Posts Categorized: News

EngSci alumnus Alfred Aho elected to the National Academy of Sciences

photo of Alred Aho sitting at an office desk with textbooks, one of which is titled Compilers

Photo credit: Eileen Barroso

By Brandon Wesseling

Professor Alfred Aho (EngSci 6T3) was recently elected as a member to the distinguished National Academy of Sciences for his distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Alfred V. Aho, the Lawrence Gussman Professor Emeritus of computer science at the Columbia University, is known for his broad and fundamental contributions in algorithm design and analysis, and programming languages and compilers, which translate human-written code into a form that machines can execute. With his longtime collaborator Jeffrey Ullman (SEAS’63), a professor emeritus at Stanford, Aho received computing’s highest honor, the Turing Award, in 2020. Before joining Columbia Engineering in 1995, Aho spent more than three decades at Bell Labs, helping to run the lab that invented UNIX, C, and C++.


Praxis III co-instructor receives Faculty Teaching Assistant Award

photo of Xinyue Crystal Liu smiling to camera, wearing headhpone with cat ears

 

Xinyue Crystal Liu (MSE) is among fourteen staff and faculty members honoured for their leadership, citizenship, innovation and contributions to the Faculty’s teaching, service and research missions.

Liu played a key role in developing EngSci’s new design course, Praxis III.  She also helped design assignments for individual home use when the course had to go online during the pandemic, and has (re)developed content and materials for several other courses.

Read more about Liu and the other U of T Engineering award winners.


Compassion in action: Meet 2022 Troost ILead Difference Maker Award winner Khadija Rana

Khadija Rana looking to camera and smiling, standing in front of an ivy-covered wall

Khadija Rana is the 2022 winner of the Troost ILead Difference Maker Award. (Photo: Negar Balaghi)

 

By Natalia Noël Smith

To Khadija Rana (Year 4 EngSci) being a difference maker is not heroic.

“I want people to know that anyone can do it,” she says. “It’s about recognizing people as the whole beings that they are.”

Rana is the 2022 recipient of the Troost ILead Difference Maker Award. Sanjay Malaviya, a long-serving member of the Troost ILead Board of Advisors, established the award in 2020 through the Bodhi Tree Fund, a private giving foundation. The award recognizes a U of T Engineering undergraduate student for their leadership achievements and their vision for change. It provides $50,000 to help a promising young leader accelerate their steps after graduation.

Rana’s path has not always been easy. When she began her studies, she says she felt isolated and thought she had “a productivity problem.” But that began to change in 2019, when she took advantage of the Troost ILead Summer Fellowship, followed by an engineering course from ILead called The Power of Story. These experiences helped Rana combine her love of engineering with her passions for caregiving and leadership.

A long-time volunteer with Hospice Toronto, Rana has accompanied people through the dying process.

“The skills you apply in engineering and caregiving are not so different,” she says. “In both, I’m listening to people and being present for them. You have to hear someone else’s story and be willing to take action to address that need.”

Rana’s leadership is strongly influenced by the concept of loving kindness.

“I found a definition of this in the book The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck, and another one from author bell hooks, who wrote All About Love: New Visions in 2000. They talk about it as, ‘the will to extend yourself for the growth of other people, and for your own growth.’”

For Rana, the idea of extending yourself to help others resonated with her understanding of the practice of engineering.

“We hear about it during Frosh Week on the first day in the story of Lady Godiva,” she says. “We learn about it through engineering design, in our courses. We celebrate it during the Iron Ring ceremony at the end of our programs. Professors demonstrate it for students when they advocate with them. Club leaders and mentors practice it when they volunteer their time for one another. It’s everywhere.”

Putting this idea into practice, Rana soon became involved in Skule™ life. She joined CUBE, the Club for Undergraduate Biomedical Engineering, eventually becoming its president. She worked with her team to rebuild the organization’s structure, foster self-determination and empower members to shape their own roles.

