Posts Tagged: student experience

Building tech solutions for an inclusive future: Meet EngSci’s 2021 Schulich Leaders

2021 Schulich Leaders Lisa Bera, Andrew Magnuson, and Kevin Qu

(Photos courtesy: Lisa Bera, Andrew Magnuson, and Kevin Qu)

 

First year students Lisa Bera, Andrew Magnuson, and Kevin Qu (pictured above) are among five U of T Engineering recipients of a 2021 Schulich Leader Scholarship.

Since their founded in 2011 by philanthropist Seymour Schulich these awards have recognized Canadian high-school graduates who exemplify academic excellence, community leadership and a passion for STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

This year ten U of T students earned scholarships valued at $80,000 for science, technology or mathematics students and $100,000 for engineering students. The award also includes membership in the growing Schulich Leaders Network of successful alumni.

Learn more about what motivates EngSci’s recipients of this prestigious award—full story in the U of T Engineering News.


Celebrating Impact: EngSci’s 2021 Student Award Winners

This year’s recipients of EngSci’s student awards have been involved in diverse activities outside of the classroom, but they share a common goal: to have a positive impact through volunteer work within and outside of the university community.

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

Students were nominated by their peers and selected by a student committee.

“The Spirit of EngSci Award and Engineers for the World (E4TW) Award are our Division’s most prestigious non-academic awards,” says Professor Will Cluett, EngSci Director. “This year’s winners exemplify the commitment to community and improving the lives of others that we value so highly among our students. I would like to congratulate Hanna, Dylan, May, and Kevin on this well-deserved recognition.”

Spirit of EngSci Awards

Hanna Zhang (2T0 PEY Robotics)

Hanna Zhang

Hanna Zhang served as Head Leedur during F!week 2T0. (Photo courtesy of Hanna Zhang)

Connecting students, whether it’s with each other or with industry leaders, is one of Hanna Zhang’s great strengths. She is known among her classmates for her energy, hard work, and commitment to creating a supportive and enriching community.

As Co-Chair for the 2019 Engineering Science Education Conference—a cornerstone event for first- and second-year EngSci students—Zhang was responsible for connecting students with engineering leaders from a wide range of career paths. She had a keen focus on helping students build confidence by engaging professionally with the speakers. To help students develop their networking skills she introduced a new conference prep workshop to improve professional communication skills—a popular initiative that has become a mainstay of the conference in subsequent years.

Zhang has also demonstrated an impressive ability to foster community, particularly through her involvement with Frosh! Week. Over the years she has taken on increasing responsibilities, beginning with Skule Patrol where she delivered first-aid to first-year students and student volunteers. She later ran the Matriculation Subcommittee and served as a Head Leedur.
As Vice Chair of Operations in 2020, she took on the Herculean task of shifting this large and important in-person event to an online format while catering to an international audience in time zones around the globe. With welcome events scheduled at all hours, she became a night owl to help welcome international students in distant time zones and build a truly global student community. She also went above and beyond the requirements of her role to work with Troost ILead to plan substantial, long-term improvements to Orientation communications that will improve the Frosh! Week experience long after she graduates.

Zhang has also served in various capacities within the EngSci community, including as an EngSci Ambassador at recruitment events, as EngSci Club class representative, and as Co-Chair of the alumni dinner organizing committee.

Zhang will join the Continuum Robotics Laboratory (CRL) in U of T’s Department of Computer Science as a Masters student after graduation.

“Coming into EngSci I was a plucky, hyperactive, 17-year old who had no idea what she was getting herself into. Today I leave EngSci as a still-plucky, only occasionally hyperactive, 22-year old with more knowledge than I’ll likely need about reinforced concrete, a shiny pinky ring, some great memories, and an amazing group of friends. I am so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to learn and challenge myself as well for the amazing people I’ve gotten to know along the way. Without them I wouldn’t have the confidence and audacity to pursue my dreams in Robotics and Science.”

Dylan Vogel (2T0 PEY ECE)

Dylan Vogel

Dylan Vogel led a team of students as Chief Engineer for the University of Toronto Aerospace Team’s satellite mission for the last three years. (Photo courtesy of Dylan Vogel)

Dedication, strength of character, and kindness combined with deep technical knowledge—this is how classmates describe Dylan Vogel.

Over the past six years, Vogel has created a technical and social legacy through his outstanding engineering work and commitment to the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT), a student design team on campus.

Vogel joined UTAT on a gap year before even starting his university studies. Since then he has held increasingly important roles in its Space Systems Division. For the last three years he has been the Chief Engineer for UTAT’s first spacecraft—a satellite mission called HERON—that will launch in Q2 of 2022. This low cost, modular CubeSat platform will include a biological experiment to study the effects of low Earth orbit on the yeast Candida albicans, with implications for astronaut health during long-duration human spaceflight.

As Chief Engineer Vogel oversaw nearly all details of satellite design. He led the design, simulation and manufacture of the satellite electronics, including the power subsystem, on-board computer, and payload sensors, as well as simulation of the spacecraft structure and environmental testing.

Vogel’s commitment and outstanding leadership skills helped the team through multiple delays and setbacks. He dedicated himself to building a strong team culture with compassion and mutual support as guiding principles. He brought an individual-focused view to team building and made a point of getting to know each team member. His efforts helped to establish a positive environment where students were encouraged to grow into skilled and inclusive leaders.

Beyond UTAT, Vogel has been an informal mentor to EngSci students past and present. In 2020 he joined Blue Sky Solar racing to support their electrical team, and in 2017 directed the EngSci Dinner Dance Movie.

Vogel will be joining the Department of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering at ETH Zürich this fall to pursue a Master’s degree in Systems Control.

“It always brings me great joy to talk with someone who is just starting out on their own journey. The upper year EngSci students I met on UTAT were some of my greatest sources of inspiration for many years, and I’m grateful to my friends and classmates for making it such a memorable experience.”

Engineers for the World (E4TW) Awards

Chinmayee Gidwani (2T0 PEY ECE)

Chinmayee Gidwani

Chinmayee Gidwani served as Equity & Inclusivity Director for the Engineering Society. (Photo courtesy of Chinmayee Gidwani)

U of T Engineering is home to an incredibly diverse community and Chinmayee (May) Gidwani is committed to making it a welcoming place for all, regardless of identity, location, or circumstance.

In leadership positions within the Engineering Society (EngSoc)—the student government for undergraduate engineering students at U of T—she has been a fierce advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) among her engineering peers, at work, and in the community at large.

As Chair of the Policy & Structures Committee she drafted an Accessibility Policy to make it easier for all students to participate in EngSoc activities. She also worked with EngSoc Officers to develop a Diversity in the Workplace workshop to support students in the the PEY Co-op program.

While serving as EngSoc’s Equity and Inclusivity Project Director, Gidwani developed a Faculty-wide event on equity and inclusivity in the workplace called TIPS – Towards Inclusive Practices Series. To foster a sense of belonging in the diverse student community, she organized events for Skule’s undergraduate student pub with QueerSphere, the Association of Latin American Students, Indian Students Association, the Citizens Foundation and the Association of Macedonian Students at U of T. She also trained Skule club leaders on EDI topics at the EngSoc Clubs Training Day.

To help support the many U of T Engineering students who commute to campus, Gidwani introduced a new Commuter Handbook while serving as EngSoc’s Commuter Program subcommittee chair. She also created a mentorship program to help build a sense of community for commuter students.

Gidwani’s work on Orientation Week as the F!rosh Week Vice-Chair Operations impacted over a thousand students through her careful planning of F!rosh Week events, internal and external communications, and safety procedures. She ensured that events included opportunities for more introverted students and those who favour individual communication over the typical boisterous group F!rosh Week culture.

Gidwani also served as an EngSoc Board of Directors At-Large Representative and as Ombudsperson, responding compassionately to facilitated fair resolutions.
In addition to her work as part of EngSoc, Gidwani also served on the Engineering Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Action Group, Sexual Violence Prevention & Response Action Group, and conducted undergraduate research focused on improving the engineering ethics curriculum.

After graduation, Gidwani will be working with operating systems software at AMD.

Thank you to the incredible community in EngSci for making the past five years so rewarding and memorable! I’ve learned so much from my peers about leadership and inclusivity that I’ll take with me after graduation.”

Gensheng (Kevin) Zhang (2T0 PEY Machine Intelligence)

Kevin Zhang

Gensheng (Kevin) Zhang served as Executive Chair of the IEEE U of T chapter. (Photo courtesy of Gensheng (Kevin) Zhang)

Gensheng (Kevin) Zhang truly champions the culture of students helping students. Throughout his five years as an EngSci student, he helped create a supportive and enriching experience for students through mentorship and professional development opportunities outside of the classroom.

Zhang has been an impactful leader for several professional and technical students clubs at the Uuniversity. He served as Executive Chair of the IEEE U of T chapter, one of the largest student chapters of a professional association on campus. In this role he worked toward removing financial barriers that can prevent students from accessing career development opportunities. He helped quadruple industry sponsorship, allowing hundreds of students to attend over a dozen technical and professional development events for free. He also brought new, high profile student competitions to U of T Engineering, such as MakeUofT, an annual hardware hackathon with 300+ participants. The new industry and faculty relationships he helped build will benefit the chapter for years to come.

Zhang founded U of T’s Developer Student Club (DSC) backed by Google and Google Developers.

Bringing his artistic talents to bear, he served as EngSoc’s Gradball Director, winning the Directorship of the Year Award for his planning of Gradball 2T0. He also served as EngSci Club’s Dinner Dance Director, bringing his organizational skills and creative vision to these popular annual social events for hundreds of engineering students. For the past four years Zhang has also been an exceptional mentor In EngSci’s NSight Mentorship Program, helping over 15 Year 1 EngSci students with advice about academics, career, research and, most importantly, being a dependable friend.

Starting in May 2021, Kevin will join Wish, a SF-based e-commerce company, as a full-time software engineer. Despite leaving school, he plans to stay connected with campus initiatives and do his best to be an exemplary alumnus of his alma mater.

“Some things are temporary, while others are permanent. I’ve always believed that it was up to us as learners and leaders within our communities to take the temporary opportunities and turn them into permanent benefits. Over these years, I’ve never regretted sacrificing some grades to bring positive impacts to both my own and others’ lives through mentorship, leadership, and community service. Moving forward, I hope to carry this spirit with me as I tackle the challenges of becoming an industry professional while encouraging younger students to reach higher heights.”

 


EngSci Grads to Watch 2021

By Liz Do and Tyler Irving


ADVOCATING SOCIAL CHANGE

Chinmayee (May) Gidwani (EngSci 2T0 + PEY)

Chinmayee GidwaniThroughout her studies at U of T Engineering, Gidwani’s guiding principle has been to help build a sense of belonging among students, whether welcoming new engineering students as part of the F!rosh Week team, or as the Engineering Society’s equity and inclusivity director.

“Being the EDI director was challenging, but I learned so much about different perspectives of the diverse student body, and how to approach reconciling them to come up with solutions that don’t leave anyone behind,” says Gidwani.

In her final year at U of T Engineering, Gidwani completed an undergraduate thesis on ethics in artificial intelligence (AI), where she developed a practical framework to approach ethical AI development. This work could be helpful in her future endeavors, as she returns to her PEY Co-op placement at AMD to work on operating systems.

If she could describe her engineering experience in one word, Gidwani says the word is “Rewarding.”

“Even though these past few years at U of T have been challenging, it has been incredibly rewarding to learn and grow from these experiences,” she explains. “All the late-night study sessions and last-minute group meetings have made me more confident in my abilities as a leader and engineer.”

“I’d like to give a shout-out to everyone involved with the Engineering Society! Thank you for volunteering your time to help manage our budget, organize events, advocate for students, and making the Skule™ community such a welcoming and lovely place.”

 

SOARING HIGHER

Zayne Thawer (EngSci 2T0 + PEY)

Zayne ThawerThawer is the first in his family to attend post-secondary education, and like many students, struggled with ‘impostor syndrome’ when he first arrived at U of T Engineering.

“I definitely felt like I did not belong at first,” he says. “But I slowly worked through that fear by increasing my participation in extracurricular activities and building relationships with my peers and professors.”

One program that Thawer found valuable was the NSight Mentorship Program, which pairs first- and second-year students in Engineering Science with upper year students for guidance and advice. Thawer eventually became the co-chair of the program, overseeing more than 200 mentees and 70 mentors per year, as well as hosting academic workshops and professional seminars.

He also focused on gaining research experience. After his second year, he began working with researchers at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, using a virtual reality driving simulator to study the effects of cannabis use on driving performance and safety. After his third year, as well as for his undergraduate thesis, he analyzed unsteady aerodynamic effects over transonic aircraft wings with Professor David Zingg (UTIAS).

For his PEY Co-op internship, Thawer worked at Safran Landing Systems, collaborating with engineers in France, England, and the United States on the design of the upcoming Aerion Supersonic AS2 business jet. Next fall, Thawer is headed to the California Institute of Technology to pursue a PhD in aerospace engineering.

“Over the past five years, I have learned so much from some of the best professors in Canada and incredible group of peers in the Engineering Science program,” he says. “The knowledge and skills I have developed have given me the confidence to pursue my dreams and make a difference in the world.”

“I would love to thank the entire Engineering Science family, including my incredible peers, insightful professors, and supportive faculty, for allowing me to become a member of such a welcoming community! I would also like to say how grateful I am to my supervisors, Professors David Zingg (UTIAS), Bruce Haycock and Jennifer Campos, for preparing me for the next phase of my academic journey. Thanks to all my friends and family — I can’t wait to see what’s next!”


Read the full list of Engineering’s Grads to Watch posted on Engineering News


AutoDrive Challenge™: U of T Engineering places first for the fourth straight year

Zeus, a self-driving electric car created by a team of students from U of T Engineering, parked outside the MarsDome at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies. The team has placed first in the intercollegiate Autodrive Challenge the last four years in a row. (Photo: Chude Qian)

 

By Tyler Irving

Last night, the aUToronto team — U of T Engineering’s entry into the AutoDrive Challenge™ — placed first in a virtual competition to demonstrate the capabilities of their self-driving electric vehicle, dubbed Zeus. It marks the fourth year in a row that the team has come out on top.

The aUToronto team consists of more than 70 members, most of whom are U of T Engineering undergraduate or graduate students. Its faculty supervisors include Professors Tim BarfootAngela Schoellig and Steven Waslander (all UTIAS).

Keenan Burnett (EngSci 1T6+PEY, UTIAS PhD candidate), a former captain of the team, has continued to act as a key advisor in the latest competition.

“We’re elated to see this continued validation of our team’s efforts,” says Burnett. “We try our best to stay competitive and not let our past wins make us complacent. We use ourselves as our benchmark for success, continually trying to outdo ourselves and improve on our previous iterations.”

“Despite all the challenges of keeping the team going throughout COVID, our students have had a great year of learning about self-driving technology, working in a team, and pushing their limits,” says Barfoot. “I couldn’t be more proud of our aUToronto team once again for another great year in the Autodrive competition.”

“A tremendous amount of effort went into succeeding this year,” says Schoellig. “We had to accomplish new and more advanced autonomous driving tasks, complete more sophisticated simulation challenges, and prove the safety of our car. This win reflects our team’s continued technical, collaboration and communication strength. I am extremely proud to work together with such a capable team.”

Zeus is a Chevrolet Bolt that has been retrofitted with a suite of sensors, including visual cameras, radar and lidar. Additional hardware and student-designed software inside the car processes these signals and converts them into commands that enable the car to drive itself safely and efficiently.

The AutoDrive Challenge™ launched in 2017 with eight universities from across Canada and the U.S. In addition to U of T Engineering, competitors included Kettering University, Michigan State University, Michigan Tech University, North Carolina A & T State University, Texas A & M University, University of Waterloo and Virginia Tech.

Zeus has taken the top spot in each of the competition’s yearly meets: the 2018 meet in Yuma, Ariz., the 2019 meet in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a virtual competition held in the fall of 2020. Originally scheduled to be a three-year competition, the challenge was rolled over for a fourth year, and it is this competition that the team has now won as well.

“Both the Year 3 and Year 4 competitions challenged the teams to perform autonomous ride-sharing under controlled environments,” says Jingxing “Joe” Qian (EngSci 1T8 + PEY, UTIAS MASc candidate), the current Team Lead for aUToronto.


Watch the team’s safety video to see Zeus in action.

“The vehicles are tasked with navigating multiple destinations while handling various traffic scenarios. One particular interesting requirement this year is that we need to reach SAE J3016 Level standard for the loss-of-GPS scenario: the vehicle must perform fallback strategies to either continue the task or pull to the road shoulder when GPS signal is lost.”

While the teams based in the U.S. were able to meet in person in Ann Arbor, the Canadian teams competed by means of reports, presentations, simulations and video demos. Qian says that the team is used to this format, as much of the work on the car has been done virtually for the past year.

“We managed to get a small task force to perform real world tests one or two days per week,” says Qian. “After testing, they would share demo videos and results to the team. We also developed an automatic evaluation system that leverages various simulation environments. It runs daily on our deployment server against a set of test scenarios, and it has greatly improved our development efficiency.”


Watch the full demonstration video that earned the aUToronto team first place in the Year 4 competition of the AutoDrive Challenge™.

As for the next steps, aUToronto has already been selected to compete in the SAE AutoDrive Challenge™ II, scheduled to begin in the fall of 2021. They will have a new car and new competition, and they are actively recruiting new team members as well.

“We will be getting a brand new GM Chevy Bolt EUV 2022 to build up our autonomy system from the ground up,” says Frank (Chude) Qian (UTIAS MASc candidate), who will lead the team for the AutoDrive Challenge™ II.

“We hope to develop our vehicle with real-world driving scenarios, apply industry safety standards, and bring awareness and assurance to the general public about autonomous vehicles. We are excited to compete with the new universities and hopefully continuing our winning streak!”

This article originally appeared in the U of T Engineering News.


‘My dream job’: How a PEY Co-op student is helping develop a new generation of autonomous space robots

Erin Richardson at MDA

PEY Co-op student Erin Richardson (Year 3 EngSci) is spending 16 months at Canadian space engineering firm MDA, where she is working on a new generation of autonomous robots for the forthcoming Lunar Gateway space station. (Photo: MDA)

 

By Tyler Irving

Erin Richardson (Year 3 EngSci) was in Grade 9 when she decided she wanted to be an astronaut.

“We had a science unit on outer space, and I remember being completely fascinated by the vast scale of it all,” she says. “Thinking about how big the universe is, and how we’re just a tiny speck on a tiny planet, I knew I wanted to be part of exploring it.”

Richardson started following Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield on social media and watching videos of his daily life on the International Space Station. She also started reading about aerospace and doing everything she could to break into the industry, including getting her Student Pilot Permit.

It was in a Forbes article about women in STEM that she first read the name of Kristen Facciol (EngSci 0T9).

A U of T Engineering alumna, Facciol had worked as a systems engineer at Canadian space engineering firm MDA before moving on to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). When Richardson first learned about her, Facciol was an Engineering Support Lead, providing real-time flight support during on-orbit operations and teaching courses to introduce astronauts and flight controllers to the ISS robotic systems. Today, Facciol is a Flight Controller for CSA/NASA.

“I found her contact information and reached out to her,” says Richardson. “She’s been an amazing mentor to me over the last five years. We’re still close friends, and she’s really helped influence my career path.”

With Facciol’s encouragement, Richardson applied to U of T’s Engineering Science program, eventually choosing the aerospace major. After her first year, she landed a summer research position in the lab of Professor Jonathan Kelly (UTIAS), working on simulation tools for a robotic mobile manipulator platform.

“Working in Kelly’s lab piqued my interest in robotics as they could be applied in space,” she says. “Researching collaborative manipulation in dynamic environments will push the boundaries of human spaceflight – during spacewalks, astronauts work right alongside  robots all the time.”

After her second year, Richardson travelled to Tasmania for a research placement facilitated by EngSci’s ESROP Global program. Working with researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia’s national science agency, she created tools to analyze data collected during scientific mooring deployments, which help us learn more about our oceans over long periods of time. This work informs the design of next-generation mooring systems which, like space systems, must survive harsh and constrained environments.

Richardson was sitting in a second-year lecture when she heard the news that Canada had committed to NASA’s Lunar Gateway project, a brand-new international space station set to be constructed between 2023 and 2026. Unlike the ISS, which currently orbits Earth, the Lunar Gateway will orbit the moon and will serve both as a waypoint for future crewed missions to the lunar surface and as preparation for missions to even more distant worlds, such as Mars.

Energized, Richardson searched for a way to get involved. Her opportunity came in the fall of 2019, when she saw a posting on MDA’s job board. She immediately applied through U of T Engineering’s Professional Experience Year Co-op program, which enables undergraduate students to spend up to 16 months working for leading firms worldwide before returning to finish their degree programs.

Richardson started her placement in May 2020, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. She and her employer quickly adapted.

“I was working from home through the summer, but for my latest project I was able to go onsite to operate this robotic arm,” she says.

The robotic arm in question is a model of Dextre, a versatile robot that maintains the International Space Station. Richardson used it as a prototype part for the Canadarm3, which will be installed on Lunar Gateway.

Because the Lunar Gateway will be so far from Earth, Canadarm3 will be designed to be autonomous, able to execute certain tasks without supervision from a remote control station. Part of Richardson’s job is to create the dataset that will eventually be used to train the artificial intelligence algorithms that will make this possible.

In MDA’s DREAMR lab, Richardson guided the robotic arm through a series of movements and scenarios, with a suite of video cameras tracking its every move. She then tagged each series of images with metadata that will teach the robot whether the movements it saw were desirable ones to emulate, or dangerous ones to avoid.

“We had to capture different lighting conditions and obstacles of various sizes and colours,” she says. “My colleagues pointed out to me that because it’s me deciding which scenarios count as collisions and which ones don’t, the AI that we eventually create will be a reflection of my own brain.”

Apart from the opportunity to contribute to the next generation of space robots, Richardson says she’s enjoyed the chance to apply what she’s learned in her classes, as well as the professional connections she’s made.

“It’s my dream job,” she says. “I use what I learned in engineering design courses every day. I’m treated as a full engineer and a member of the team. The people I work with are extremely supportive and they talk to me about my dreams and goals. I love being surrounded by a team of talented and motivated people, all so passionate about what they do and about advancing space exploration. It’s an awesome opportunity for any student.”

This article 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.


Making the most of an unusual semester: How EngSci students are adapting to remote learning

Left to right: Brothers Arnaud Deza (Year 3 EngSci), Daniel Deza (Year 1 EngSci) and Gabriel Deza (Year 4 EngSci) are all studying from home this semester. Their sister Anna Deza (EngSci 2T0) joins them online. (Photo: Emmanuel Deza)

 

Like students around the world, U of T Engineering students have had to find new and creative ways to manage their studies and extra-curricular activities during this challenging and unusual Fall term.

See the different ways EngSci students have adapted to a remote academic year in this story in the U of T Engineering News.


EngSci’s 2020 Schulich Leaders fly high

2020 Schulich Leader Adele Crete-Laurence (Year 1 EngSci) is passionate about finding a way to make flying safe for our planet. (Photo by Captain Marie-Anne Irvine)

 

In 2020, four EngSci students are among the 10 U of T students to be awarded Schulich Leader Scholarships.  Adele Crete-Laurence, Zack Fine, Aditi Misra, and Christopher K.W. Adolphe began their studies in September as part of the first year class.

Schulich Leader Scholarships recognize Canadian students with academic excellence who exemplify leadership and embrace the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Read more about EngSci’s Schulich Scholars in the U of T Engineering News.


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.


© 2020 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering