Posts By: Rebecca Logan

Prof. Jeffrey Siegel | Former COVID official joins company behind hazardous air-cleaners banned in California

March 24, 2021 | The Guardian


Alexandre Milovanoff PhD | Electric Cars Are Coming. How Long Until They Rule the Road?

March 10, 2021 | The New York Times


U of T Entrepreneurship Week: Four engineering startups to watch

From left: HOPE Pet Foods; Xesto; Themis; and, Reeddi

With nearly a dozen startup incubators and accelerators spread across its three campuses, the University of Toronto is a thriving hotbed of entrepreneurial activity — even amid the pandemic.

U of T Engineering entrepreneurs and their startups are finding innovative solutions to pressing problems — all while creating jobs and strengthening Canada’s innovation ecosystem.

As U of T’s virtual Entrepreneurship Week kicks off, here are four exciting U of T Engineering startups to keep an eye on in 2021:

Reeddi

Olugbenga Olubanjo (back row, second from left) poses for a photo with members of the Reeddi team, local community members and his startup’s power-providing capsules during a pilot project in Ayegun, Nigeria (photo courtesy of Olugbenga Olubanjo)

Clean energy startup Reeddi has developed a portable tool that provides clean and affordable electricity to individuals, households and businesses in energy-poor regions of the world.

Founded by Olugbenga Olubanjo (CivE MASc 1T9), who has personal experience of growing up in energy-poor communities in Nigeria, the company provides portable energy via compact capsules that are charged at solar-powered stations located in communities. Customers rent the capsules at an affordable price and are incentivized to return them on time by earning credits that can go toward future rentals.

For Olubanjo, who earned a master of applied science in civil engineering at U of T, helping and giving back has always been central to his entrepreneurial outlook.

“At the end of the day, it’s not only about making money. Anyone can make money, but it’s about the happiness that you give people,” says Olubanjo. “Just knowing that my innovation could have a positive impact on people’s lives – oh my God, there’s no feeling like that in life.”

Reeddi received support from the Entrepreneurship Hatchery and the Lo Family Social Venture Fund.

HOPE Pet Foods

Sofia Bonilla, a U of T post-doctoral researcher who is preparing to launch a line of alternative-protein pet foods, already has her dog Snuffie gobbling up insect-based treats (photo courtesy of Sofia Bonilla)

Bugs aren’t on most dog and cat owners’ pet food shopping lists, but U of T Mississauga’s HOPE Pet Foods is looking to change that by using insects and other alternative sources of protein to produce pet foods that are both eco-friendly and nutritious.

Founded by postdoctoral researcher Sofia Bonilla (ChemE), HOPE Pet Foods is producing dog food made with insect proteins and cat food made with algae-based proteins.

Bonilla, the mother of two small children and owner of an enthusiastic insect-protein-eating dog named Snuffie, was recently a semifinalist in Scotiabank’s Total Mom Pitch Competition. HOPE Pet Foods also picked up the second place prize in the Adams Sustainability Innovation Prize and has received support from U of T’s Lo Family Social Venture Fund.

“What we think we can bring to the market is an evidence-based, scientific approach, where we are really looking at the evidence behind dog nutrition and the best possible protein is the one with all the amino acids, but is also sustainable,” Bonilla recently said, adding that HOPE Pet Foods’ products will also appeal to consumers who care about their products being cruelty-free.

Xesto

Using the iPhone’s TrueDepth camera, Xesto offers a free app that allows users to take pictures of their feet in order to obtain an accurate shoe size (image courtesy of Xesto)

The iPhone’s TrueDepth camera may have been designed with facial recognition in mind, but U of T startup Xesto has developed a way to use the technology so you can find perfectly fitting footwear.

The UTEST startup, whose co-founders worked with researchers in The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE), offers a free app that allows users to take pictures of their feet in order to obtain an accurate shoe size. The Xesto Fit app then references the output with the sizing guidelines of over 150 shoe brands.

Xesto has been granted one patent for its process and has another pending, with CEO and co-founder Sophie Howe saying the startup’s involvement in UTEST was a big step forward.

“It was our entry to the U of T startup community, which has provided us with an incredible amount of resources and a launchpad that enabled our growth,” said Howe.

Themis

The team from Themis uses AI to create a Microsoft Office add-in that saves hours of time drafting legal papers. The students’ startup pitch took home the grand prize at this year’s Demo Day (photo courtesy of Themis)

Themis, a startup whose co-founders include U of T Engineering students Cindy Chen (Year 4 EngSci) and Amardeep Singh (Year 3 ChemE), has developed an AI program that helps significantly reduce the time it takes to draft legal contracts.

The company’s AI-powered Microsoft Word add-in automatically builds a library of clauses from a lawyer’s precedents and makes those available within Word.

Last September, Themis took home the $20,000 top prize at Demo Day, the culmination of an intensive four-month entrepreneurship and mentorship program at the Entrepreneurship Hatchery at U of T Engineering.

“There are no competitors who provide this fully integrated solution out of the box,” said Rishi Dhir, one of two lawyers — alongside Jey Kumarasamy — who co-founded the company with Chen and Singh.

Going forward, Themis is looking to continue to test its prototype and partner with small law firms across Canada to garner feedback.

By: Rahul Kalvapalle
Original story published in U of T Engineering News


U of T Engineering places among global top 20 in QS World University Rankings 2021

U of T Engineering is Canada's top-ranked engineering school and among the best in the world. (Photo: Daria Perevezentsev)

U of T Engineering remains Canada’s top-ranked engineering school and is now in the global top 20, according to the QS World University Rankings by Subject for 2021.

The rankings, released March 4, placed U of T Engineering 18th globally in the category of Engineering & Technology. This marks an increase from last year’s position of 22nd and the fourth consecutive year where the institution improved its ranking. Among North American public universities, our closest competitors, U of T Engineering now ranks 3rd.

“Our rankings and reputation are a direct result of the hard work and dedication of our community: faculty, staff, students, alumni and partners,” said Dean Chris Yip. “From the world-leading impact of our research to the richness of our student experience — including opportunities to develop leadership and global perspectives — we can all be proud of everything we do to shape the next generation of engineering talent.”

In terms of overall institution-level rankings, U of T placed 25th in the world. It also placed first in Canada in 30 out of the 48 specific subjects on which it was measured, and in the global top 10 internationally in areas ranging from education (third) to anatomy and physiology (sixth).

“This latest international subject ranking reflects the University of Toronto’s strength across a wide array of disciplines, from the humanities and social sciences to medicine and engineering,” said U of T President Meric Gertler.

“It is also a testament to our unyielding commitment to research, innovation and academic excellence.”

Quacquarelli Symonds evaluates universities by looking at five broad fields — Arts & Humanities, Engineering & Technology, Life Sciences & Medicine, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences & Management — and 51 specific subjects. The results are based on four measures: academic survey results, employer review survey results, citations per faculty and an index that attempts to measure both the productivity and impact of the published work of a scientist or scholar.

By: Engineering Strategic Communications
This article originally published on Engineering News


Prof. Shoshanna Saxe | New study points out the benefits of Toronto’s new bike lanes

February 24, 2021 | Toronto Star


Civ Club secures Silver Tier Sponsor

Student clubs are a vital part of campus life at U of T, providing students with a social outlet, networking skills and professional development. Sponsorships are the lifeblood in keeping clubs active, and in providing resources towards programming and outreach.

David Schaeffer Engineering Ltd (DSEL), an engineering consulting firm, recently became a silver tier sponsor of the Civil Engineering Club (Civ Club). The company was founded by U of T Civil Engineering alumnus, David Schaeffer (CivE 8T1) in 1994. Schaeffer describes DSEL as, “Using the power of AI technology to redefine industry expectations in subdivision design.”

“With DSEL's sponsorship, Civ Club and its members will benefit from their contributions. We will be able to offer discounted prices on merchandise and increase the level of resources used towards our events,” says Karen Chu, Chair of the Civ Club.

Civ Club Sweater Design

Civ Club will also be allocating funds toward upgrading its student common room to better suit the needs of students. In addition, the sponsorship has allowed the club to offer official Civil Engineering hoodies to the Civ community.

Throughout the year, Civ Club organizes various social, academic, professional and wellness events to strengthen the Department’s tight-knit community. Its upcoming annual Coffeehouse event, on Friday, February 26, will showcase the Civ community’s many talents via Zoom (signup HERE).

The club also hosts multiple mentorships events to connect first year students with upper year students, as well as game nights and other social events.

“School can be challenging and stressful at times, so we organize events that will hopefully relieve some stress through our game nights and prize giveaways,” says Chu.

As Civ Club has found, sponsorships are critical to student-run clubs, as funding makes it possible for clubs to offer greater services to its members and community.

Civ Club Members

 

About: DSEL is an industry leading consulting engineering firm that harnesses the power of AI technology to solve complex subdivision design challenges with unparalleled speed and efficiency. Canada's largest and most reputable builders and developers rely on DSEL to guide them through the complex development process. DSEL has positioned itself as an industry disruptor and is constantly seeking young engineers who do not accept the current industry status quo. DSEL will continue to leverage technology to push the limits of the possible and redefine industry expectations for subdivision design speed, precision and cost effectiveness.

www.dsel.ca


Black History Month: Presidents reflect on the impact of National Society of Black Engineers at U of T

Past and present NSBE U of T presidents

Past and present NSBE U of T presidents (From top left, clockwise: Iyiope Jibodu, Akira Neckles, Alana Bailey, Dimpho Radebe, Mikhail Burke and Kelly-Marie Melville.)

Kelly-Marie Melville (ChemE 1T2 + PEY) was in her dorm room, just two weeks into her studies at U of T Engineering, when a fellow student Korede Owolabi (CompE 1T5 + PEY) and member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) U of T chapter came knocking on her door.

“He gave me a full rundown about NSBE, and I didn’t fully understand the gravity of it at the time,” says Melville. “But once I started my classes, I got it.”

Melville remembers sitting in Convocation Hall, where all first-year engineering students traditionally gather for their first class together.

“It was intimidating for someone who just moved here from Trinidad and for someone who is just starting engineering. I remember thinking, ‘oh my goodness, there is no one here who looks like me.’”

NSBE, founded in 1975 at Purdue University, aims to promote, support and increase the number of Black engineers who excel academically and professionally. Each year, the NSBE National Convention brings thousands of members together for networking and professional development opportunities. The organization’s goal is to graduate 10,000 Black engineers annually by 2025.

The U of T chapter, founded in 1999, is the largest in Toronto. And for more than 20 years, NSBE U of T has played an important role in increasing Black inclusion at U of T, and in fostering a safe space among Black engineering students, who continue to be underrepresented among the student body.

Three years after that knock on the door, Melville was NSBE president (2009 to 2010), and found herself using the same recruitment strategy. “Sometimes I was even chasing students down in the hallways to talk to them [about NSBE],” she says.

One of the students she introduced NSBE to was Akira Neckles (ChemE 1T7 + PEY), who would also eventually become president (2016 to 2017). During her studies, Neckles remembers seeing only five Black students within her year.

“That can really make you feel like you don’t belong,” she says. “With NSBE, it felt like it brought us together. Within a program, we’re less, but within a group, we’re more.”

Over the years, each NSBE U of T president would bring a unique vision and leave their own legacy of impact.

During Melville’s term, she worked to significantly increase NSBE U of T memberships. For Neckles, her focus was on professional development, inviting organizations to U of T so that members were informed of career pathways, even before looking ahead at their Professional Experience Year (PEY) Co-op.

During Dimpho Radebe’s (IndE 1T4 + PEY, ChemE PhD candidate in EngEd ) presidency (2014 to 2015), she was challenged with keeping NSBE U of T afloat, as memberships began to dwindle.

“I think the biggest challenge for NSBE is that, although it is an organization created to support Black students, we’ve always said, we’re open to everyone and not exclusively to Black students,” explains Radebe. “But many students don’t realize that, and it makes our potential pool that much smaller.”

Radebe says one of her greatest achievements during her leadership was sending 10 students to the NSBE National Convention in Anaheim, Calif.

“That experience really inspired students to join because they can see the full power of NSBE versus when you don’t see many of us around at school,” she says. “Many of them ended up running for leadership positions after that.”

For Iyiope Jibodu (ChemE 0T8 + PEY), it was about “NSBE family and NSBE love.” As president from 2008 to 2009, he was instrumental in launching D-Battle, a student dance competition that would attract large crowds to the Sandford Fleming atrium. D-Battle started as an idea by Owolabi to increase membership — the event would become a staple NSBE event for years to come.

“NSBE had a reputation as a professional student group, but we took the risk to host D-Battle, which turned out to be a fantastic platform to increase awareness on campus,” says Jibodu. “By having a fun event with mass appeal, we brought the entire Faculty together and showcased our strong and vibrant community.”

During Mikhail Burke’s (MSE 1T2, IBBME PhD 1T8) presidency (2010 to 2011), he would play a pivotal role in founding ENGage, an outreach program for Black students in Grades 3 to 8 that sparks passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). ENGage has been running for more than a decade out of the U of T Engineering Outreach Office, and would pave the way for Blueprint, a new program designed for Black high school students interested in STEM.

Alana Bailey (Year 3 CivMin) is NSBE U of Ts current president and has had a term like no other — having to lead from home during the pandemic. Despite this challenge, Bailey has set out ambitious goals.

Alana Bailey, Year 3 CivE

Her mission when she took office in May was to have each executive member recruit at least five students — this led to a growth of more than 60 members by September 2020. Under her leadership, NSBE U of T has been more involved in Faculty recruitment events, as well as leading their own high school outreach efforts.

This year, NSBE U of T has also brought in more external sponsors to support initiatives — most recently, NSBEHacks garnered a wide range of sponsorships with leading companies such as Google, NVIDIA and Shopify, just to name a few.

Bailey hopes this effort builds toward retaining sponsorships year-round, providing funds for members pursuing professional development endeavours.

“If students need help to go to a conference or to enrol in an expensive course, our hope is to have the supports to actively help them achieve that,” says Bailey.

Bailey has three months left in her term, before she takes up her PEY Co-op position next fall. She plans to stay in close contact with NSBE, and she isn’t alone in wanting to stay in touch — many former presidents and members continue to advise, mentor and participate in NSBE U of T events.

That includes Burke, who is now the Dean’s Advisor on Black Inclusivity Initiatives and Student Inclusion & Transition Advisor at U of T Engineering. Over the last decade, he has seen and participated in many efforts by U of T Engineering to address Black underrepresentation — and NSBE has always played a role.

“There’s been a shift in what the Faculty feels empowered to do and it’s a good start, but there’s always room to do more. We have to continue to lean into the discomfort of talking about the lack of Black representation and about anti-Black racism on campus,” he says. “Organizations like NSBE are key advocates in driving the Faculty to engage in that change.”

By: Liz Do

This story originally published by Engineering News


Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science

In celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Feb. 11, we asked some of the amazing women within the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering to reflect on what it means to be a woman in Engineering/STEM.

Donna Vakalis, CivE PhD

Meet Donna Vakalis, a Civil Engineering PhD whose research examines how energy retrofits impact building occupants - in terms of their comfort, health or performance. Donna believes we need to make buildings more energy-efficient while also improving buildings overall - thinking in terms of how buildings impact the quality of our daily activities (working, learning, sleeping etc.).

"Honestly, it makes me happy to look around and see change happening in real time."

What does it mean to you to be a woman in Engineering/STEM?

