Posts Tagged: E4TW

EngSci student has a message for women and girls considering STEM fields: ‘You can’

Adriana Patino

Adriana Diaz Lozano Patino, a third-year engineering science student at U of T, is focused on finding innovative solutions to global water and energy needs (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

 

By Rahul Kalvapalle

As a young girl growing up in Mexico, Adriana Diaz Lozano Patino (Year 3 EngSci) was always very clear on what she wanted to do when she grew up.

“Since I was very young, I loved the idea of becoming a scientist – even though when you’re 10 years old, you don’t really know what that actually means,” says Patino, who is majoring in biomedical engineering.

Last summer, Patino completed an internship in MIE’s Water and Energy Research Laboratory, which researches innovative engineering solutions for global water and energy needs. There, she worked on research pertaining to sustainable sanitation and water desalination in Mexico and Bangladesh, respectively.

The lab is directed by Associate Professor Amy Bilton (MIE), whom Patino describes as “a phenomenal role model.”

Bilton and Patino are among a growing number of women scholars, students and researchers whose work is pushing the boundaries of traditionally male-dominated STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields while helping to spread a message of inclusivity – a message that underpins the International Day of Women and Girls in Science that was adopted by the United Nations in 2015.

Patino, a Pearson Scholar, says her summer stint in Bilton’s lab – funded by the Engineering Science Research Opportunities Program – made her doubly determined to pursue a career in engineering.

Her first project saw her assist with PhD research focused on designing sustainable sanitation systems for the periphery of major cities in Mexico.

“Around 11 million Mexicans don’t have access to safe sanitation technologies, particularly those who live in the periphery of cities,” Patino says. “Mexico, just like many countries that are deemed the global south, has this really interesting interface at the periphery of major cities where you see urban and rural characteristics merging together. These communities usually lack access to general infrastructure and services.”

Her contribution to the project focused on figuring out why households were being deprived of reliable sanitation systems, particularly in Mexico City, Puebla, Guadalajara and the State of Mexico.

Using data gleaned from Mexican government and non-profit sources along with information on geographic conditions in those regions, Patino was able to zero in on some of the key variables. They included: the distance of households from downtown, the legal status of the land on which people live and access to health institutions.

“I’m from Mexico, so I grew up around this and have a vague idea of it, so it’s very important for me to be able to work on something that can eventually help people back home. Of course, it would’ve been better to be able to go there and talk to them but alas, COVID,” Patino says.

“In general, I think it’s something that’s at the heart of what the Water and Energy Research Lab does, and what Professor Bilton really wants to get her students to look at, which is understanding the community you’re going to work in and the context around the problem you’re trying to solve – so that you don’t end up doing engineering out of context and end up with solutions that may sound really cool in theory, but in practice just don’t adapt to the cultural and social context.”

Patino’s second project saw her contribute to a PhD student’s research focused on combining UV LED and reverse osmosis technologies to create a sustainable water filtration system.

“Reverse osmosis uses pressurized membranes to filter water and UV LED is usually used to kill micro-organisms. These technologies have never been coupled before, at least from what we found in the literature,” Patino explains. “We wanted to be able to build a system that would be powered by solar panels, so it can be used in remote communities. Particularly, we’re designing around a case study of a school community in Bangladesh, taking into account the geography of the area and the amount of people the system would be serving.

“What we were trying to do was to set the stage for future master’s students to come and build on the system and hopefully, one day, test it in the field.”

Patino says she hopes to go on to pursue graduate studies and research – ideally at the intersection of bio-engineering and global development.

Her passion for using engineering to solve pressing global challenges is a trait that’s increasingly prevalent among engineering students, according to her professor.

“With a lot of younger students in general, there’s a lot of interest in thinking about how they can use some of their skills to think about overall betterment of quality of life for people around the world,” says Bilton, who earned her bachelor of applied science in engineering science at U of T before going on to complete her master’s and PhD at MIT.

Bilton describes Patino as a “very positive and energetic person” who went “above and beyond” in all of her projects. She also said Patino’s work ethic and perspective as a young woman and international student from Mexico are a testament to the benefits of embracing diversity in STEM fields.

“It’s a push I make within my own group – to try and make sure we have a diverse group of students from cultural, gender and across all the spectra. I think there’s a general recognition now – that probably wasn’t there back when I was a student – that having that diversity brings a different kind of strength in terms of being able to think more broadly about problems,” says Bilton, who is also director of U of T’s Centre for Global Engineering. “Especially when the work itself is focused on inclusion, global development and making sure everyone has access to services that improve quality of life.”

Bilton notes that efforts to welcome more women and girls into STEM research and study at U of T is a key part of the university’s wider push to advance the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals – one of which is gender equality.

“I do feel like there’s a shift happening in this area and we’ve come a long way,” Bilton says. “[But] we still have a ways to go.”

As for Patino, she’s also using her time as a student to encourage young girls to pursue an education in STEM fields through her work at Hi Skule, U of T Engineering Society’s outreach club.

“We want to make sure that other girls see that you can go into STEM,” she says. “It’s not scary, you’re going to be loved, you’re going to have friends and you’re going to have faculty who support you. We’re trying to bring across the message that it’s a pretty awesome field. There’s lots to learn and women sometimes feel like they’re not going to live up to it because they’ve been taught that, but it’s completely not true.

“Particularly in the engineering community at U of T, I’ve found that the students are very supportive of each other. I’ve always felt like I’m heard and I get access to things. I never felt there’s been any challenge in my way because I’m a woman.”

Patino concedes that pursuing a career in a STEM field isn’t easy – for anyone – but stresses that women and girls are more than equipped to excel.

“Like anything in life, there are always challenges. But never think that because you’re a girl or you identify as a girl, that you can’t do it,” she says. “You can.”

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


Meet Engineers Without Borders: U of T Chapter Co-Presidents Natalie Enriquez-Birch and Lauren Streitmatter

EWB Co-Presidents Natalie Enriquez-Birch (Year 2 IndE) and Lauren Streitmatter (Year 3 EngSci)

 

By Rebecca Logan

Tell us about yourselves:

Natalie: My name is Natalie, I’m in Industrial Engineering. I started in Track One, and I decided to go into IndE. Right now I’m finishing my second year in Industrial Engineering but I’m actually in my third year at U of T. I did my second year in part-time engineering because I wanted to do some classes in Arts and Sciences. I’m trying to minor in Latin American studies and Indigenous studies. I’m from Toronto and have grown up here most of my life, other than that I also grew up in Ecuador because that’s where half of my heritage is from. I’m co-president this year and I’ve been involved with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) since my first year.

Lauren: My name is Lauren I’m in third year of Engineering Science in the Energy Systems option and I’m minoring in Environmental Engineering. I’m from just outside of Chicago but half of my family is from Canada in Toronto which is what motivated me to come here. I’m also co-president of EWB and have been involved since my first year.

How did you both get involved with EWB?

Lauren: I got involved in my first year in the Policy and Advocacy portfolio. We have six different portfolios in EWB right now and they vary year to year but Policy and Advocacy is still one we have now. I was interested in more of the social impact side of engineering. So that portfolio gave me the chance to participate in a petition campaign to promote the UN sustainability development goals. We also got to host events for International Women’s Day and I liked being able to work on different awareness projects while still learning about technical content. EWB was a place for me to get a balance from the technical content of school. In second year, I was in the Local Poverty Alleviation portfolio, and also an exec in VP Mentorship (now called VP Community), which is a position to help the community become more tightly knit. I really liked both those experiences, I really liked being in the club, the community and all the people I met, so I really wanted to run for president at the end of my second year.

Natalie: When I started at U of T, I knew I wanted to join a club right a way. As I was browsing the clubs in engineering, EWB is the one that spoke to be first because I’ve always been interested in social impact. I got involved and joined the Indigenous Reconciliation portfolio because it is one of my interests. It kind of exceeded my expectations in terms of how many opportunities there are to get involved because it’s such a big club, there’s something for everyone.

I was part of Indigenous Reconciliation and through that portfolio I actually went to Nunavut. I went to Iqaluit with some of the other members in the portfolio in first year. That was a really exciting opportunity and after first year I did a program with EWB Canada called the Junior Fellowship. Through that program I did an internship, I worked for a social enterprise in Uganda for four months. They were doing acceleration for local agribusinesses there and I was in a marketing role. In second year I decided to apply for the exec team and I became the VP of learning, which is one of our core values at EWB. We always try to have opportunities for people to learn about social impact. One thing I’m really passionate about is doing my own research and sharing it, so I loved that position. Running for president was a bit of a natural progression for me as I’ve always been really super involved with the club. I hadn’t always considered doing it but I got inspired when it was time to run.

What does EWB do?

Natalie: EWB is a social impact club and at its core it’s looking to create leaders who are critical thinkers and have a basis of understanding systemic change. In particular, we target engineering students and students in technically focussed STEM fields, in order to compliment their technical studies with an understanding of social impact. I think what people get out of EWB is being able to challenge the status quo. Especially within technical realms and ask the question, if I’m working for social impact or in a mission driven organization, how can I know a technical solution is the best solution? And be comfortable with that. I think that’s what’s interesting about EWB, we really want people to be challenging the way that they think about the world.

What does a typical year on EWB look like?
Lauren: When people join the club they can join as a general member, get a feel for it and not be attached to a portfolio. But usually after a certain point, at least most people will filter into at least one portfolio, some are in multiple. It’s whatever portfolio interests them, and it’s up to the initiative they take to get involved in that portfolio. Each portfolio works on certain projects and those projects almost always have room for more people to work on them, but it’s up to you to insert yourself into them and take on that work.

In terms of the actual trips and especially in the past two years, our trips have taken more of a local focus. The junior fellowship program EWB Canada runs, which sends a fellow to Africa, is something our club has not done in the same capacity because of COVID but also because of our changing relationship with EWB Canada. It’s also that’s an opportunity that’s only available for one to two students anyway. For the most part, people in our club participate by being part of a portfolio that is working locally. There may be the occasional extra opportunity you can sign up for but it’s less common.

EWB Chapter-run Student Leaders’ Summit in Muskoka, January 2019.

 

What are the six portfolios students can get involved with at EWB?

Lauren: Indigenous Reconciliation, Local Poverty Alleviation, Policy and Advocacy, Sustainability and Environmental Justice, Cyber Ethics/Digital Rights and Youth Engagement.

Can you tell us about your experience on trips?

Natalie: The trip I went on to Uganda was pretty life changing. While I was there I was working with a social enterprise and they ran a program to accelerate agri-businesses in the area. I ran the marketing side of that. So I would get the marketing materials ready to market to both prospective entrepreneurs as well as partners and other people who can support it because a social enterprise does need to make money but it’s not necessarily looking to make a lot of profit. What was cool about the junior fellowship is you get work experience and you also get to understand how the work culture in another place is different from the work culture you’re used to. I had never worked outside of Canada before but I also got an opportunity to travel and see the county as well as surrounding countries.

I think the most important part of that experience was the people I was travelling with. There were about eight other people with me in Uganda, but in the program in total there were 15 from other universities across Canada. They’re still some of my best friends now, I still keep in contact with a lot of them. They share a lot of similar values to me and are like minded so sharing that experience with them is what made it such a great opportunity.

The trip I did in Nunavut was not affiliated with my EWB, it’s something I found out about through my involvement working on the portfolio. But the point there is that portfolios connect you to opportunities but not necessarily everyone who joins a portfolio will go on a trip. In terms of a trip I took to Uganda, it’s not something that’s happening in the same capacity. Not just in our chapter but in the organization, this year they restructured the program so it doesn’t look the same as it did in the past. Most people who join EWB don’t go on a trip it’s kind of rare and especially right now because of COVID and other reasons, it’s really not at all the main focus.

What has the EWB been up to now that everything is virtual?

Lauren: Luckily since we’re not a building focussed tech design team. We aren’t struggling too much with not having the ability to meet in person and build so we’ve been able to adapt a lot of our events to online settings. All six of our portfolios are still running, pretty much in full capacity. They’re still able to run through Zoom. There are regular learning events, project meetings and weekly or monthly portfolio meetings. So lots of meetings happening in the club still.

Our policy advocacy portfolio is in the middle of creating a podcast, the first episode is about to be released. The starting up projects are in the research phase and are able to do that just as well. We also have more established projects, like the Local Poverty Alleviation portfolio is working on a food bank that’s stepped in and become the main food bank for U of T. The UTSU food bank closed during the start of COVID, so the food bank our club is working on has grown and expanded a lot. They’re working really hard on keep donations coming in so they can still keep supplying food to students in need. We still have a lot of the same sense of community. Now more than ever, it’s really on the individuals who want to get involved to get involved. It’s a lot easier for people to fall through the cracks online. For those who are taking the initiative to join different portfolios, projects and meetings, they are still able to participate pretty fully in an online setting.

What is the best way for someone to get involved with EWB?

Natalie: The best way to get involved is registering with a membership form but to get access to that link you’ll have to get in contact with us. Send us an email, let us know you want to get involved, we’ll send you a membership form and once you complete that you’ll get access to our Slack board space which is our main hub. On the Slack board space you get access to all the portfolio channels, where they tell you about their events, weekly meetings, projects and if they’re looking for people to increase the capacity of their teams. Once you’re on our Slack you’re set, you just have to make sure to check it. But reach out to people if you want to get involved and learn more about a specific project or portfolio.

Anything to add?

Lauren: We are open to everyone, beyond engineers. We really like having people from Arts and Science to join as well and create an environment where our projects are super interdisciplinary. The Eng and STEM students can learn from Arts and Science and vice versa.

For more information about Engineers Without Borders: University of Toronto Chapter please visit https://utoronto.ewb.ca.

This story was originally published by the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering.


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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