Grads to Watch 2022

Graduating students Saanjali Maharaj and Michael McLean (both EngSci 2T1 + PEY)


By Safa Jinje & Tyler Irving

With the University of Toronto’s convocation ceremonies on June 16, 2022, U of T Engineering students mark the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

Having enriched the U of T Engineering community as undergraduate and graduate students, they will join our vibrant, global network of Skule™ alumni, where they will continue to address pressing challenges around the world and inspire the next generation.

This year’s 14 U of T Engineering Grads to Watch — including two EngSci students — embody the spirit of U of T Engineering. Their stories illustrate the creativity, innovation and global impact that define our community. Watch their next steps!

Advancing Sustainable Aviation

Saanjali Maharaj (EngSci 2T1 + PEY)

“I would like to thank the EngSci community for making my time at U of T such a positive experience. I will always remember the days of both commiseration and celebration with my peers, and the tremendous support from the faculty members and upper years. Special shoutout to Professor Peter Grant (UTIAS), my undergraduate thesis supervisor, for his guidance, which will prepare me for the rest of my academic career.”

“My experience at U of T has been a time of discovery,” says Maharaj. “I learned so much about engineering design, innovations in the industry and working as part of a team.”

This time was also a period of self-discovery as her various internships, courses and research experiences helped her find out what she is passionate about, charting the course of her career.

In 2019, Maharaj had “the amazing opportunity” to be an intern at the NASA Ames Research Center’s Department of Rotorcraft Aeromechanics.

“I was the thermal lead in developing a drone to help mitigate the prevalent California wildfires,” she says. “Following that experience, I was a thermal-mechanical engineering intern at Intel Corporation.”

A significant achievement from her PEY Co-op at Intel was leading the research for a novel cooling technology that resulted in the submission of a patent application.

Maharaj has held leadership positions in co-curricular activities, including as rocketry division aerodynamics lead on the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT), and marketing director for the University of Toronto West Indian Students’ Association (WISA).

This summer, Maharaj is working on an asteroid mining project in collaboration with MDA. She is also looking forward to starting her MASc this fall at the U of T Institute for Aerospace Studies, where she will be supervised by Professor Prasanth Nair.

Ultimately, she hopes to make a positive contribution to the advancement of sustainable aviation.

“Sustainability is a passion of mine due in part to my Caribbean Island origins,” she says. “Trinidad and Tobago’s dependence on the aviation industry to maintain international connections fuels my desire to mitigate the industry’s environmental impact.”

Customizing Biochemical Constructs

Michael McLean (EngSci 2T1 + PEY)

I want to express my overwhelming gratitude towards Ali Punjani (CEO and co-founder of Structura Biotechnology) for his guidance and mentorship throughout my PEY Co-op term. I also want to thank the rest of the team at Structura for fostering an incredibly inclusive and supportive working environment. Finally, I would like to thank Professor David Fleet (Computer Science) for his valuable guidance and support throughout my undergraduate thesis.”

McLean always knew that he wanted to major in Engineering Physics or Machine Intelligence as an Engineering Science student — but he was so overwhelmed by a fear of failure that he left EngSci for TrackOne on the very first day of classes.

“I let fear control me when I made that decision, but I realized throughout first year that I wanted to learn more physics than would be possible in any other engineering stream,” he says. “So, I chose to let my curiosity and passion lead instead and transferred back.”

Through his classes and work experience, he was able to immerse himself in his passions: biophysics, machine learning and scientific computing.

A highlight of his undergraduate experience was his PEY Co-op at Structura Biotechnology, a startup working on software for cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM). As a scientific developer, he worked on developing statistical inference algorithms for the 3D reconstruction of protein molecules and implementing these algorithms in Structura’s flagship software product, cryoSPARC.

“By the end of my work term, the helical reconstruction project I worked on was deployed in cryoSPARC, which is used by scientists worldwide in over 600 institutions across 40 countries,” he says.

McLean is returning to Structura after graduation — this time as a computational research engineer, working to advance cryo-EM methodology.

“The opportunity to work in such a high-impact area, with tangible benefits to structural biology and drug discovery, is a privilege I could never have foreseen,” he says.

“I now know where my true limits lie, and that I can handle more than I thought. And this knowledge can’t be taken away.”

Read about all U of T Engineering Grads to Watch in the U of T Engineering News.

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