She also served as a senior Director of U of T’s Biomedical Engineering Design Team, where she led three project teams to collaboratively develop assistive devices for clients across the Greater Toronto Area.

Rana was also able to put the loving kindness ethic into practice as a research trainee at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, where she worked under the supervision of Dr. Azadeh Yadollahi and Dr. Douglas Bradley. Her tasks included guiding patients with severe asthma through voluntary but grueling experiments related to sleep apnea.

In her final year, Rana became President of the U of T chapter of Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), leading a 40-member team working to reframe conversations of gender equity by prioritizing allyship and sensitivity to culture and race. She chaired the 2021 U of T WISE flagship international conference, which drew more than 600 participants from 15 countries.

After graduation, Rana plans to pursue research in narrative approaches to community-led design. Grounded in her caregiving experiences, her work will explore how engineering professionals and community stakeholders derive meaning from complex ideas through storytelling to inform technical change.

In the longer term, she has her sights set on a career in medicine where she will advocate for the advancement of narrative approaches to enhance empathy among health-care practitioners and ultimately transform patient care.

When asked how she works with those who may be resistant to her philosophy of compassion, or with whom collaboration presents challenges, she says “It’s important to be curious about what’s making it difficult for them. And to do that, you bravely ask them.”

“Once you’re able to make space for people to be more open about their challenges, you have an intentional conversation with them that’s prioritizing their growth and yours too. It’s not zero sum.”

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


Meet our alumni: Adam Rosenfield (1T5) helps remake our cities to save our planet

photo of Adam Rosenfeld wearing a bike helmet standing next to a lake with a bicycle in the background

Adam Rosenfield (EngSci 1T5) is a transportation policy advisor in Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation.

Adam Rosenfield (EngSci 1T5) likes to look at the big picture, and that’s what led him to earn degrees in both engineering and urban planning. Today, as a senior policy advisor in Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, he draws on his expertise in both fields to tackle the province’s number 1 emitting sector—transportation. And the big picture is a sustainable, equitable future.

Read a conversation with Rosenfield about his career path, his commitment to a sustainable future, and how he is helping to develop new curriculum options for engineering students.


Toronto’s first-ever Black student-run hackathon tackles algorithm bias and builds community

A screenshot of the hackathon taking place in Gather Town, showing a virtual room with tables and chairs, the participants' avatars and their video feeds.

The fourth annual NSBEHacks, a 24-hour virtual hackathon, was hosted on Gather Town. (Screenshot: Genevieve Aguigwo)

 

By Safa Jinje

On March 5, more than 200 participants from across Canada and the U.S. joined NSBEHacks, a 24-hour virtual hackathon. Now in its fourth year, the 2022 event aimed to redesign digital technologies that don’t serve marginalized communities. 

Organized by the U of T chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE U of T), NSBEHacks is the first Black student-run hackathon within the Greater Toronto Area. 

“This year’s theme was ‘Disruptive Innovation,’ and by the end of the weekend, we received an influx of solutions that we could have never envisioned,” says Chetachi Ugwu-Ojobe (Year 3 EngSci), president of NSBE U of T. 

One problem that NSBEHacks teams tackled is algorithm bias, where errors or assumptions in a system’s machine learning process can lead to prejudices and create unfair outcomes. 

D’SpeakerVerse, the team that won first place in the hackathon’s U of T Engineering Challenge, noticed that many voice assistant services alienate individuals by misunderstanding their accents. 

In response to this problem, they created an interactive platform where users can take part in voice games and tongue twisters to test the voice-to-text AI, with the goal of improving accent recognition for voice AI services through collected data.  

“This team was able to create a disruptive innovation by building on something that already exists in the market and opening it up to people who are neglected by these services — people with non-Western accents who are often misunderstood and left frustrated by popular voice services,” says Genevieve Aguigwo (Year 2 MechE), vice-president of NSBE U of T.  

The event also sought to cater to the specific needs of Black audiences in fast-paced digital environments, such as virtual reality.   

