Engineering access to health care and a more inclusive society  

Mary Daka is using summer internship experiences to craft her next steps after graduation. Photo by Bright Lin.

A string of summer internships has inspired one student’s ambitions to make the world a better place with her engineering skills and knowledge.  

This past summer, Mary Daka (Year 4 CivE), interned with the Partnerships for Inclusive Research and Learning (PIRL) project.   

The PIRL project is about disability inclusion. Its goal is to advocate for people with disabilities to be part of research and developmental processes from the beginning to make sure that their needs are addressed and included.   

“Before this internship I was a work-study research assistant for the PIRL project for the 2021-2022 academic year. I was responsible for transcribing interviews and coding them in NVivo, planning and hosting podcasts, participating in webinars, and other assigned tasks, and so this internship was building on the skills and knowledge I had acquired as a research assistant.”  

Daka is grateful she had the courage to take on this new challenge that was completely out of her Civil Engineering comfort zone.   

“The internship was a one-of-a-kind as I had to plan out my timeline of activities with the help of my supervisor Dr. Lynn Cockburn who is an assistant professor with Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. I really had to take a leap of faith and we made it work.”  

After her introduction to the world of disability inclusion advocacy and learning, Daka quickly noticed that a lot of work needs to be done for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Zambia.  

“During my time with PIRL, I worked with another supervisor, Dr. Thomas Mtonga from the University of Zambia. Dr. Mtonga is totally blind, and he was able to share his lived experience as a person with a disability—his challenges and his successes. He also introduced me to the work that is currently going on right now to help people with disabilities. From my experience and all the lessons, I learned, I would like to say this: Disability inclusion is not an option—it is a must.”  

Daka is currently turning her internship experience into an academic paper to educate others about disability inclusion.   

“After graduating I plan on getting my Canadian work permit and working with a company that promotes disability inclusion, and helps me create a positive impact in my community.”   


In the summer of 2021, Daka completed an internship with Solar Ship, a company that builds sustainable aircraft meant to deliver critical cargo to cut-off places.   

“Working as a design intern for Solar Ship allowed me to collaborate and network with students around the world. It was also a chance to help find solutions to pressing problems that are experienced in some parts of the world, including my home country.”   

Through this experience, Daka, an international student from Zambia, was able to help communities in the country where she was born and raised. Her team comprised of students from Canada, Nepal, the United Arab Emirates and Zambia sought to solve the lack of health personnel and medical supply in Mpulungu District of Zambia’s Northern Province.   

“The first solution was building a remote video chat interface for doctor-to-patient interaction, and this was to give access to doctors from other regions to login and help reduce the doctor to patient ratio which is currently at 1:12,000,” said Daka.   

Daka’s team also ideated and proposed an efficient medical supply platform using blockchain technology, that with the use of the Solarship Mobile Aerostat could help medical supplies be flown wherever there was a shortage.  

“It gave me a sense of pride in the work to know that what I was doing was going to improve the lives of others,” reflects Daka. “And I also felt gratitude for having been given a chance to do so.”  

By David Goldberg 

Daka is an active member of Engineers In Action UofT Chapter, helping build bridges in Bolivia. She also volunteers with the charity LetsStopAids that focuses on HIV prevention and knowledge sharing.