Posts Tagged: diversity in STEM

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.


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.


‘Reflect, remember, respond’: U of T commemorates National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

From left, clockwise: U of T Engineering Dean Chris Yip; Alana Bailey, president of NSBE U of T Chapter; Jennifer Blackbird, Centre for Indigenous Studies; Micah Stickel, Acting Vice Provost, Students; and Marisa Sterling, Assistant Dean & Director, Diversity, Inclusion and Professionalism for U of T Engineering.

By Liz Do

Members from across U of T’s three campuses gathered virtually to mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

On Dec. 6, 1989, a gunman entered an engineering classroom at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and murdered 14 female students, injuring another 10 women and four men. The victims were targeted because of their gender. The date of the massacre has become a day of remembrance and action against gender-based violence and discrimination.

Each year, the university community marks the day with an event at Hart House. On the 30th anniversary of the massacre in 2019, U of T Engineering was among 14 engineering schools from across the country to shine one of 14 beams of light — one for each of the women killed — into the sky from coast to coast.

National Day of Remembrance

(Photo: Roberta Baker)

This year’s tri-campus virtual memorial was led by U of T Engineering and the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre, in partnership with Hart House.

“Today we are here to remember the past, the 14 women who died from violence,” said Marisa Sterling, Assistant Dean & Director, Diversity, Inclusion and Professionalism at U of T Engineering. “We are here to acknowledge how far we have come in the present, and we are here to take actions, reimaging a future without violence or aggression towards women within the intersections of many identities.”

“This a song for all of our sisters, my Indigenous sisters, my kin, and extending out to all the sisters, including transwomen and non-binary. We have a lot of violence pushed up against us,” says Jenny Blackbird — coordinator, Ciimaan/Kahuwe’ya/Qajaq Indigenous Language Initiative Program, Centre for Indigenous Studies, and outreach communications and programming coordinator for Hart House — who gave a performance at the start of the event. “I love you all, this is for you.”

Students from across the university then led in reading the names of the 14 women before a moment of silence.

Professor Micah Stickel (ECE), Acting Vice Provost, Students, also announced this year’s three recipients of the Award for Scholarly Achievement in Gender-Based Violence, in recognition of U of T students who have shown commitment on issues around gender-based violence and discrimination through research and prevention.

The recipients are:

  • Ferdinand Lopez (Women & Gender Studies Institute)
  • Rajpreet Sidhu (Department of Human Geography, UTSC)
  • Kanishka Sikri (Centre for Critical Development Studies)

The event culminated in a fireside chat, facilitated by Jennifer Flood and Bristy Chakrabarty of the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre, and featuring panelists Dean Chris Yip, U of T Engineering; Alana Bailey, president of the National Society of Black Engineers U of T Chapter; Tee Duke, assistant director, Indigenous initiatives, at UTM’s Indigenous Centre; and, Andi Alhakim, intercultural programs assistant, UTM International Education Centre.

The conversation highlighted concrete actions individuals can take to question, call out and take action to end violence against women — the discussions emphasized the need to centre the narrative around protecting and preventing violence against racialized and 2SLGBTQ+ communities.

“It’s crazy how [violence is] happening to us, Black women, Indigenous women, the most — and yet less focus is on us,” says Bailey. “People need to wake up and not be desensitized. This energy is what makes society look away. To centre the narrative, I think we need to create spaces where we have a voice, spaces where we won’t be shamed, ignored and looked over.”

The group also discussed how non-Black, Indigenous and people of color (Non-BIPOC) U of T students, staff and faculty can commit to taking actions, informed by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

“I encourage folks to actually read the report,” says Duke. “It’s going to take some time, it is 1,200 pages with 231 recommendations, but it’s not that we don’t have a roadmap. It comes down to everyone having a responsibility in ending violence.”

Angela Treglia, director of the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre, closed the event with a call to action: “Today we reflect, we remember, but we need to respond. May we all find the courage and strength to take action and speak out against violence against women and may we continue to work for change.”

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


Two new faculty members join EngSci’s teaching team

Aug 28, 2020

Guerzhoy and Asare

Michael Guerzhoy and Philip Asare.

EngSci recently welcomed two new Assistant Professors in the Teaching Stream who bring with them a wealth of experience in engineering education.

Philip Asare (EngSci, ISTEP) and Michael Guerzhoy (EngSci, MIE) will teach some of the program’s key foundation courses as well as upper year classes.

Asare will be involved with the first and second year engineering design courses, Praxis I, II and III, and the capstone design course in the electrical & computer engineering major. He was previously an assistant professor at Bucknell University where he did research on cyber-physical systems and taught engineering design. He also taught a course called “Engineering: A Humanist Enterprise” that examined engineering as a human activity and the implications of this view for engineering education and practice.

“A question that guides my approach is ‘How can we educate engineers to help them serve the diverse communities in which they will operate?’,” says Asare. “I want to train the next generation of engineers to be attentive to issues of the human condition including social justice, equity, and inclusion.”

Philip Asare teaching

Philip Asare teaching model-based engineering of embedded systems at the University of Virginia (Photo courtesy Tom Cogill)

Guerzhoy will teach both of EngSci’s Year 1 computer programming courses with the aim of integrating more data science into the curriculum. In addition to his appointment to U of T Engineering, Guerzhoy is also an Affiliated Scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. His research specializes in machine learning and statistics with applications in healthcare, computer vision, and data science. He has taught extensively in U of T’s Departments of Computer Science and Statistical Sciences and at Princeton University’s Center for Statistics and Machine Learning.

Michael Guerzhoy teaching

Michael Guerzhoy teaching a workshop on PyTorch at the Toronto Machine Learning Summit (TMLS) (Photo courtesy of TMLS)

After years of teaching engineering students, both Asare and Guerzhoy have come to view their roles as creating appropriate environments that help students learn and develop, rather than teaching from on high. “I strongly believe that most learning happens when students are actually doing something rather than just listening to lecture,” says Guerzhoy. To help students learn by doing, he designs his lectures around course assignments that make the connection between theory and application clear.

“Hiring new faculty is one of the most important jobs we have at the University,” says Professor Will Cluett, EngSci Interim Chair. “After many months of careful searching, I am extremely excited to welcome these two outstanding young professors. Despite being relatively early in their academic careers, they both already have a wealth of experience in teaching and related scholarship that I expect will be well-received by our students.”


Holding companies accountable for biased AI – meet Year 4 student Deb Raji

thesis student

Deb Raji (Year 4 EngSci + PEY) and researchers at the MIT Media Lab identified a need for stronger evaluation practices to mitigate gender and racial biases of AI products. (Credit: Liz Do)

 

As artificial intelligence (AI) software becomes more widely used, questions have arisen about how social biases may inadvertently be amplified through it. One area of concern is facial detection and recognition software. Biases in the data sets used to ‘train’ AI software may lead to racial biases in the end products. Since these are sometimes used in law enforcement, this raises civil rights concerns.

Year 4 EngSci student Deb Raji (1T8 PEY) and collaborators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently won “best student paper” at the Artificial Intelligence, Ethics, and Society (AIES) Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, for identifying performance disparities in commonly used facial detection software when used on groups of different genders and skin tones. Using Amazon’s Rekognition software, they found that darker-skinned women were misidentified as men in nearly one-third of cases.

Raji hopes that this work will show companies how to rigorously audit their algorithms to uncover hidden biases. “Deb Raji’s work highlights the critical need to place engineering work within a social context,” says Professor Deepa Kundur, Chair of the Division of Engineering Science. “We’re very proud of Deb’s achievements and look forward to her future contributions to the field.”

Read about Raji’s research here.


© 2020 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering