Posts Tagged: diversity

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. 


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.


© 2020 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering