Four U of T transportation students win WTS Toronto area chapter scholarships

Four U of T transportation students, three from CivMin, have been awarded “Advancing Women in Transportation” scholarships by the WTS Toronto area chapter. From top left, clockwise: Felita Ong (CivE MASc candidate), Mahia Anhara (CivE third year), Alaa Itani (CivE PhD candidate), and Joanna Ilunga-Kapinga (MScPl candidate).



University of Toronto students Mahia Anhara (Year 3 CivE), Joanna Ilunga-Kapinga (MScPl candidate), Alaa Itani (CivE PhD candidate), and Felita Ong (CivE MASc candidate) have been awarded “Advancing Women in Transportation” scholarships by the WTS Toronto area chapter.

The scholarships were announced at the WTS Virtual Conference on Wednesday, December 3, 2020.

head shot of Mahia Anhara

Mahia Anhara

Mahia Anhara is an undergraduate Civil Engineering student at the University of Toronto with a keen interest in transportation engineering. After completing her third year, she began working as an Engineering Intern in the Vision Zero Projects Unit at the City of Toronto, as a part of her Professional Experience Year. Currently in this role, Mahia is helping to eliminate traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries by designing safer streets and intersections for all road users. She was also involved in designing temporary bike lanes on a major road in her neighbourhood, which enables her to bike conveniently and safely to stores, the library, and parks.

At U of T Mahia is very involved in U of T Engineering clubs. She is currently the PEY Representative and a mentor in the Civil Engineering Discipline Club. She is also a Project Manager in the Canadian Electrical Contractors Association (CECA) – U of T Student Chapter.

Mahia believes that roads should not only be designed for motorists, but for all road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users so that everyone can access amenities and opportunities safely and equitably.

She wants to pursue a career in developing transportation systems that provide people from all walks of life with improved transit access and safer streets for biking and walking. She looks forward to being an agent in transforming cities to become more resilient and vibrant.

In her own words:

“Many North American cities have been designed in a way to prioritize automobiles. This has led to the rise of inequality, degradation of physical and mental health, and the exacerbation of climate change. I’m inspired to study transportation to help address these issues and make cities more walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly.”

Mahia believes, like WTS, that supporting female transportation professionals is important:

“It’s important to have more women in the transportation industry as they can bring alternative perspectives to the table and voice their own experiences of using the transportation system. This will lead to better-informed decisions that reflect the needs of diverse users.”

head shot of Joanna Ilunga-Kapinga

Joanna Ilunga-Kapinga

Joanna Ilunga-Kapinga is currently a graduate student in the Masters of Science in Planning program at the University of Toronto. Her CIP supervisor is Professor Matti Siemiatycki.

In 2019, Joanna completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree with distinction, with a double major (Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies, and Political Science).

Joanna’s research focuses on transit-oriented development, vertical housing, mixed-use buildings, and city accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Her specialties include policy development and analysis, project management, transportation and urban planning, research analysis, stakeholder engagement, community building, and strategic planning. Joanna is also very interested in the Belt and Road Initiative happening in the Global South. This interest influenced and pushed her to pursue a degree in planning. She believes that good transportation improves access to economic and social qualities of life for all.

Joanna currently serves as the 2020-2021 Urban Land Institute Representative for the second year cohort in the Department of Geography and Planning on the ULI Student Committee, and as a Compliance Director for the G7 Research Group at the University of Toronto.

When she’s not in class, Joanna enjoys creating curated playlists on Spotify, reading, watching foreign films, interior designing, and exploring the city for the most creative built forms and the best pastries.

Joanna says:

“I want to be part of the movement that includes women and people of colour with opportunity to be part of the projects and changes that shape neighbourhoods. I am extremely interested in transportation projects and making improvements to the current systems we have in place and I want to be part of identifying problems and devising more accessible transportation routes. I am very passionate about policy and I want to be involved and learn from the best on how to plan, learn and activate change.”

head shot of Alaa Itani outside on U of T grounds

Alaa Itani

Alaa is a second-year PhD student at the University of Toronto Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering specializing in public transit operations and research under the supervision of Professor Amer Shalaby. She is interested in the field of bus-hailing, dial-a-ride, and flexible transit services where her research focuses on planning and understanding the policies and guidelines of these services in this era of emerging technology and automation.

She obtained her Master’s degree from the University of Toronto in 2019 and a Bachelor’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the American University of Beirut in Lebanon in 2017.

An active volunteer, Alaa is currently Administrative Officer of the University of Toronto ITE Student Chapter. She also executed multiple volunteer roles at the recent TransitData 2020 online international symposium.

Since January 2020, Alaa has presented her research at four public forums, beginning with the prestigious Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board in January. In April, she presented at Esri Canada’s “GIS in Education and Research Conference.” In June, Alaa presented at both “Transformative Transportation ’20” and the “iCity Research Days Webinar Series.”

In addition to volunteering and presenting her research, Alaa also participated in a hackathon on urban transit data, and most recently, in the 2020 ITS Canada Essay Competition where she won second prize.

Alaa is motivated by her personal, lived experience. She explains:

“I have a passion for transit and I will continue working towards more equitable transportation options, as I grew up in a city that did not have a public transport network, and I struggled a lot getting around in my own city.”

head shot of Felita Ong

Felita Ong

Felita Ong is an MASc student at the University of Toronto Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering under the supervision of Professor Khandker Nurul Habib. She obtained a BASc in Civil Engineering from the University of British Columbia and has experience in transportation planning and operations through her work in both the public and private sectors.

Felita’s research focuses on investigating the demand competition between ride-hailing services and public transit to help transit agencies make evidence-based policies and planning decisions.

Felita is passionate about introducing young students to STEM, including transportation engineering. She is currently a high school mentor through the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) U of T Chapter, and was previously an instructor for the UBC Geering Up Engineering Outreach, a non-profit organization that promotes STEM to young students throughout British Columbia.

Felita is proud that her research has real-world benefits. She says:

“Transportation is a multidisciplinary field that has a direct impact on everyday lives. I hope to contribute to a sustainable, equitable, and efficient transportation system.”

WTS Toronto area chapter scholarship announcement

About WTS

The scholarship donor organization, WTS (Women’s Transportation Seminar) International, was founded in 1977 by a group of pioneering women in transportation who realized that women’s careers would benefit from professional development, encouragement and recognition to support their advancement in transportation professions. It is a member organization with chapters worldwide, including the WTS Toronto Area Chapter established in 2013.

By Pat

This story originally posted by UTTRI