Posts Tagged: Mikhail Burke

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.


© 2020 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering