Posts Tagged: student experience

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.


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.


What undergraduate summer research looks like in the time of COVID-19

By Tyler Irving

KMUTT virtual research meeting

 

Lauren Streitmatter (Year 2 EngSci) thought she’d be heading to Imperial College London this summer, but the pandemic had other plans.

“I was really looking forward to the hands-on experience working in a research lab, as well as going to Europe for the first time,” she says. “After that fell through, I didn’t have many ideas for a new summer position.”

But a few days after the cancellation, Streitmatter got an email about a new research opportunity, this one at Carnegie Mellon University. The project involved pandemic modelling, so it could be completed remotely, and the supervisor was U of T Engineering alumnus Professor Peter Zhang (EngSci 1T1, MIE MASc 1T3).

“I thought it looked really interesting,” says Streitmatter. “I got an interview and was accepted in early May to start the remote placement. We hope to uncover fundamental physical laws of epidemic processes by designing novel Explainable AI (XAI) methods.”

Lauren Streitmatter

Lauren Streitmatter is completing her summer research project remotely with Peter Zhang (EngSci 1T1, MIE MASc 1T3), a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. (Photo courtesy Lauren Streitmatter)

Streitmatter is one of dozens of U of T Engineering students who are forging ahead with summer research placements, despite the physical distancing restrictions in place throughout much of the world.

More than 50 of these projects are supported through the Engineering Science Research Opportunities Program (ESROP), which provides fellowships that are matched by project supervisors. ESROP is made possible by philanthropic donations from many benefactors, including Engineering Science alumni and industry partners.

“We’ve had an absolutely tremendous response from our partners both here at U of T and abroad, many of whom are our alumni,” says Scott Sleeth, Curriculum Officer in the Division of Engineering Science, who coordinates summer research placements.

“Summer is a perfect time to explore and learn in these open-ended projects,” says Zhang. “My mentors — including Dean Emerita Cristina Amon (MIE), David Romero, professors Chris Beck (MIE), Tim Chan (MIE), and Yu-Ling Cheng (ChemE) — lit the entrance for me, and I hope I can do something similar for future generations of students.”

All of the placements are being completed online. Many of them focus on topics such as data science, artificial intelligence, or bioinformatics, which naturally lend themselves to remote collaboration.

Like Streitmatter, some of the students have shifted their placements from one supervisor to another, including many within U of T. But others are going ahead with their original placements abroad, albeit virtually.

These include eight students studying with Professor Jonathan Chan (EngSci 8T4, ChemE MASc 8T7, PhD 9T5) another EngSci alumnus who is now a professor at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi.

“We all have biweekly meetings with Professor Chan and each other to keep updated on relevant online events, such as seminars and conferences, and to check-in on the progress everyone is making,” says Dunja Matic (Year 3 EngSci).

Matic is working on two projects: one which uses physiological data from EEGs or ECGs to train algorithms to classify emotions, and another that uses deep learning (a form of artificial intelligence) to predict the effects of genetic variations.

“I am being challenged to learn about topics that are out of my comfort zone, such as artificial intelligence,” says Matic. “The new plan for this placement is still very exciting, despite not being able to work in person.”

“Everything is going as expected,” says Chan. “There are ups-and-downs as usual and the team is learning to work with one another and their mentors and research collaborators. In some ways, I’d say this batch of students is able to produce even more as they able to focus on the projects that they selected. But we may distract them with some other events so they do not overexert themselves.”

The high number of placements is another example of the way that U of T Engineering is adapting to the new normal.

“I’m quite pleased with how this all turned out,” says Sleeth. “It’s been rewarding to see the lengths to which professors are willing to go to ensure that these students can still have meaningful research experiences, and to support them in their professional development.”


EngSci student named Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford University

EngSci student Netra Unni Rajesh (1T9 + PEY) will pursue graduate studies at Stanford University with a focus on cancer treatment. (Photo: Knight-Hennessy Scholars Stanford)

 

Graduating student Netra Unni Rajesh (1T9 + PEY) has been selected from over 6,000 international applicants for a prestigious scholarship at Stanford University. She will join a cohort of students from around the world as a 2020 Knight-Hennessy Scholar as she pursues a PhD in bioengineering.

Rajesh will focus her PhD research on designing new cancer technologies to help expedite patients’ recovery. She was initially drawn to cancer research after completing a high school science fair project. When she later met a patient undergoing chemotherapy, she learned how physically arduous treatments were. Her hope is to integrate the experience she gained with biomaterials engineering, cancer technology development and immunoengineering during her time in EngSci to design novel tools that can help cancer patients in the clinic.

“Netra is a wonderful example of an EngSci student who took full advantage of the opportunities available to all of our students,” says EngSci Chair Professor Will Cluett. “She illustrates the value of investing in our students at an early stage in their academic careers.”

About half of EngSci students pursue graduate studies or enrol in professional schools in medicine, business, law or architecture after completing their undergraduate degrees. Rajesh is among the many EngSci students who take advantage of the wide range of opportunities offered during their undergraduate program to build their research skills. As a Year 1 student she secured a summer research position at the National University of Singapore, with support from the Engineering Science Summer Research Opportunities Program (ESROP). She spent her summer after Year 3 at Caltech, through an ESROP – Global fellowship, and her PEY Co-op placement at MIT, working on technologies for cancer drug delivery and vaccine production, respectively.

“My time in EngSci has been a life-changing experience,” says Rajesh. “I am especially grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue cutting-edge research abroad, and be surrounded by hardworking students that constantly push the boundaries.”

Learn more about EngSci students gaining research experience.


From Malaysia to Toronto: Meet the incoming class of 2T3

Year 1 EngSci students Chloe Bell, Sofia Karter Lopez, and Joel Biju Thomas are among the many incoming students joining EngSci from abroad.

Residence move-ins, Frosh Week, fuelling up on textbooks at the U of T bookstore and their first-ever Praxis lectures and labs — a long list of activities await Year 1 EngSci students.

For many, that list also includes exploring Toronto for the very first time — about one in four come from outside of Canada.

Meet these three EngSci students, along with several other Engineering students, and learn what’s got them excited about their first year.


Lessons from the North – EngSci student travels to Nunavut as youth ambassador

students walking in Iqaluit

Members of the Arctic Youth Ambassador Caucus walk through Iqaluit last month. Two U of T Engineering students were delegates to the four-day conference. (Photo: Sam Lin)

 

Year 3 EngSci student Lia Codgrington has just returned from an exciting trip to Nunavut to attend the Arctic Youth Ambassador Caucus. She was one of 22 young leaders chosen from across Canada to travel to Iqaluit to meet with Inuit Elders and participate in activities designed to foster relationships with communities in the North.

Codrington previously founded the Indigenous Allyship Program as part of U of T’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders. Discussions with community members in Iqaluit gave her ideas for potential student projects that could help develop solutions for issues like housing and organic food waste management in Arctic communities. She is now collaborating with groups on campus to further develop these ideas.

Read more about the caucus and her work.

Learn about the “Blueprint to Action” created by U of T Engineering’s Eagles’ Longhouse in response to the university’s Truth and Reconciliation report.


Year 4 EngSci student travels the worlds as Sidewalk Fellow

EngSci student Paul Seufert, second from left, pictured with fellow Sidewalk Fellows, from left to right, Keisha St. Louis-McBurnie, Carol Yeung and Sharly Chan (photo by Romi Levine)

 

Paul Seufert (Year 4) is one of four U of T students who spent this summer on a global fact finding mission as part of a fellowship program that could have a lasting impact on urban policy.

The program was organized by Sidewalk Toronto, a private-public partnership that aims to use advanced technology to improve life in the city.  The twelve students in the program were selected from over 650 applicants and are tasked with helping to inform what a new waterfront neighbourhood in Toronto might look like.  The city’s proposed Quayside community is a joint project between government and Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet (which also owns Google).

The students visited cities across North America and Europe to gather creative ideas for effective solutions to urban issues.  Stops included Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Boston, New York and Vancouver.

Read more about Paul’s experiences and the Sidewalk Fellows’ work.


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