Posts Tagged: Philip Asare

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. 


New EngSci course enhances experiential learning and global perspectives

Team NASSA stands with their cold air bubble piping system for the Thailand-based “Klongs for All” project. (Photo: Safa Jinje)

 

By Safa Jinje

In early December, more than 200 third-year Engineering Science students presented their collaborative solutions to a range of challenges — from recycling plastics to clearing invasive plants from canal waterways.

The two-day showcase was held in classrooms across U of T Engineering and recorded for organizations around the world, including partners based in Nigeria, Ghana, Thailand, Uganda and South Africa.

“Engineering is about people — it’s about the human condition,” says Professor Philip Asare (ISTEP, EngSci), who co-leads the course with Professor Sasha Gollish (ISTEP, EngSci).

“We want students to be able to see how technical work is influenced by all the human dimensions: the setting, the context, the people you are working with and the capacity you have.”

Held for the first time this year, the redesigned Praxis III course builds on the success of Praxis I and II — two first-year classes that introduce students to the models and tools of engineering design, including communication, teamwork and professionalism. Praxis III expands these learning opportunities to students in their second year while introducing a global element.

This year’s cohort collaborated with business students at Georgia State University as they designed and tested their functioning product prototypes, which propose solutions to the challenges faced by communities around the world.

In one of the projects from Ghana, called “The Potential of Recycled Plastics,” Makafui Awuku, who is the founder and CEO of Mckingtorch Africa, invited students to look for novel ways to re-use plastic and sawdust in the creation of new building materials.

Mckingtorch Africa recycles and upcycles plastic waste to create new products such as plastic mats, food-ware and makeshift beds. The social enterprise is exploring the production of wood-like panels for construction made from recovered sawdust and plastic.

“Each of the five teams decided to focus on a different part of the value chain, from acquiring sawdust to mixing it with plastic, to measuring properties of the produced composite wood/plastic panels,” says Asare. “The collection of projects when viewed together provide a great overall value for Mckingtorch Africa.”

Team DTUS stands with their device Jim (Just Insert Material), a thermal testing system, for “The Potential of Recycled Plastics” project. (Photo: Safa Jinje)

 

Students researched the local community, culture and practices to create designs that would provide benefit to the client while ensuring cultural sensitivity.

“Empathy is introduced as a core concept in Praxis III,” says Victoria German (Year 3 EngSci). “We had to do a lot of non-functional research to better understand the community we are serving.”

Instructors led students through reflection assignments, lectures, classroom discussions and hands-on building exercises that reinforced the importance of empathy in their designs.

During their presentations, teams also made an argument for why their designs would be relevant to the community that they were working with, through both the lens of United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and what they understood about the people and their needs.

“We spent a lot of time on the conception of the design. It was really important for us to make sure we were meticulous at every stage,” says Rasam Yazdi (Year 3 EngSci). “We definitely gained good experiences out of this from working with computer-aided design models to electrical work and the actual build.”

Praxis III is intended for second-year students, but this first iteration was introduced to third-year students due to pandemic-related delays. The next iteration begins in the winter term and will have close to 300 second-year students.

“This course requires us to innovate in a number of ways, especially with supporting the hands-on technical work through our partnership with the Myhal Fabrication Facility,” says Asare.

“We’ve produced important systems and processes that supports the course work from a parts and components perspective. We have also introduced a procurement process, and tools and widgets to help students work well in their labs.”

Asare believes the experience has been a positive one for his global peers.

“The global partners are interested in these kinds of interactions with students; they have made it clear that they see value in it,” he says. “Next term, we are introducing humanitarian settings with projects in Yemen.”

“As the course evolves, we want to experiment with structures that make it possible for students to continue to pursue their designs beyond the course. There are lots of interesting things to come.”

This story 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.”


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