Posts Tagged: Black inclusion

Meet Professor Philip Asare, Dean’s Advisor on Black Initiatives

Professor Philip Asare wearing a black shirt with traditional Ghanaian graphic design in orange, yellow, brown, and lilac

Professor Philip Asare (ISTEP, EngSci) first got involved in equity, diversity and inclusion work when he was an undergraduate student. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

By Safa Jinje

Professor Philip Asare (ISTEP, EngSci) has been appointed to the role of Dean’s Advisor on Black Initiatives at U of T Engineering.  

Asare has hit the ground running since joining the Faculty in 2020. He is jointly appointed by the Institute for Studies in Transdisciplinary Engineering Education and Practice (ISTEP) and the Division of Engineering Science (EngSci), where he helped redesign Praxis III, a foundational EngSci design course offered to students in their second year.   

Asare also has a courtesy appointment in the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE), where as a member of the graduate faculty, he co-supervises graduate students.  

Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is baked into Asare’s work. He spoke with writer Safa Jinje to discuss his new role and what he hopes to accomplish in his three-year term. 

How did you first get involved with EDI work?  

I grew up in Ghana, where many of the people around me essentially looked like me, so any tensions around identity were usually a result of colonialism. 

EDI was not a thing for me until I came to North America. I did my undergrad in the United States at the University of Pennsylvania, and that was the first time I had to deal with the concept of being Black.   

In Philadelphia, there is a huge Black population and many communities are under-resourced. I found myself doing outreach work after one of my computer science professors connected me with a high school teacher who needed a mentor for their robotics team. 

Later in my undergrad, I co-led a program run by the University focusing on high school students who were high-achieving but went to lower-resourced schools and would have been otherwise overlooked as a result. We introduced them to various engineering fields and prepared them for university admissions. 

Going into grad school, I continued to be engaged in EDI work through outreach programs. As I transitioned into faculty life, I began to think about the ways I could have an impact as a professor.  

At Bucknell University, I worked on many projects and initiatives focused on EDI both in teaching and project work, which led to me receiving the President’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Award in the faculty category for “significant contributions to the University’s efforts to build and nurture an inclusive campus community.”  

What has your U of T Engineering experience been like so far?  

It has been fun in many ways. It’s been nice being part of ISTEP and EngSci and getting to slowly meet the ECE community. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of different people — students and faculty collaborators — in my short time at U of T.   

I am working on many projects including one supported by the Dean’s Strategic Fund that has an EDI motivation around helping students develop hands-on, prototyping skills. We are collaborating with the Myhal Fabrication Facility, which I work closely with on my courses.  

We have noticed that students come in with varying backgrounds regarding those skills. And those who do not already have them never quite feel comfortable picking them up. They hide and get by, never really picking it up, especially in courses where the stakes are higher. So, we want to provide a co-curricular, lower-stakes opportunity for them to gain those important hands-on skills.  

What are some of the challenges ahead for you as you embark on this new role within U of T Engineering?  

U of T Engineering is a big place and there are a lot of different departments and offices that interact in various ways. I’m hoping to do something strategic that gets each office to think about what their role is in this whole work. So, there are a lot of different conversations to have.  

My goal is to make this role strategic and collaborative with other places and spaces across the Faculty to help them do their EDI work and Black-inclusive initiatives, as opposed to being the person that leads all of it.  

My long-term vision is to embed EDI in the core work that we do across the Faculty — including research, teaching, the way we do admissions and support students — as opposed to it being a separate effort.  

What do you hope to accomplish during your three-year term?  

Getting people in is easier than keeping them and supporting them while they are here. So, one goal for me is centred on continuing to build up our faculty recruitment and retention policy. If we can have better guidelines — that are consistent across the Faculty — about the way we do searches that increases the likelihood that diverse candidates make it through, that would be great.  

On the student side, we are starting to collect some data to help us better understand the structural barriers that Black engineering students are facing. That can help us start to make some inroads on policy changes that make those things not be a barrier anymore. Or at least, lessen the barrier for them so that they can enjoy their education and not just be here surviving, but be here thriving and feeling as though the space is also for them. 

Lastly, why is this role important to you? 

Engineering plays a huge role in the way society works. We are everywhere. We not only design things, but we also influence policy by our designs. We shape the way people live, work, play, love and have fun. And so, limited participation of Black folk means those communities are left out in shaping the society around them. And we have seen how that has done harm to those communities. 

I want to help ensure that anyone who wants to come here to be an engineer or work on engineering can do so, and that the larger Black community can benefit from that. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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