinci Labs, which uses uses technology to address barriers to quality healthcare including geographical remoteness and social inequity.

Ryan Tam (EngSci 1T8 PEY) for Aerlift, a drone delivery system that helps governments to provide life-saving healthcare services to some of the hardest-to-reach populations around the world.

Learn more about the award winners here.


Ontario universities create fellowship to increase diversity in engineering and technology

Sandford Fleming Building

U of T Engineering is one of six universities announcing the launch of the new Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology (IBET) Momentum Fellowships, designed to expand pathways and improve inclusion of Black and Indigenous voices in higher education and the STEM fields. (Photo: Daria Perevezentsev)

By Engineering Strategic Communications

Six universities in Ontario have partnered to create a new fellowship to expand the pathways for Indigenous and Black students pursuing doctoral degrees in engineering to prepare them for academic careers as professors and industry researchers.

Announced today, the Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology (IBET) Momentum Fellowships aim to address the urgent need to provide pathways that encourage and support the pursuit of graduate studies by under-represented groups. This lack of representation has hindered the enrolment of Indigenous peoples (First Nations, Inuit and Metis) and Black graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs.

IBET Momentum Fellowship recipients will receive financial support, mentorship, training and networking opportunities to foster a robust professional community for participating PhD candidates.

“It’s clear that U of T Engineering — as well as the engineering profession and academia in general — must accelerate our work to improve representation of Black and Indigenous students, staff and faculty members, at all levels,” says Chris Yip, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “Launching the IBET Momentum Fellowships is a start, and we plan to listen and evolve our program as we learn from its first candidates. Today, we are pleased to join our partner universities in launching this important initiative.”

In addition to U of T Engineering, the partnership includes the engineering and math Faculties at the University of Waterloo, and the engineering Faculties at McMaster University, the University of Ottawa, Queen’s University and Western University. The six partner universities share the understanding that greater diversity is needed among academic leaders in engineering and technology to reflect all populations and to ensure a full range of thought and problem-solving approaches.

The Momentum Fellowships are a central pillar of the new IBET PhD Project, which aims to change the academic landscape within the next five to 10 years by increasing the number of Indigenous and Black engineering professors teaching and researching in universities across Ontario. The project will also bring more diverse perspectives and voices into engineering research and the Canadian technology industries.

Two recipients each year will receive $25,000 annually for four years as they pursue doctorate degrees and specialized engineering research. Interested Canadian students can apply for the IBET Momentum Fellowships following their application to their graduate program.

This story was originally published on Jan. 18, 2021, in the U of T Engineering News.


© 2020 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering