Posts Tagged: student competitions

COVID-19 transportation challenges and solutions student competition


The COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness of inequities and challenges in transportation.  The U of T Transportation Alumni Committee used this unique opportunity to focus their annual New Frontiers in Transportation student research competition on these issues under the theme of “Transportation Network Resilience in the Age of COVID-19 and Beyond.”

The competing student teams’ research projects were presented at a public online symposium on November 12, 2020.

Engineering students were well represented, as 41 per cent of total participants. EngSci student Maria Demitiry (Year 4) joined several CivE students to form a team working on a project titled “Equitable transportation in the age of COVID-19”.

Their study leveraged transit data and public health and safety measures to inform policy changes that will promote transportation equity in the post COVID-19 Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.  The team conducted research and interviewed peer agencies about strategies for building an equitable transportation network in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area post-COVID-19.

“This challenge was an excellent opportunity to engage with industry mentors and to learn more about an area of interest of mine–equitable transportation,” says Demitiry. “This work really strengthened my research, writing, and presentation skills, allowed me to network with industry professionals, and gave me an appreciation of the importance of teamwork.  For students interested in a competition like this, I’d advise to be organized, communicate regularly and effectively with your teammates and mentors, and narrow down the scope of your project early on.”

Read the full story here.

Dean’s World Tour: Checking in with U of T Engineering students across the globe

Dean Yip's world tour

Dean Christopher Yip met virtually with undergraduate students in time zones around the world during the first-ever Dean’s World Tour on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020.

By Tyler Irving

This week, U of T Engineering Dean Christopher Yip took a virtual trip around the world.

Using the digital meeting platform Zoom, Dean Yip facilitated a series of open discussions for undergraduate students, who are currently studying remotely in dozens of locations around the world — from Toronto to Tehran to Taipei — due to public health restrictions put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“We wanted to do this session because we are now more than halfway through the semester, which is the time when the stress level naturally starts to inch up a bit,” said Dean Yip in his opening remarks.

“I want to hear from you about what’s working and what isn’t, but I also want to give you a chance to connect with other students in your time zone who may be going through the same challenges you are.”

More than 100 students registered for the three sessions, each of which was scheduled at times convenient for a certain section of the globe. Session 1 covered Southeast and East Asia, while Session 2 covered Europe, Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East. Session 3 was aimed at students in North, Central and South America.

The Dean was joined by front-line staff including academic advisors, learning strategists and the Faculty’s registrar and Mental Health Programs Officer.

Also joining were more than a dozen alumni, from recent graduates to seasoned professionals. Each shared their own experiences on how students can make the most of their time at Skule™, how to network and prepare for future career opportunities, and offered to connect with those in their regions of the world.

“I was really grateful to get a chance to talk to Faculty, alumni, and students from U of T Engineering because it demonstrated the support and availability of the community from all over the world,” said Carmelle Chatterjee (Year 3 ChemE), who attended remotely from Frankfurt, Germany.

“Especially in these times. it’s nice to get a reminder of what we all have in common and how we can connect, regardless of our background or where we may be situated in the world.”

This event was the first of its kind, but it likely won’t be the last. U of T Engineering has extended its Remote Access Guarantee for the Winter semester.

“I’ve been so gratified and impressed to see how everyone has handled the current situation, using their engineering talent to develop creative solutions to unusual challenges,” said Dean Yip. “Going forward, I think it’s really important to continue to maintain our strong community, form new connections and for me to hear directly from students.”

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

EngSci thesis project selected as 2020 INFORMS Undergraduate Operations Research Prize Finalist

Anna Deza


Congratulations to recent graduate Anna Deza (EngSci 2T0)!  Her fourth year thesis work has been selected as one of 10 finalists for the 2020 INFORMS Undergraduate Operations Research Prize.  Deza conducted this research–titled A Multistage Stochastic Integer Programming Approach to Distributed Operating Room Scheduling–under the supervision of Professor Merve Bodur (MIE).

Deza’s gained extensive research experience during her undergraduate studies in EngSci.  She completed three summer research placements, including two through the Engineering Science Research Opportunities Program (ESROP): first with Université Paris-Saclay after her first year, and at Technion in Israel after her third year.  She is now a PhD student at the University of California at Berkeley, specializing in industrial engineering and operations research.

“EngSci is a program that really fosters undergraduate research,” says Deza.  “I’m grateful to the thesis course coordinator, Professor Alan Chong, for some very helpful workshops he provided that contributed to the quality of my work.”

