Posts Tagged: E4TW

The year ahead: Q-and-A with U of T Engineering Dean Christopher Yip

Dean Christopher Yip in December 2020. (Photo: Daria Perevezentsev)

 

By Tyler Irving

A lot of adjectives have been used to describe the year 2020 — unprecedented, unusual, challenging — but Dean Chris Yip would choose a different one: inspiring.

“What I saw across our Faculty was people rising to the challenge,” he says. “That innovative spirit is what engineering is all about, and I think many of the creative solutions we developed will still be valuable when the pandemic is over.”

Writer Tyler Irving sat down with Dean Yip to reflect on the past few months and look forward to the next year at U of T Engineering.

Read their conversation in the U of T Engineering News.


flatten: Leveraging big data to fight COVID-19 in Mogadishu


A volunteer uses digital tools created by flatten.ca to collect information on COVID-19 symptoms and spread in Mogadishu, Somalia. (Photo: Durable Solutions Unit)

By Tyler Irving

Six months ago, Shrey Jain (Year 2 EngSci) was a first-year engineering student who just wanted to do his part to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. He could never have imagined that doing so would take him halfway around the world, into the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. 

“It’s been really amazing to see the realness of it, the tangible outcomes we can have by applying what we know about gathering and analyzing data,” says Jain. 

Back in March, as the world awoke to the threat posed by the pandemic, Jain led a team of volunteers in an initiative that would become known as flatten, as in “flattening the curve.” 

Their first project was a real-time heatmap of potential and confirmed COVID-19 cases in Toronto, created from self-reported, anonymized data via screening questions developed in consultation with public health officials. 

Within days, flatten had garnered national headlines, and the team was fielding calls from public health officials who wanted to work with them. 

“We had collaborated with the City of Montreal and other public health bodies in Canada,” says Jain. “That was great, but what we really wanted to do was use our tool in a way that would lead to concrete changes in policy.” 

The opportunity came when the team was contacted by Dr. Ian Furst, a Canadian oral and maxillofacial surgeon who is also CEO of the Swisscross Foundation, which provides access to high quality healthcare for victims of war. 

Via a group called Global Women Leaders, Furst had been working with Hodan Ali, a Senior Advisor to the mayor of Mogadishu and a key member of the Durable Solutions Unit, part of the local Benadir Regional Administration (BRA). 

“Our models indicated that social measures could be key to reducing the spread, but they needed to be guided by information on disease prevalence,” says Furst. “Since Mogadishu had little access to testing, we thought that tracking the disease via symptom surveillance might be possible. The flatten project was an exact match to what Hodan and I thought might help.”

Adapting the tools that flatten had developed for Mogadishu meant building and drafting a new set of screening questions, but it also required a new approach to deal with challenges related to access and use of the technology. 

“In Mogadishu, not everybody has a smartphone, and internet access can be unreliable,” says Jain. “To get robust, valuable data, we realized that we needed people to mediate the collection process.” 

 Funding from the European Union and the United Nations Development Program enabled the BRA to provide stipends for 400 local volunteers to survey citizens across the city for two months. 

 Using customized tools created by flatten, these volunteers gathered data on COVID-19 symptoms and other public health parameters from more than 115,000 people, including many living in Internally Displaced Persons camps. Throughout the data collection process, members of the flatten team were responsible for data monitoring, cleaning and quality assurance.  

 Insights extracted from this data informed practical strategies that have already been implemented in the city by the BRA, including rapid emergency shelters in areas where household overpopulation was identified as a risk factor, and 205 wash stations set up in districts where hand hygiene was a key need. 

 Other key findings of the project included a recognition that health literacy and income were key factors affecting both testing and infection, and the BRA is working to develop programs to address these needs. 

 Jain says that the flatten technical team as well as the multidisciplinary advisory team were key to the success of the project. Members included: 

  • U of T Assistant Professor Dr. Marzyeh Ghassemi (Department of Computer Science and Department of Medicine), Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning for Health and Canada CIFAR AI Chair 
  • Professor Leo Anthony Celi, Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Institute for Medical Engineering and Science and an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School 
  • Marie-Laure Charpignon, PhD candidate at MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) 
  • Mathew Samuel, Data Scientist at Facebook  
  • Nick Frosst, Founder of Cohere.AI and a former researcher at Google Brain 

Going forward, Jain hopes the project can serve as a model for anyone interested in leveraging the power of big data to improve public health in resourceconstrained settings. 

With this international collaboration, we have set a precedent for data collection in Sub-Saharan Africa, and demonstrated that even a small start-up like flatten can make positive difference globally, says Jain.  

“We’re already talking to academics who work in global health about further anonymizing and characterizing this dataset, and using it to promote open science research in public health. This approach can continue providing beneficial insights to humanitarian aid organizations, like the BRA.”  

Furst also sees a lot of potential for the tools that flatten has developed. 

“Imagine a nimble, scalable, mobile system that captures and organizes humanitarian health needs so that local healthcare workers can act on them, but also match them to organizations in a position to help,” he says. “I think that would make a big difference, and flatten is the first step toward that dream.” 

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


EngSci’s 2020 Student Award Winners

June 1, 2020

Graduating EngSci students Ben Mucsi, Lia Codrington, Rosemary Jose, and Victoria Cheng are this year’s award recipients in recognition of their service to their communities.

 

Four outstanding graduating students are the recipients of EngSci’s 2020 student awards in recognition of the significant impact of their volunteer work within and outside of the university community. Students were nominated by their peers.

The Spirit of EngSci Award and the Engineers for the World (E4TW) Award are presented to graduating students for exemplary non-academic contributions within the University or the community-at-large, respectively.

“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Ben, Lia, Rosemary and Victoria as this year’s winners of the Spirit of EngSci Award and Engineers for the World (E4TW) Award,” says Professor Will Cluett, EngSci Interim Chair.  “These are the Division’s most prestigious, non-academic awards made to graduating EngSci students who have made outstanding contributions to their communities both inside the University and beyond.”

Spirit of EngSci Award

Victoria Cheng (1T9 PEY) has worked tirelessly to promote diversity at Canadian universities and to provide students of all types with opportunities for growth. Through her extensive involvement in Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) and as Chair of its flagship WISE National Conference, she greatly increased student engagement by expanding the diversity of speakers, and launched several initiatives such as the Stories of WISE blog. As an executive for NSpire she organized networking nights for professionals and students from five universities across Ontario. She is passionate about exposing engineering students to global issues, and led the expansion of Global Engineering Week to the University of British Columbia. Outside of her leadership involvement, Victoria has also been an informal mentor to many. “Victoria’s ambition to support and create opportunities for others is exceptional,” says nominator Bohan Zhang (1T9 PEY). “Her advice and guidance have helped me secure internships abroad, which has drastically improved my career path.”

Read more about Victoria.

His classmates joke that Ben Mucsi (1T9 PEY) chose energy as his major for a reason—he never seems to run out of it! He has been a supportive presence for Skulemates since first becoming an NSight mentor, helping first year students adjust to university life. During his time in EngSci, he served as Vice President of Finance and Interim Chair of the EngSci Club. As 2019 Orientation Chair he coordinated the largest engineering Orientation Week to date, with a focus on inclusion. An accomplished Varsity Athlete on the fencing team, Ben served as External Director, Tournaments Director, and Vice President Administration of the Engineering Athletic Association. He was also the sponsorship lead for Blue Sky Solar Racing, helping to raise significant amounts of monetary and material donations. “Every day that I’ve known him, Ben has shown me how leadership means working in service of others,” says nominator Khadija Rana (Year 4).

Read more about Ben.

Engineers for the World (E4TW) Award

As a Junior Fellow with Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Lia Codrington (1T9PEY) spent a summer helping students tackle health care and food security problems in Ghana more efficiently. Her deep interest in improving the relationships between engineers and indigenous peoples led her to establish EWB’s Indigenous Reconciliation Portfolio, educating students on how to collaborate with and support Indigenous peoples. She contributed to a design project developing compost and water systems for Cat Lake First Nation’s new greenhouse, used her thesis and capstone projects to work on housing challenges in First Nation communities. In 2019, she traveled to Iqaluit to take part in the Arctic Youth Ambassador Caucus. “Whenever she talks about these projects, I can see her eyes light up,” says nominator Kimberly Lai (1T9 PEY Aerospace). “You can clearly see how dedicated she is to use her engineering skills to help others and do something meaningful.” In addition to her involvement in EWB, Lia was also a Varsity Athlete and was an executive of Blues Engineering for 3 years.

Read more about Lia.

Rosemary Jose (1T9 PEY) is passionate about renewable energy and climate change issues. She has served on the boards of several environmental organizations, including Toronto Green Community and Waterlution, where she co-created the Great Waters Challenge. Through her roles with these and other organizations, she supported local non-profits and businesses towards their goals of improving our environment. “She has had such a positive influence on the people around her,” says nominator Najah Hassan (1T9 PEY). “She has encouraged other students to pursue interests and paths within engineering that were meaningful to them and could add value to the things they saw as important.”

Read more about Rosemary.


FLATTEN: EngSci students’ COVID-19 project makes national headlines

FLATTEN.ca is an online tool developed by a team of volunteers, including EngSci students. It uses self-reporting to create a heatmap of potential COVID-19 cases across the Greater Toronto Area. (Image courtesy FLATTEN.ca)

As governments around the world work hard to contain the coronavirus, a key ingredient is in short supply: detailed data on the presence of the virus in our communities. Without this information, public health agencies cannot accurately identify where localized efforts are needed most.

This is the gap that Year 1 EngSci student Shrey Jain and his colleagues are trying to fill. Jain leads a team of over 25 volunteer collaborators who sprang into action two weeks ago to create an online tool that develops a real-time heatmap of potential and confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Called FLATTEN.ca, the platform uses data analytics and information crowdsourced from users who anonymously self-report how they are feeling. The goal is to identify local outbreaks so that officials can see areas where resources will be in high demand.

The current goal is to gather data from 600,000 Toronto area residents—about ten percent of the population—to provide a more accurate picture of virus spread than is currently available. Google has offered to scale the project up to other regions across the country, if they succeed.

The FLATTEN team includes engineering, computer science and molecular genetics students from U of T, the University of Waterloo, the University of New Brunswick and McMaster University. Several U of T professors in fields from public health to computer science are among its advisors.

“The EngSci program and my friends in EngSci taught me what it really means to work hard on a daily basis,” says Jain, as the team continues their efforts in addition to their regular course work.  Joining Jain on the team are EngSci students Martin Staadecker, Arthur Allshire, Rassam Yazdi (all Year 1), Hongyu (Charlie) Chen and Siyan Zhao (both Year 3 Machine Intelligence), and Jianing (Robert) Li and Lingkai Shen (both Year 4 Machine Intelligence).

“To all EngSci students who are involved in this project, I want to thank you for your efforts so far and encourage you to press on. The human race needs all the help it can get,” says Interim EngSci Chair, Professor Will Cluett.

Read how the team’s work is contributing to Canadian COVID-19 research in the Globe & Mail.


Lessons from the North – EngSci student travels to Nunavut as youth ambassador

students walking in Iqaluit

Members of the Arctic Youth Ambassador Caucus walk through Iqaluit last month. Two U of T Engineering students were delegates to the four-day conference. (Photo: Sam Lin)

 

Year 3 EngSci student Lia Codgrington has just returned from an exciting trip to Nunavut to attend the Arctic Youth Ambassador Caucus. She was one of 22 young leaders chosen from across Canada to travel to Iqaluit to meet with Inuit Elders and participate in activities designed to foster relationships with communities in the North.

Codrington previously founded the Indigenous Allyship Program as part of U of T’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders. Discussions with community members in Iqaluit gave her ideas for potential student projects that could help develop solutions for issues like housing and organic food waste management in Arctic communities. She is now collaborating with groups on campus to further develop these ideas.

Read more about the caucus and her work.

Learn about the “Blueprint to Action” created by U of T Engineering’s Eagles’ Longhouse in response to the university’s Truth and Reconciliation report.


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.


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