The Barbershop team, which won second place in the event’s Google Cloud Challenge, used virtual reality to create a welcoming online space that replicates the sense of community found in many Black-owned barbershops.  

“Barbershops hold a historical significance to many Black communities. It’s not just a place to get a haircut, it can also serve a therapeutic role,” says Ugwu-Ojobe.   

“The Barbershop team created a virtual space that allows people who are unable to visit a barbershop, because of the pandemic or personal challenges, to gather, share information and stay connected with their community.”  

NSBE U of T is committed to supporting participants beyond the hackathon, as they take their designs to the next level.  

“We are partnering with the Black Founders Network to give our design teams a platform to bring their ideas to life and make a business out of it,” says Ugwu-Ojobe.  

“Having a network of people in the industry who they can turn to with questions and reach out to in the future really ties in with NSBE’s own goals to support the professional development of our community,” adds Aguigwo.  

“At the end of the day, we’re trying to increase the representation of Black individuals in engineering and industry.” 

This story originally appeared in the U of T Engineering News.


EngSci students receive leadership award

Headshots of all six UTSLA winners smiling and in front of different backgrounds.

Six graduating EngSci students received a University of Toronto Student Leadership Award. From top left to bottom right: Jacqueline Fleisig, Bipasha Goyal, Aditi Maheshwari, Joanna Melnyk, Khadija Rana, and Rima Uraiqat. (Photos courtesy of the students)

 

Six graduating EngSci students are among 18 U of T Engineering students that have been recognized with University of Toronto Student Leadership Awards (UTSLA) for their leadership, service and commitment that have had a lasting impact on their peers and the university.

The UTSLA continues a long-standing tradition which began with the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award, established in 1994 by the University of Toronto Alumni Association in honour of Mr. Gordon Cressy, former Vice-President, Development and University Relations. During the award’s 25-year history, it celebrated the exemplary contributions of more than 4,000 students whose commitment and service had a lasting impact on their peers and the university.

In 2022, 18 U of T Engineering students earned the honour, which recognizes leadership, service and commitment to the university. Their diverse activities include heading up co-curricular organizations such as Engineers Without Borders, leading design teams such as the University of Toronto Aerospace Team, creating a welcoming Frosh Week despite the pandemic, and taking on executive roles in the U of T Engineering Society. They are joined by 166 students from other Faculties across U of T.

U of T Engineering will celebrate this year’s UTSLA recipients with a virtual ceremony hosted by U of T Engineering Dean Christopher Yip, to be held April 27.

“Students like these embody everything that makes our Faculty so special,” said Dean Yip. “Through the activities and accomplishments we are celebrating today, they have made a positive impact on our community, while also discovering new strengths and abilities that will serve them well as they join the next generation of global engineering leaders. I’m so proud of them, and excited for what lies ahead.”

Meet EngSci’s UTSLA winners

As President of the Engineering Society (EngSoc) during these tumultuous times, Jacqueline Fleisig worked with other student groups, health & safety, and the Faculty of Engineering to ensure a safe return to student activities campus. Her work helped ensure that students could interact safely in person outside of the classroom was instrumental for building community after a year of online learning. Among many other activities, she previously served as Co-President of U of T’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), where she founded a three-day conference on social change and leadership in collaboration with three EWB chapters across Ontario.

Bipasha Goyal joined the Club for Undergraduate Biomedial Engineering (CUBE) with the goal of creating an inclusive biomedical engineering community for engineering undergraduates. Through various executive roles she organised networking events with professionals and revamped CUBE’s mentorship program to foster meaningful connections with U of T professors, graduate students, and alumni across the world.  As Co-President she expanded CUBE’s reach beyond engineering to different departments at U of T and shifted its mandate from professional development to complete biomedical engineering immersion, creating the “go-to” student club in this field.  Bipasha also served as Co-Conference Chair for the U of T Society for Stem Cell Research, organizing U of T’s first-ever virtual stem cell undergraduate conference.

Aditi Maheshwari is a dedicated leader in the engineering community who strives to provide a meaningful and enriching community experience. As chair of the Engineering Science Education Conference in 2021, she organized the first-ever virtual version of this cornerstone event for over 600 first- and second-year EngSci students. She helped recruit a diverse and engaging set of speakers, including a Nobel Prize winner. Aditi also served as co-chair of the EngSci Alumni Dinner, an event that strengthens the EngSci alumni community and provides students with valuable networking opportunities. She also contributed to Frosh Week, the HiSkule outreach program, among many other activities.

The contributions that Joanna Melnyk is most proud of are those she made to environmental sustainability work and developments at U of T through technical design projects, research, and sustainability curriculum advocacy. She spearheaded a sustainability curriculum advocacy project while serving in various roles with Engineers Without Borders. The project was further advanced through her change project in the ILead Summer Fellowship. Joanna also helped support students in challenging academic circumstances, through her work with the Toike Oike, Skule Lettuce Club, Orientation Week, and NSight, emphasizing empathy and relational leadership.

As President of the U of T chapter of Women in Science and Engineering, Khadija Rana advocates for gender equity in STEM fields and strives to reframe equity discussions at a global scale in this community of over 1,600 members and over 30 industry partners. During her time as Co-President of the Club for Undergraduate Biomedical Engineering (CUBE), she helped build a new space to connect biomedical engineering undergraduates with graduate mentors. As part of the Engineering Orientation Committee she also helped implement a new training program for 600 volunteers, helping them to welcome over 1,000 engineering students virtually for the first time at Orientation Week 2020.

Rima Uraiqat has put her passion for aerospace into action as a Thermal Systems Lead and Airframe Lead in the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT). She led the design and testing of several technical projects, while managing the external presence of the team. As the Director of Outreach, she organized several events for current students within the Faculty, high school students, and the general public. She contributed to the growth of the team, and increase student engagement in UTAT. As an EngSci Ambassador she also shared her enthusiasm for engineering with prospective students at many recruitment events.

Story, including the full list of U of T Engineering UTSLA winners, from U of T Engineering News


EngSci alumna bolsters U of T’s rapid rise in entrepreneurship space

Phot of Jiayue (Jenny) he wearing a red dress and smiling

Jiayue (Jenny) He (EngSci 0T3 PEY) is the co-founder of a Silicon Valley startup that’s rethinking how home construction and renovation services are delivered (Photo: Jenny He)

By Rahul Kalvapalle

When you think of industries that are being disrupted by technological innovation, fence installation and driveway construction don’t immediately leap to mind.

Jiayue (Jenny) He (EngSci0T3 + PEY) is looking to change that. She’s the CEO and co-founder of Ergeon, a Silicon Valley startup that’s transforming how outdoor home construction and renovation services are delivered.

Ergeon uses video calls and satellite imaging to conduct remote assessment of clients’ properties, before sub-contracting the labour to skilled contractors — essentially owning the process end-to-end. Founded in 2018, the company has completed over 8,000 projects in California alone (it also operates in Texas) and has raised nearly $35 million from investors.

“We’re trying to empower the world to build,” says He, who earned her Bachelor of Applied Science from the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto.

“We’re trying to take a pretty traditional industry — construction is one of the oldest industries since the beginning of time, as long as people have had houses — and bring in innovation, transparency and more access.”

Ergeon is one of more than 400 promising startups that have played a role in U of T’s status as the fastest riser in the 2021 PitchBook rankings for undergraduate programs, which rank universities on how many undergraduate alumni become founders of venture capital-backed companies.

U of T leapt to 27th from 33rd in the rankings last year. The rankings consider companies that received a first round of venture funding between January 2006 and November 2021 — a period in which companies founded by U of T undergraduate alumni raised over $17 billion.

The biggest fundraisers include AI research company OpenAI, enterprise software firm Databricks and pharmaceutical firm Moderna — which is now a household name thanks to its ubiquitous mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine.

He says her time at U of T Engineering was foundational to what she went on to achieve. That includes getting comfortable with numbers and instilling a data-driven approach to problem-solving and decision-making. She adds that her engineering education also helped her hone the ability to structure and solve problems.

“I find that universally applicable, no matter what kind of problem I’m solving,” He says.

She also credits the Faculty’s Professional Experience Year Co-op Program (PEY Co-op) with an all-important first exposure to Silicon Valley, where she worked for a semiconductor company.

“That made it very easy for me to make the decision a few years ago to move out here,” she says.

She launched Ergeon after recognizing the home renovation and construction sector needed to become more customer-friendly and transparent — as any homeowner can probably attest — as well as her observation of there being a lack of technology to facilitate skilled blue-collar work.

She says clients have largely embraced the novelty of remote video and satellite-based assessments, but a bigger challenge — especially early on — was convincing workers in the skilled construction trades to interact with a tech startup.

Ergeon’s solution?

“We literally make our app look like texting because that’s what they’re OK with,” He says. “We make all the interfaces look much more old-school — our interface looks like a calendar because that’s in their comfort zone.”

Ergeon has also had to adapt to several non-tech challenges, including the volatility of lumber prices.

“Lumber has been oscillating as wildly as Bitcoin, so that’s been the biggest challenge we’ve had to manage,” He says, adding that the issue has forced Ergeon to take greater control of its supply chain and ordering processes, which has paid off in other ways.

By contrast, when it came to scaling her company to match a rapid uptick demand, He says she found herself better prepared than most. That’s because her previous job at EZ Home, a startup that offers lawn care and yard maintenance services, ballooned from about 10 employees to 250 over a period of just three years.

“When I started Ergeon I wanted to do a lot of things with scalability in mind much earlier,” He explains. “So, we made a few decisions including having super-clear company values and investing in scalable processes and tools from day one.”

She adds that Ergeon’s status as a fully remote operation has also helped the scaling process — and gave the company a head start adapting to the pandemic. As a result, Ergeon this year became one of 32 new U of T entrants in the PitchBook rankings — and among the top three raisers of venture capital in the group.

Going forward, He says she envisions Ergeon progressing from outdoor projects to servicing “the whole home.”

“We started with outside the home first since that’s where technology has the biggest power to do remote assessments, etc.” says He. “But with the latest iPhone, you can now do that much better inside as well.”

“I think we’re just a few years away from that being pretty common and ubiquitous.”

Interested in entrepreneurship?  Check out the upcoming U of T Entrepreneurship Week.


New scholarship aims to remove barriers to entry for Black engineering students

Photo of a banner on the exterior of the Bahen Centre.  The banner is dark blue and cyan with the Faculty's crest and the words "#1 Engineering School in Canada" in white text.

The Bahen Centre for Information Technology is seen on St. George Campus. As a first-entry degree, the tuition for engineering programs at universities is significantly higher than many other fields. (Photo: Daria Perevezentsev)

 

By Safa Jinje

The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering has launched a new scholarship for the 2022-2023 academic year. The U of T Engineering Entrance Scholarship for Black Students will provide 10 annual scholarships valued at $10,000 each, renewable for four years for a total of $40,000, to incoming Black students for the next three academic years. 

“I hope that this attracts, excites and encourages more Black youth to consider U of T Engineering,” says Dawn Britton, Associate Director of U of T Engineering Outreach Office. “This is the first step, in what I hope will be many, of acknowledging our responsibility to remove barriers to access for this community.”  

Through the Engineering Outreach Office, academic enrichment programs such as Blueprint have provided education opportunities and mentorship to Black high school students who are interested in STEM and pursuing a career in engineering.  

“This scholarship is a piece of a larger framework of what the Faculty is trying to do to address the lack of inclusivity and pathways for Black individuals within engineering education, research and the wider profession,” says Mikhail Burke (MSE 1T2, BME PhD 1T8), who is the Dean’s Advisor on Black Inclusivity Initiatives.  

“It will help prime the foundation for the rest of the programmatic infrastructure that will hold us accountable, such as building support for entrepreneurship, graduate studies and research opportunities for Black students.” 

In 2019, the Faculty’s Black Inclusion Steering Committee published the Striving Toward Black Inclusivity report, which highlighted a variety of recommendations to address Black access, inclusion and success. One barrier to access that the Committee identified was financial need. 

While not all Black students need external financial support, the cost of an engineering education is a barrier for many. As a first-entry degree, the tuition for an Engineering program is higher than many other fields. Undergraduate tuition for a domestic student at U of T Engineering was $14,180 for the 2021-2022 academic year. 

“These $40,000 scholarships demonstrate that our commitment to supporting these students doesn’t end at the front door of our institution,” says Britton. “We want to actively support their success when they’re here. And part of being successful means that they need to have the burden of the costs reduced.” 

The scholarship application is part of the admissions process. Prospective students can fill out an Applicant Census and self-identify their ethnicity this information has no impact on the success of an application, as no one in the admission selection process can access this data, but it does give prospective students the opportunity to be contacted about scholarships. 

Applicants will also complete a needs assessment to determine their eligibility for financial supports, such as OSAP and UTAPS, which students can receive in addition to the new scholarship.   

I think that this funding will empower people to make a choice for their post-secondary future based on what they want, instead of what society and financial barriers are allowing them to do,” says Burke, who knows first-hand how life-changing a scholarship can be. 

“When I came to U of T Engineering as an undergraduate student, I had an Island scholarship from my home country Grenada, which paid for my tuition, books, and room and board,” he says. “That scholarship allowed me to thrive and focus on my studies in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to if I had the same financial stress that some of my Black peers had. I was able to just excel in school.” 

 The first cohort of scholarship recipients will be notified this spring when they receive their offers of acceptance. 

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


Improving water equity in India: EngSci alumnus funded by U of T’s Data Sciences Institute

 

Photo of an urban street in India with a woman standing next to pipe coming out of the ground from which water is flowing into a blue barrel.

As part of their research on water equity in India, a multi-disciplinary team at U of T will examine water distribution infrastructure, such as this tube well seen in New Delhi, India in 2017. (Photo: iStock)

 

EngSci alumnus David Meyer (1T1) is an assistant professor in U of T’s Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering and the Centre for Global Engineering whose research focuses on how urban water distribution infrastructure behaves in Mega Cities in the Global South.

He and his multidisciplinary colleagues have received one of 17 Research Catalyst Funding Grants through U of T’s Data Sciences Institute (DSI).

Read how they are using data visualization to study how access to water could be improved in urban India.


‘He’d be thrilled to see this’: Alumnus’ pioneering work helps inspire U of T’s massive geoexchange project

rendering showing aerial view of the front campus with cutaway showing geothermal exchange infrastucture of long vertical pipes in the ground

As part of the Climate Positive Campus initiative, the area beneath Front Campus will be used for a large-scale ground source heat pump — a technology pioneered in part by MIE Professor Frank Hooper (EngPhys 4T6). (Photo courtesy: U of T Facilities & Services)

By Tyler Irving

When Jim Wallace (MIE) joined the University of Toronto back in 1978, one of the first people he met was Frank Hooper (EngPhys 4T6).

“I took over a course that Frank had been teaching a while, and he was gracious enough to give me a copy of his notes,” says Wallace, a professor emeritus of mechanical and industrial engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “Not long after that, he and his wife had me over for dinner. He was so supportive and helpful to the new guy.”

Hooper, who was also a professor emeritus of mechanical and industrial engineering, died in May 2021. He was an accomplished researcher in energy systems – and his legacy includes seminal work on ground-source heat pumps. Today that technology is being demonstrated on an unprecedented scale as U of T constructs Canada’s largest urban geoexchange system at the heart of its St. George campus, which is being built in connection with the ongoing Landmark Project.

Read the full story in the U of T News.

 

 


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