The final competition of research presentations will take place in the second week of November at the virtual INFORMS Annual Meeting.  Good luck, Anna!

Three-peat victory: U of T Engineering team wins AutoDrive Challenge, Year Three

Zeus, shown here outside the Myhal Centre in October 2019, is a self-driving car designed and built by aUToronto, a student-led team from U of T Engineering. This week, aUToronto placed first overall in the three-year AutoDrive Challenge, an intercollegiate competition between eight top engineering schools across North America. (Photo: Liz Do)


By Tyler Irving

aUToronto has placed first in an intercollegiate challenge to transform an electric car into a self-driving one — their third consecutive win.

“All of us take pride in the work that we have done at aUToronto,” says Jingxing “Joe” Qian (EngSci 1T8 + PEY, UTIAS MASc candidate), Team Lead for aUToronto. “The competition results clearly reflect the high calibre and dedication of the team.”

The team also took the top overall prize for the most cumulative points over the three years of the AutoDrive Challenge. Second place went to Texas A & M, with Virginia Tech scoring third. The other schools in the competition were: University of Waterloo, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, North Carolina A&T State, and Kettering University.

The AutoDrive Challenge began in 2017, when each of the student-led teams was provided with a brand-new electric vehicle, a Chevrolet Bolt. Their task was to convert it into an autonomous vehicle, meeting yearly milestones along the way.

Sponsors of the AutoDrive include General Motors, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and a number of other companies that produce hardware and software for self-driving cars.

The U of T team took the top spot at the first meet of the competition, held in the spring of 2018 at the General Motors Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz. In the second year, they again placed first at the competition, which took place in MCity, a simulated town for self-driving vehicle testing, built at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The third yearly meet was originally scheduled to take place last spring at the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, Ohio. However, it was postponed and reorganized due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“The goal of this year’s challenge was to simulate an autonomous ride-sharing scenario,” says Qian. “That means the car needed to arrive at a sequence of pre-determined address points and perform pseudo pick-up and drop-off behaviours. The routes would have been much longer and more complex compared with Year 2.”

In the absence of a live event, the organizers used what are known as “static event” scores, which are based on reports and presentations that the teams could submit remotely. These included an analysis of the social responsibility aspects of the project, the overall conceptual design and the results of a number of sophisticated computer simulations.

Qian says that the latest iteration of Zeus includes a number of enhancements, including improvements in perception, path planning and GPS-free localization. To make them, the aUToronto team overcame numerous challenges, not the least of which was coordinating more than 50 team members who were working remotely on the project.

“We are located in many different places around the world, so team building and organization becomes extremely important,” says Qian. “We have weekly meetings online where sub-team leads present their updates to the rest of the team, and we have also been planning virtual paper talks and knowledge sharing sessions.”

“aUToronto has been focused on putting together a top-notch self driving car for three years now,” says Keenan Burnett (EngSci 1T6+PEY, UTIAS MASc candidate), who served as aUToronto’s Team Lead through the first two years of the AutoDrive Challenge. “This win is the result of hundreds of hours of work by our team.”

“As a faculty advisor, I have watched with awe as the 100%-student-run team really seized this unique opportunity,” says Professor Tim Barfoot (UTIAS). Barfoot, along with Professor Angela Schoellig (UTIAS) is one of the two co-Faculty Leads of the team. He also serves as Associate Director of the University of Toronto Robotics Institute and the Chair of the Robotics Option offered by the Division of Engineering Science.

“Robotics is a very hands-on discipline, so experiences such as the AutoDrive Challenge are needed to complement classroom learning,” says Barfoot “I am deeply grateful to SAE and GM for organizing this activity and the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering for their ongoing support through the Dean’s Strategic Fund.   I feel our graduates are better prepared to head into the exciting field of autonomous vehicles than perhaps anywhere in the world at this moment in time.  The fact that we won the competition is a bonus.”

The competition has been rolled into a fourth year, with a live meet set to take place sometime in 2021, again at MCity in Ann Arbour, Mich.

“We’re very proud the results of this third-year competition and looking forward to raising the bar yet again at the fourth-year competition,” says Burnett. “Although we’re disappointed we didn’t get to show off our autonomous functions this year, we’re looking forward to going back to MCity and demonstrating our Level 4 self-driving car.”

But aUToronto is also thinking beyond the end of the AutoDrive Challenge.

“We’ve always said we do not want to design a system that is specific towards this competition,” says Qian. “Our goal is to achieve full autonomy under many different scenarios.”

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

EngSci student wins at Hatchery Demo Day


Themis team photo

Themis team uses AI to create a Microsoft Office add-in that saves hours of time drafting legal papers. (Photo courtesy Themis)


Year 4 EngSci student Cindy Chen (third from left in the above photo) is part of the team that won the top prize at the 2020 Hatchery Demo Day.  The student-founded startup uses artificial intelligence to help lawyers draft legal contracts.

Read how the team plans to use their $20,000 prize money.

Student-designed tool to help cancer patients wins John W. Senders Award

EPICSpeech team photo

The members of the EPICSpeech team, from left to right: Betty Liu, Charlie Yang, Sulagshan Raveendrakumar, Jacob Smith and Netra Unni Rajesh (Photo courtesy EPICSpeech team)


A flexible plastic plate dotted with electrodes may not seem like something that belongs in a human mouth, but this student-developed device could help give some cancer patients back the ability to speak or swallow.

The innovative team behind the device are recent graduates Betty Bingruo Liu, Netra Unni Rajesh, Sulagshan Raveendrakumar, Jacob Smith, and Seung Doo (Charlie) Yang (all EngSci 1T9 PEY). Now their work has been recognized with the prestigious John W. Senders Award for Imaginative Design, which is presented to Year 4 University of Toronto engineering students for imaginative and successful application of engineering to the design of a medical device. The award is named after human factors and ergonomics pioneer Professor John W. Senders.

The team took on a challenge presented to them in EngSci’s biomedical systems capstone course by doctors from the Toronto General Hospital (TGH) Department of Head and Neck Cancer Surgery. For 17,000 Canadians diagnosed with tongue cancer every year, treatment often includes surgery to remove part of their tongue. This can leave patients with significant speech and swallowing impairment.

In rehabilitation, speech pathologists use electropalatography (EPG) devices to detect abnormalities in tongue motion and prescribe specific exercises to help restore functionality. Existing EPG devices are custom-made for each patient with 62 hand-wired electrodes, making them expensive and out of reach for many. The many electrodes also create a tangle of wires that impedes natural tongue movement and causes discomfort during exercises.

To address these limitations, the students created the EPICSpeech device (Electropalatography with Programmable Integrated Circuits for Speech Rehabilitation).

EPICSpeech device schematic

Overview of the EPICSpeech device. (Image courtesy of EPICSpeech team)

The team was inspired by the use of flexible printed circuit boards (PCBs) in medical applications such as diagnostic catheters and blood glucose monitors. Instead of a hard custom-fitted mouthpiece, EPICSpeech uses a flexible PCB that can be easily and cheaply mass produced. It allows the device to conform to the shape of a patient’s palate comfortably.

By embedding an internal processor and half as many electrodes as existing devices, the team also reduced the number of wires exiting from the patient’s mouth from 62 to just 8. “The key design feature was optimizing the number electrodes while giving users enough information to understand where their tongue is moving,” says capstone course instructor Professor Chris Bouwmeester. The smaller number of wires allows patients to move their tongue more naturally during exercises.

In collaboration with Dr. Douglas Chepeha, Dr. Majd Al-Mardini, and James Kelley from the TECHNA Institute, and Carly Barbone from Toronto Rehab at the University Health Network, the team also worked to meet the tough performance and safety requirements of medical devices. “The hardest part was integrating complex electrical components with a biocompatible base to fit safely in the mouth,” says Smith. “Many materials used in circuits are not biocompatible. We learned quickly how much work it is to combine electrical and biomedical components so they work within the mouth when covered with saliva.”

The project drew on knowledge the students had gained throughout their studies, Including engineering design, hardware circuits, programming, prototyping, biomaterials and biological assays. “This project is a great example of the power of multidisciplinary collaboration,” says Bouwmeester. “With a mix of students from EngSci’s electrical & computer engineering and biomedical systems engineering majors this team was able to achieve more advanced electrical hardware design and biological testing than a single discipline team would have.”

The resulting design is easier and cheaper to manufacture, can help speed up patient recovery, and can even help guide surgeons to better reconstructions. “This device has the potential to revolutionize rehabilitation of oral cavity patients,” says Dr. Chepeha. “It will help patients speak and eat after cancer treatment so they can go back to work and interact in society.”

Dr. Chepeha and his colleagues plan to continue working with EngSci students to test the device in patients and develop a wireless blue tooth interface to eliminate wires protruding from the mouth. They hope ultimately to license the device for distribution and support a speech and language pathologist to continue research on this innovative technology.

EngSci math stars

EngSci students Robert Li (PEY), Jennifer Guo (PEY), and Hshmat Sahak (Year 1) placed highly in the University of Toronto Mathematics Competition in the last two years. (Photos courtesy of Jennifer Guo, Robert Li, and Hshmat Sahak)


Math is a core part of the EngSci program. The rigorous training and deep theoretical foundation students receive in Year 1 and 2 foundation courses help them to develop formal logic and algorithmic thinking, and strong problem-solving skills.

It should come as no surprise then that the program exerts a certain kind of pull for many highly skilled math enthusiasts.

“Having taught first year engineering science students over my career, I can attest that it certainly attracts some of the best high school mathematics students,” says Professor Emeritus Ed Barbeau (Math). Barbeau is the organizer of the annual University of Toronto Undergraduate Mathematics Competition where the university’s top students test their problem-solving skills in a timed contest.

This year, EngSci students Robert Li (PEY) and Hshmat Sahak (Year 1) placed 3rd and 5th, respectively, an impressive feat in a field of 38 students mostly from the math and applied math programs. In the 2019 competition, EngSci student Jennifer Guo (PEY) also received an honourable mention.

For these students, this was not their first time at the math rodeo. Each started entering math competitions in elementary school. In high school, Li placed 1st in the Canadian Team Mathematics Contest, while Guo was one of 16 finalists for Canada’s team for the International Math Olympiad over three years, and Sahak was invited to write the Canadian Math Olympiad last year.

“Many Engineering Science students have a level of mathematical maturity that is unparalleled in other programs, and they routinely excel in International math competitions,” says Professor Ashish Khisti, Chair of the Machine Intelligence major. “Many of our graduates are recruited by the best graduate schools internationally, precisely due to these reasons.”

We sat down with the three students to find out what they get out of this unique type of competition, and what advice they might share with students considering entering one themselves.

What happens at the competition?

Li: This competition included ten problems, and you are expected to write full solutions in 3.5 hours. Your five highest-marked problems have to earn a total of 30 marks or more for your other problems to be considered. In other words, you want to briefly go over all the problems, identify the ones you can solve, then try your best to solve them. This encourages you to reach the core of at least a few problems.

Guo: The problems in the contest are very different from exam problems, they are more often proof-style where you have to prove if something is true or not. They are most similar to calculus exam questions and linear algebra.

How do you prepare?

Guo: Practice is key, doing lots of repetition and review to build familiarity.

Li: You can attempt problems from past years, look at problems from the North-America wide Putnam competition, or attend Putnam preparation sessions, if they’re offered where you are.

Sahak: I had very little opportunity to practice due to my course load and other commitments.

What do you get out of competing in math contests?

Sahak: I find writing math contests to be an incredibly rewarding endeavour. They allow me to challenge myself, to push myself to my intellectual limits, and to apply mathematical concepts outside the scope of a classroom. I also get to meet new people who have the same interests as me, build my network.

Li: One main reason for me to write the U of T Mathematics Competition was to see two friends who went into the math program, while I went into engineering. We hadn’t seen each other in two years. The contest is like a microcosm of life: fun, friends and a welcomed bit of challenge.

What advice do you have for other students thinking of entering a math contest?

Li: Don’t stress if you find any of these too hard. I remember Prof. Stangeby, who taught us calculus, saying: in repetitively attempting to solve a problem and failing, you are exercising the muscles in your brain. In the end, solving problems involves trying different things. The two most important things are to know what things to try, and to try things faster. That said, don’t hesitate if you just want to write this competition for fun and friends, because that’s what I had in mind that day.

Sahak: Just go for it. You have nothing to lose. Also, it’s a great way to challenge yourself, and to gauge where you stand with regard to university-level math. It’s an incredible learning experience and a surprisingly enjoyable one at that.

What are your future goals?

Sahak: I plan on majoring in either Robotics or Machine Intelligence in my third year of study. Grad school is a viable option afterwards, where I can see myself invested in the progression and evolution of robotics/control systems through the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms.

Li: I’m graduating next year in the Machine Intelligence major of Engineering Science, and I’m looking to do graduate studies. Right now, I am doing research in computer vision and deep learning as part of my PEY Co-op at the Vector Institute.

Guo: I recently completed my PEY Co-op at Uber ATG where I learned a lot about how machine learning is done “in real life”. I am considering a more pure-math focused career. To learn more about that, I will be doing summer research under Prof. Khesin from U of T’s Department of Mathematics.

Any final thoughts?

Li: I want to bring attention to Prof. Barbeau for organizing this Competition for the past 20 years. EngScis in previous years had the luck to have him as their Calculus teacher. Aside from mathematician and Professor Emeritus at U of T, he is also one of the three members of Team U of T, which placed 3rd among all North American Universities in the 1960 Putnam Mathematical Competition.

EngSci alumni help Human Powered Vehicle Design Team sets world record

Sept. 26, 2019

From left to right, Professor Jun Nogami (MSE, EngSci 8T0), Jack Yu (Year 3 MSE), Trefor Evans (EngSci 1T4, UTIAS PhD Candidate), Calvin Moes (EngSci 1T3 + PEY, MSE PhD candidate), Evan Bennewies (EngSci 1T8 + PEY), and Luke Patterson (MechE 1T9 + PEY) standing behind their human-powered tandem vehicle (Photo: D. Guthrie)


This month, Friday the 13th was a lucky day for U of T Engineering’s Human Powered Vehicle Design Team (HPVDT), as they broke the world record for tandem biking at the World Human Powered Speed Challenge (WHPSC).

Learn how EngSci alumni helped the team shatter their previous record with a top speed of 120.2 km/hr.

Interested in technical work outside the classroom? 
Find a list student design teams and clubs here.

Year 1 EngSci Students Win Case Competition

winning team posting at WISE conference

Walmart Canada Case Competition winners (left to right): Taylor Faiczak, Smile Peng, Catherine Guo and Donna Gao (all Year 1 EngSci) at the 2019 National Women in Science and Engineering Conference (Photo: WISE).


By Eli Scott (Year 1 EngSci)

A team of four Year 1 Engineering Science students recently won the Walmart Canada Case Competition at a national conference, competing against seventeen teams of upper year engineering students and professionals. Taylor Faiczak, Smile Peng, Catherine Guo and Donna Gao took the $1000 top prize at the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Conference in Toronto on January 26-27.

The teams were asked to use gamification to increase in-store customer engagement of young people at Walmart, specifically targeting millennials. The team designed a simple, on-cart device offering marketing and entertainment to customers while they shop. The device displays a bundle of items strategically selected by Walmart each week. Customers are able to earn rewards depending on how many items of the bundle they purchase. The device is also equipped with low fidelity games like tic-tac-toe to keep customers occupied while waiting in the check-out line.

“We were inspired by the ads that are on shopping carts and Kindles,” said team member Smile Peng. “We were mostly uninspired to create an app, which ended up being everyone else’s idea and made ours stand out.”

The team attributes their success to challenging their initial assumptions about the problem and breaking down terms like “gamification” before moving forward. The trust they had already built as friends and classmates allowed them to brainstorm effectively and share ideas that were more “out of the box” without fear of being judged.

The students appreciated that the case competition was a realistic industry problem and the process was an accelerated version of a real engineering design opportunity – incorporating both design and business aspects. They gained a greater appreciation and excitement for engineering as a career. “We’re so very proud of Taylor, Smile, Catherine and Donna for embracing this real-world challenge and working together to demonstrate how a practical solution can also be both creative and fun,” said Professor Deepa Kundur, Chair of the Division of Engineering Science. The team plans to work together on future projects at hackathons and other case competitions.

For more information on the conference, which also offered workshops, panels, and talks, visit the WISE Conference website.

Two EngSci startups to watch

Team Xpan (left to right: Zaid Atto (EngSci 1T6 + PEY), Seray Cicek (EngSci 1T6+ PEY), Chevis Dilbert (MechE 1T6 + PEY)) has created an expandable tool to help with laparoscopic surgery.

EngSci students are behind two of the winning startups from this year’s Hatchery Demo Day, held September 6 at U of T Engineering.

Zaid Atto (EngSci 1T6 + PEY) is the founder of Xpan, a company developing improved devices for laparoscopic surgery to increase surgical efficiency and reduce patient risk. Team Xpan — consisting of Atto, Seray Cicek (EngSci 1T6 + PEY) and Chevis Dilbert (MechE 1T6 + PEY) — took home the $10,000 Lacavera Prize. Their work has also been recognized with awards within and outside of the university.

Aakash Goel (EngSci 1T6 + PEY), the driver behind enginehire, won the $2,500 Orozco Prize for his development of a career matchmaking system for young engineers. The system uses proprietary algorithms to match companies with their ideal candidates at a low cost.

Click here to read the full story of how these entrepreneurial students are putting their EngSci education to work!

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