Honestly, it makes me happy to look around and see change happening in real time. For instance, I see more women professors in engineering and more women on professional panels in the engineering industry.

 

Do you have a message for girls considering pursuing an education/career in Engineering/STEM?

I moved away from engineering/STEM mid-way through my undergraduate degree,  even though math and physics were my favourite courses. I felt like there was this broader unsympathetic attitude toward social justice in the STEM field and I (mistakenly) decided that I needed to choose between social justice issues OR engineering! I have learned a lot since then. I want everyone, girls/guys/everyone, to know that Engineering is not incompatible with broader social justice work. In fact, we need people who are trained to think rigorously in both of these dimensions.

 

______

 

 

Meet Sarah Kumar, a fourth year Mineral Engineering student who focuses on the environmental side of mining. Sarah hopes to help advance environmental monitoring and mitigation practices to help create a more sustainable industry.

Sarah Kumar, Year 4 MinE

"I hope to see women continue to advance engineering and STEM fields by adding their unique perspective on problems."

What does it mean to you to be a woman in Engineering/STEM?

Being a woman in engineering is about being myself and pursing my passions. It means working together with different people with diverse skillsets to overcome problems and make things better.

What would you like to see in the future for women in Engineering/STEM?

I hope to see women continue to advance engineering and STEM fields by adding their unique perspective on problems. Our continued contribution will allow for faster advancements on research and technology to create a safer and more sustainable planet.

Do you have a message for girls considering pursuing an education/career in Engineering/STEM?

Engineering and STEM fields open a wide variety of opportunities that can allow you to explore many different paths. These fields offer the opportunity to have a very unique career while still being fulfilling and stable.

 

______

 

Meet Mahia Anhara, a Civil Engineering student currently doing her PEY in the Vision Zero Projects Unit at the City of Toronto. Mahia is particularly interested in the field of transportation so she can help provide improved transit access and safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians.

Mahia Anhara, Year 3 CivE on PEY

"I am grateful to the women who were brave enough to go against societal norms and expectations to follow their passion for engineering."

What does it mean to you to be a woman in Engineering/STEM?

I am grateful to the women who were brave enough to go against societal norms and expectations to follow their passion for engineering. Many of them walked the difficult path of being the only women in their engineering classes and workplaces and facing outright discrimination. Because of the women in engineering before me, I can pursue my passion without my gender becoming a limiting factor. As a woman in engineering, I want to continue the legacy of the courageous women and help promote engineering to girls.

 

What would you like to see in the future for women in Engineering/STEM?

I would like to see more women in leadership positions in the engineering field. Engineers play a huge role in the functioning of society and to meet the needs of a diverse population. Women are half the population but are very underrepresented in the engineering field. More women in engineering leadership can help bring alternative perspectives and experiences of navigating the world. This would lead to better informed decisions that reflect the needs of our diverse population.

 

Do you have a message for girls considering pursuing an education/career in Engineering/STEM?

Engineering is more than solving math and science problems. The work that engineers do can make a positive difference in people’s lives and has the power to tackle global problems such as climate change and poverty. If you have a desire to improve our society, engineering is one of the most impactful ways of doing so!

 

______

 

Meet Chibulu (Lulu) Luo, a Civil Engineering PhD Candidate. Lulu uses her engineering skills to address global sustainability challenges and contribute to projects that help drive investments for sustainable infrastructure in developing countries. She has worked extensively in international contexts with institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations. She has conducted research in Tanzania, Zambia, Rwanda, and Ghana, as part of her PhD work.

Chibulu Luo, CivE PhD Candidate

"Being a woman of colour and of African descent, I am proud and honoured for the opportunity to inspire young girls who may look like me to say, 'Yes, I can do that too!'"

What does it mean to you to be a woman in Engineering/STEM?

Being a woman of colour and of African descent, I am proud and honoured for the opportunity to inspire young girls who may look like me to say, "Yes, I can do that too!". The sad reality of our world is that young girls of colour may not see themselves represented in engineering and STEM fields - therefore am always happy to share my experience and the exciting opportunities that the engineering profession can bring!

 

What would you like to see in the future for women in Engineering/STEM?

I would love to see more diversity in Engineering and STEM. Not just the inclusion of women, but women of all backgrounds, races, and creeds. 

 

Do you have a message for girls considering pursuing an education/career in Engineering/STEM?

We need more girls like you in engineering. You are talented and smart and can bring a different and unique perspective to the challenging and interesting work that we do as engineers! 

 

______

 

Meet Stephanie Marton, a fourth year Civil Engineering student who is pursuing a minor in Environmental Engineering, a certificate in Global Engineering and a certificate in Business, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Stephanie has a keen interest in Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - Sustainable Infrastructure and Communities. She hopes to play a key role in shaping local and global community infrastructure in a sustainable and forward-thinking way throughout her future career.

Stephanie Marton, Year 4 CivE

"Being a woman in STEM helps eliminate the idea that STEM is a male dominated field and empowers me to make a positive impact in our world!"

 

What does it mean to you to be a woman in Engineering/STEM?

Being a woman in STEM helps eliminate the idea that STEM is a male dominated field and empowers me to make a positive impact in our world!

Every engineer has a duty to society; being in this program constantly reminds me of the significant impact and influence I can have in making our world a better place for ALL. I have had motivating and satisfying experiences in my studies and work in engineering, especially knowing that what I am doing can shape our societies in a beneficial way - a truly empowering feeling!

 

What would you like to see in the future for women in Engineering/STEM?

No limitations.

I aspire to see a future where everyone is committed and working together to unlock each other's potential. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out by the United Nations provide a great framework to achieve a sustainable and equitable world for all. We need a diverse set of hands on deck for developing innovative ways to accomplish these goals! I would love for women to play a large role in making that happen. As an engineer who has worked in the field and is very passionate about construction, I am looking forward to seeing women continue to flourish in this industry.

 

Do you have a message for girls considering pursuing an education/career in Engineering/STEM?

Go for it! Be the change you want to see in the world.

Especially in engineering, what you choose to do in your studies and career can make a meaningful impact on the world. If you are open to learning and taking on challenges in an innovative way, your motivation and determination will lead you to be boundless in your contributions! I thrive on pushing myself out of my comfort zone to grow and learn as a professional; I highly encourage other women to do the same! I, along with many others in STEM, am happy to support you in your journey.

 

______

 

Meet Kelsey Smyth, a PhD candidate studying stormwater management and low impact development, otherwise known as green infrastructure. Green infrastructure is used to manage flooding and improve water quality in urban areas. More specifically, Kelsey studies the use of bioretention cells or rain gardens for their capacity to capture microplastics and prevent their spread in the wider environment.

Kelsey Smyth, CivE PhD Candidate

"I would like to see a continued increase in gender diversity in educational programs as well as in industry roles."

What does it mean to you to be a woman in Engineering/STEM?
I love that I get to explore never ending interesting issues and gain the satisfaction that comes from solving a problem. As a woman in Engineering, I am so fortunate to have pursued my studies in Canada at this time when a lot of progress has been made in equity and diversity in my discipline. I am extremely thankful to all the women in Engineering and STEM who paved the way for me and to all the amazing role models I've had including my mom as a woman in STEM who encouraged me and supported me in pursuing Engineering.

What would you like to see in the future for women in Engineering/STEM?
I would like to see a continued increase in gender diversity in educational programs as well as in industry roles. I would also like to see less bias regarding gender roles and perceived characteristics and for there to be more women in high level management but also technical positions.

Do you have a message for girls considering pursuing an education/career in Engineering/STEM?
I did not know what Engineering was before starting university. I chose it because I wanted a field that I found exciting, that would challenge me and that could allow me to make a meaningful impact to society. If you are similarly interested a field where you get to explore and solve new problems, then Engineering is a great field to pursue.


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)

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


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