Posts Tagged: student life

Compassion in action: Meet 2022 Troost ILead Difference Maker Award winner Khadija Rana

Khadija Rana looking to camera and smiling, standing in front of an ivy-covered wall

Khadija Rana is the 2022 winner of the Troost ILead Difference Maker Award. (Photo: Negar Balaghi)

 

By Natalia Noël Smith

To Khadija Rana (Year 4 EngSci) being a difference maker is not heroic.

“I want people to know that anyone can do it,” she says. “It’s about recognizing people as the whole beings that they are.”

Rana is the 2022 recipient of the Troost ILead Difference Maker Award. Sanjay Malaviya, a long-serving member of the Troost ILead Board of Advisors, established the award in 2020 through the Bodhi Tree Fund, a private giving foundation. The award recognizes a U of T Engineering undergraduate student for their leadership achievements and their vision for change. It provides $50,000 to help a promising young leader accelerate their steps after graduation.

Rana’s path has not always been easy. When she began her studies, she says she felt isolated and thought she had “a productivity problem.” But that began to change in 2019, when she took advantage of the Troost ILead Summer Fellowship, followed by an engineering course from ILead called The Power of Story. These experiences helped Rana combine her love of engineering with her passions for caregiving and leadership.

A long-time volunteer with Hospice Toronto, Rana has accompanied people through the dying process.

“The skills you apply in engineering and caregiving are not so different,” she says. “In both, I’m listening to people and being present for them. You have to hear someone else’s story and be willing to take action to address that need.”

Rana’s leadership is strongly influenced by the concept of loving kindness.

“I found a definition of this in the book The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck, and another one from author bell hooks, who wrote All About Love: New Visions in 2000. They talk about it as, ‘the will to extend yourself for the growth of other people, and for your own growth.’”

For Rana, the idea of extending yourself to help others resonated with her understanding of the practice of engineering.

“We hear about it during Frosh Week on the first day in the story of Lady Godiva,” she says. “We learn about it through engineering design, in our courses. We celebrate it during the Iron Ring ceremony at the end of our programs. Professors demonstrate it for students when they advocate with them. Club leaders and mentors practice it when they volunteer their time for one another. It’s everywhere.”

Putting this idea into practice, Rana soon became involved in Skule™ life. She joined CUBE, the Club for Undergraduate Biomedical Engineering, eventually becoming its president. She worked with her team to rebuild the organization’s structure, foster self-determination and empower members to shape their own roles.

She also served as a senior Director of U of T’s Biomedical Engineering Design Team, where she led three project teams to collaboratively develop assistive devices for clients across the Greater Toronto Area.

Rana was also able to put the loving kindness ethic into practice as a research trainee at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, where she worked under the supervision of Dr. Azadeh Yadollahi and Dr. Douglas Bradley. Her tasks included guiding patients with severe asthma through voluntary but grueling experiments related to sleep apnea.

In her final year, Rana became President of the U of T chapter of Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), leading a 40-member team working to reframe conversations of gender equity by prioritizing allyship and sensitivity to culture and race. She chaired the 2021 U of T WISE flagship international conference, which drew more than 600 participants from 15 countries.

After graduation, Rana plans to pursue research in narrative approaches to community-led design. Grounded in her caregiving experiences, her work will explore how engineering professionals and community stakeholders derive meaning from complex ideas through storytelling to inform technical change.

In the longer term, she has her sights set on a career in medicine where she will advocate for the advancement of narrative approaches to enhance empathy among health-care practitioners and ultimately transform patient care.

When asked how she works with those who may be resistant to her philosophy of compassion, or with whom collaboration presents challenges, she says “It’s important to be curious about what’s making it difficult for them. And to do that, you bravely ask them.”

“Once you’re able to make space for people to be more open about their challenges, you have an intentional conversation with them that’s prioritizing their growth and yours too. It’s not zero sum.”

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


EngSci students receive leadership award

Headshots of all six UTSLA winners smiling and in front of different backgrounds.

Six graduating EngSci students received a University of Toronto Student Leadership Award. From top left to bottom right: Jacqueline Fleisig, Bipasha Goyal, Aditi Maheshwari, Joanna Melnyk, Khadija Rana, and Rima Uraiqat. (Photos courtesy of the students)

 

Six graduating EngSci students are among 18 U of T Engineering students that have been recognized with University of Toronto Student Leadership Awards (UTSLA) for their leadership, service and commitment that have had a lasting impact on their peers and the university.

The UTSLA continues a long-standing tradition which began with the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award, established in 1994 by the University of Toronto Alumni Association in honour of Mr. Gordon Cressy, former Vice-President, Development and University Relations. During the award’s 25-year history, it celebrated the exemplary contributions of more than 4,000 students whose commitment and service had a lasting impact on their peers and the university.

In 2022, 18 U of T Engineering students earned the honour, which recognizes leadership, service and commitment to the university. Their diverse activities include heading up co-curricular organizations such as Engineers Without Borders, leading design teams such as the University of Toronto Aerospace Team, creating a welcoming Frosh Week despite the pandemic, and taking on executive roles in the U of T Engineering Society. They are joined by 166 students from other Faculties across U of T.

U of T Engineering will celebrate this year’s UTSLA recipients with a virtual ceremony hosted by U of T Engineering Dean Christopher Yip, to be held April 27.

“Students like these embody everything that makes our Faculty so special,” said Dean Yip. “Through the activities and accomplishments we are celebrating today, they have made a positive impact on our community, while also discovering new strengths and abilities that will serve them well as they join the next generation of global engineering leaders. I’m so proud of them, and excited for what lies ahead.”

Meet EngSci’s UTSLA winners

As President of the Engineering Society (EngSoc) during these tumultuous times, Jacqueline Fleisig worked with other student groups, health & safety, and the Faculty of Engineering to ensure a safe return to student activities campus. Her work helped ensure that students could interact safely in person outside of the classroom was instrumental for building community after a year of online learning. Among many other activities, she previously served as Co-President of U of T’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), where she founded a three-day conference on social change and leadership in collaboration with three EWB chapters across Ontario.

Bipasha Goyal joined the Club for Undergraduate Biomedial Engineering (CUBE) with the goal of creating an inclusive biomedical engineering community for engineering undergraduates. Through various executive roles she organised networking events with professionals and revamped CUBE’s mentorship program to foster meaningful connections with U of T professors, graduate students, and alumni across the world.  As Co-President she expanded CUBE’s reach beyond engineering to different departments at U of T and shifted its mandate from professional development to complete biomedical engineering immersion, creating the “go-to” student club in this field.  Bipasha also served as Co-Conference Chair for the U of T Society for Stem Cell Research, organizing U of T’s first-ever virtual stem cell undergraduate conference.

Aditi Maheshwari is a dedicated leader in the engineering community who strives to provide a meaningful and enriching community experience. As chair of the Engineering Science Education Conference in 2021, she organized the first-ever virtual version of this cornerstone event for over 600 first- and second-year EngSci students. She helped recruit a diverse and engaging set of speakers, including a Nobel Prize winner. Aditi also served as co-chair of the EngSci Alumni Dinner, an event that strengthens the EngSci alumni community and provides students with valuable networking opportunities. She also contributed to Frosh Week, the HiSkule outreach program, among many other activities.

The contributions that Joanna Melnyk is most proud of are those she made to environmental sustainability work and developments at U of T through technical design projects, research, and sustainability curriculum advocacy. She spearheaded a sustainability curriculum advocacy project while serving in various roles with Engineers Without Borders. The project was further advanced through her change project in the ILead Summer Fellowship. Joanna also helped support students in challenging academic circumstances, through her work with the Toike Oike, Skule Lettuce Club, Orientation Week, and NSight, emphasizing empathy and relational leadership.

As President of the U of T chapter of Women in Science and Engineering, Khadija Rana advocates for gender equity in STEM fields and strives to reframe equity discussions at a global scale in this community of over 1,600 members and over 30 industry partners. During her time as Co-President of the Club for Undergraduate Biomedical Engineering (CUBE), she helped build a new space to connect biomedical engineering undergraduates with graduate mentors. As part of the Engineering Orientation Committee she also helped implement a new training program for 600 volunteers, helping them to welcome over 1,000 engineering students virtually for the first time at Orientation Week 2020.

Rima Uraiqat has put her passion for aerospace into action as a Thermal Systems Lead and Airframe Lead in the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT). She led the design and testing of several technical projects, while managing the external presence of the team. As the Director of Outreach, she organized several events for current students within the Faculty, high school students, and the general public. She contributed to the growth of the team, and increase student engagement in UTAT. As an EngSci Ambassador she also shared her enthusiasm for engineering with prospective students at many recruitment events.

Story, including the full list of U of T Engineering UTSLA winners, from U of T Engineering News


New EngSci course enhances experiential learning and global perspectives

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

 

By Safa Jinje

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Artist, activist, EngSci student: Meet Loran Scholar Eman Shayeb

Eman Shayeb (Year 1 EngSci) is one of only 30 recipients from across Canada to be named a 2021 Loran Scholar. (Photo courtesy: Eman Shayeb)

By Safa Jinje

Eman Shayeb (Year 1 EngSci) is a visual thinker. As an artist, she has sold commissioned oil paintings across North America. And as an engineering student, mathematical equations also take shape in her mind. 

“In my calculus class, I remember the concepts because I can visualize parts of the equations moving around into the spot that they need to be in next,” she says. 

Shayeb sees engineering as an extension of her passion for art and mathematics. This fall, she joined U of T Engineering on a Loran Scholars Foundation scholarship, one of only 30 recipients from across Canada recognized for demonstrating character, service and leadership. 

Originally from Edmonton, Shayeb was attracted to the University of Toronto because she wanted to live in a big city where she could be exposed to diverse perspectives.  

She is also keen to develop new technical skills that she can use to make a difference in people’s lives. 

“I believe that engineering can be used as a tool for social justice, which is important to me,” she says. “I think that many of our modern social issues can be solved through the correct applications of engineering.” 

While in high school, Shayeb founded a provincial non-profit called H.E.A.R. for Them that is dedicated to combating period poverty by making menstrual products more accessible. 

“We are currently in the process of expanding the program to Ontario,” says Shayeb. “We are setting up ‘take what you need, give what you can’ boxes in locations around Toronto for people to drop off any extra menstrual products that they have, or take anything they need with no questions asked.” 

Shayeb is also co-writing and illustrating a book with a friend about stigmas in Muslim households. The two hope their publication will create a bridge across communities to discuss issues that are not openly addressed, such as the double standards placed on Muslim women. 

Being named a Loran Scholar in a field of more than 6,000 applicants was, in Shayeb’s words, “surreal.” 

“This scholarship gives me the opportunity to pursue all of the things that I love to do, while also pushing me to impact my community in a positive way,” she says. “It challenges me to take on a range of responsibilities that I may not have previously considered.” 

In her time at U of T Engineering so far, Shayeb has developed a preliminary interest in aerospace engineering, but she is also considering a career in computing or the energy sector. One thing is for certain: human impact will remain a key goal. 

“I know that whatever I do will have a focus on using engineering as a tool to help people.” 

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


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.


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.


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.


© 2020 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering