Posts Tagged: undergraduate experience

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.

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

Dean Yip's world tour

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

By Tyler Irving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EngSci math stars

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happens at the competition?

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

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

How do you prepare?

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

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

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

What do you get out of competing in math contests?

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

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

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

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

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

What are your future goals?

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

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

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

Any final thoughts?

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

EngSci 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.

Urban solutions – Praxis II design teams take on the city

Student-designed device to Improve firefighters’ navigation during active fires


Every year EngSci students in their first year of study face a special challenge: find ways to improve life in the city using engineering design principles. This task is part of the program’s unique Year 1 engineering design courses, Praxis I and II. Students identify diverse problems in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders from communities in the Greater Toronto Area, and work in teams to develop design solutions.

The course culminates in the annual Praxis II Showcase where projects and prototypes are presented to members of the public.

Read about Praxis II Showcase 2019 here.

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.

Praxis teams take on diverse urban challenges

Toronto Star headline

From helping people with Parkinson’s disease to dance safely, to designing storage facilities for coffee beans, and even timing the throw in a knife throwing competition, this year’s Praxis design projects covered a diverse range of topics.

The Year 1 Praxis design course challenges EngSci students to apply their engineering know-how and improve the lived experience of a community within the Greater Toronto Area. Students explore the city in teams to find problems that can benefit from an engineering approach, and work with stakeholders to ensure their solutions match end-user needs. Members of the public are invited to see the results at the annual Praxis Showcase.

Read about one team’s efforts to make naloxone kits more effective.

Learn more about other Praxis projects from this year’s Praxis Showcase.

This PEY internship really takes off

Askar Kazbekov (EngSci 1T5 + PEY, UTIAS MASc candidate) completed an internship at Elon Musk’s SpaceX through U of T Engineering’s Professional Experience Year program. (Photo: Chris Sorensen)

The majority of EngSci students participate in the Professional Experience Year (PEY) program during their studies. The program’s 12 to 16 month placements help them gain valuable work experience and allow them to home in on their own professional strengths and goals. For some, like Askar Kazbekov (EngSci 1T5 + PEY, UTIAS MASc candidate), the experience is a first step to some pretty far-out goals.

Read about Kazbekov’s work at SpaceX.

EngSci’s Praxis Showcase in the Toronto Star

Student present their “Dino Dash” project that analyzes children’s running speeds with specially equipped footpad sensors

Each year, EngSci’s innovative Praxis design course challenges first-year students to do one thing: improve daily life in Toronto’s diverse neighbourhoods and communities.

Students fan out across the city to identify problems and work closely with stakeholders to design engineering-based solutions to challenges as varied as growing hops for microbreweries on urban rooftops or making classrooms more accessible for students with disabilities.

Dinosaur Races: To help active kids at the ROM’s dinosaur gallery burn off steam, students designed “Dino Dash”. Children “race” different types of dinosaurs on footpads equipped with sensors to find out what kind of dinosaurs run at the speed they do. Photo by Roberta Baker – Engineering Strategic Communications

“The Praxis courses challenges our students to take what they learn in class and apply it to the real — and always much more complex — world of everyday life,” says course co-instructor Professor Jason Foster (EngSci). “For many of our students, working on high-impact projects like these helps them understand the role and responsibilities of being an engineer.”

Student teams revealed their innovative designs at the annual Praxis Showcase on April 8.

Read more about the Praxis II Showcase in the Toronto Star.

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