Recent News

Disaster-proof: Major CivMin lab upgrade lets engineers design structures that can better withstand earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis

March 5, 2021

Funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation will be used to acquire an adjustable, multi-dimensional loading module and other equipment for the Structural Testing Facility


A new adjustable multi-dimensional (AMD) loading system will soon be added to U of T Engineering’s Structural Testing Facility. (Image: Myron Zhong)

An upgraded facility at U of T Engineering — one that is unique in the world — will let engineers test next-generation infrastructure designed to be resilient in the face of natural disasters, from hurricanes to earthquakes. A grant announced today from CFI’s Innovation Fund 2020 will fund a suite of new tools and equipment to be housed within U of T Engineering’s existing Structural Testing Facility. They will be used to design everything from elevated highways to high-rise residential buildings to nuclear power plants, including replacements for legacy structures across North America. “Much of our infrastructure is decades old and needs to be replaced,” says Professor Constantin Christopoulos (CivMin), the project leader and Canada Research Chair in Seismic Resilience of Infrastructure. “The scientific and engineering communities, along with governments and the private sector, are becoming increasingly aware of the inherent vulnerability of our infrastructure. We also need to design new structures to address new pressures, such as a rapidly growing Canadian population, and more frequent extreme weather scenarios due to a changing climate.” The centrepiece of this new development is the world’s first fully movable, adjustable multidirectional, large-scale and large-capacity loading frame. “This unique piece of equipment will allow structural elements and structural systems to be tested under more realistic loading conditions,” says Christopoulos. “We’ll be able to better simulate the complex effects of extreme loading events, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes or tsunamis.” The adjustable, multi-dimensional loading module will be capable of applying up to a total of 2,000 tonnes of force in six translational and rotational directions for specimens of up to eight metres tall and thirty metres long. The project will also include new state-of-the-art sensing equipment and the redesign of 500 square metres of lab space. Construction is expected to begin in 2022. To make full use of it, Christopoulos will be working with a large team of experts from within and beyond U of T Engineering. Project partners include U of T Engineering professors Oh-Sung KwonEvan BentzOya Mercan and Jeffrey Packer (all CivMin). This team is also collaborating with a team of structural engineering and large-scale testing experts at other leading North American facilities to develop, commission and use this unique equipment. Collaborating institutions include:
  • Western University’s WindEEE and Boundary Layer Wind Tunnels
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of Sherbrooke
  • Polytechnique Montreal
  • University of Illinois
Once completed, the new facility will be used for research by 10 professors from U of T and their national and international collaborators. It is also expected that it will allow for dozens of unique graduate student research projects and industry tests every year once it is fully operational. Together this team will be able to carry out a technique known as “distributed hybrid simulations.” This means that full-scale portions of real structures — such as concrete pillars or steel beams — will be tested simultaneously in each of these labs across North America. By integrating all of these physical tests into a single numerical model, they can use the experimental feedback of each of the large-scale elements to more realistically simulate the response of the entire infrastructure system to extreme loading conditions. The data from the physical experiments will be integrated in real-time with models run using high-performance computers and the UT-SIM integration platform. “This facility will enhance our capabilities not only here at U of T, and across Canada, but will position Canadian engineers as global leaders in the area of structural resilience” says Christopoulos. “It is a critical step toward designing the resilient cities of the future.” By Tyler Irving This article originally published on Engineering News Read More

U of T fourth at Canadian Mining Games

February 23, 2021

A group photo of the University of Toronto team at last year’s 2020 Canadian Mining Games competition in Halifax, NS.

With a fourth-place finish in this year’s 2021 Canadian Mining Games virtual competition, the U of T team was a mere 20 points behind first place. An incredible accomplishment for the team made up of predominently first-time participants.

The event was held online February 19 – 20, 2021, with McGill University and Polytechnique Montréal  hosting, and bringing together students from 11 Canadian universities.

The team’s co-captains, Stefano Girardo (Year 4 MinE) and Devlen Malone (Year 4 MinE), penned a letter of thanks including the following:
The 31st anniversary of the games marked a monumental year for the University of Toronto team as our successes were not only celebrated by our own team, but by other collegiate teams and event sponsors as well. We are proud to say that the team was able to place: 1 st in three events (Underground Rock Mechanics, Health and Safety and Crisis Management), 2nd in 5 events (Leaderboard, Scheduling for Value, Mineral Economics, Sustainable Development and the Stock Market Challenge), 3rd in Underground Data Analytics and 4th in five events (Underground Mine Design, Surface Geotechnics, Mine Trivia, Mineral Processing and Operational Excellence) just narrowly missing a podium finish!”

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Toronto’s COVID-19 bike lane expansion boosted access to jobs, retail: U of T study

February 22, 2021

A study by U of T Engineering researchers found Toronto’s temporary cycling infrastructure increased low-stress road access to jobs and food stores by between 10 and 20 per cent, and access to parks by 6.3 per cent (photo by Dylan Passmore)

With COVID-19 making it vital for people to keep their distance from one another, the city of Toronto undertook the largest one-year expansion of its cycling network in 2020, adding about 25 kilometres of temporary bikeways.

Yet, the benefits of helping people get around on two wheels go far beyond facilitating physical distancing, according to a recent study by three University of Toronto researchers that was published in the journal Transport Findings.

Bo Lin, Shoshanna Saxe, and Timothy Chan.

PhD candidate Bo Lin (MIE) with Professors Shoshanna Saxe (CivMin), and Timothy Chan (MIE), all of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, used census, city and survey data to map Toronto’s entire cycling network – including the new routes – and found that additional bike infrastructure increased low-stress road access to jobs and food stores by between 10 and 20 per cent, while boosting access to parks by an average of 6.3 per cent.

“What surprised me the most was how big an impact we found from what was just built last summer,” says Saxe, an assistant professor in the department of civil and mineral engineering.

“We found sometimes increases in access to 100,000 jobs or a 20 per cent increase. That’s massive.”

The impact of bikeways added during COVID-19 were greatest in areas of the city where the new lanes were grafted onto an existing cycling network near a large concentration of stores and jobs, such as the downtown core. Although there were new routes installed to the north and east of the city, “these areas remain early on the S-Curve of accessibility given the limited links with pre-existing cycling infrastructure,” the study says.

In these areas, the new infrastructure can be the beginning of a future network as each new lane multiplies the impact of ones already built, Saxe says.

As for the study’s findings about increasing access to jobs, Saxe says they are not only a measure of access to employment but also a proxy for places you would want to travel to: restaurants, movie theatres, music venues and so on.

A map of Toronto’s bikeway network with colours representing the route’s level of stress (image courtesy of Bo Lin)

The researchers used information from Open Data Toronto and the Transportation Tomorrow 2016 survey, among other sources. Where there were discrepancies, Lin, a PhD student and the study’s lead author, gathered the data himself by navigating the city’s streets (as a bonus, it helped him get to know Toronto after moving here from Waterloo, Ont.).

“There were some days I did nothing but go around the city using Google Maps,” he says.

For Lin, the research has opened up new avenues of investigation into cycling networks, including how bottlenecks can have a ripple effect through the system.

The study, like some of Saxe’s past work on cycling routes, makes a distinction between low- and high-stress bikeways to get a more accurate reading of how they affect access to opportunities. At the lowest end of the scale are roads where a child could cycle safely; on the other end are busy thoroughfares for “strong and fearless cyclists” – Avenue Road north of Bloor Street, for example.

“It’s legal to cycle on most roads, but too many roads feel very uncomfortable to bike on,” Saxe says.

For Saxe, the impact of the new cycling routes shows how a little bike infrastructure can go a long way.

“Think about how long it would have taken us to build 20 kilometres of a metro project – and we need to do these big, long projects – but we also have to do short-term, fast, effective things.”

Chan, a professor of industrial engineering in the department of mechanical and industrial engineering, says the tools they used to measure the impact of the new bikeways in Toronto will be useful in evaluating future expansions of the network, as well as those found in other cities.

“You hear lots of debates about bike lanes that are based on anecdotal evidence,” he says. “But here we have a quantitative framework that we can use to rigorously evaluate and compare different cycling infrastructure projects.

“What gets me excited is that, using these tools, we can generate insights that can influence decision-making.”

The U of T team’s research, which was supported by funding from the City of Toronto, may come in handy sooner rather than later. Toronto’s city council is slated to review the COVID-19 cycling infrastructure this year.

ByGeoffrey Vendeville


This story originally published by U of T News

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Civ Club secures Silver Tier Sponsor

February 22, 2021

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.

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

February 19, 2021
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

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The UrbanScanner Project: Mobile monitoring of air pollution in cities

February 11, 2021

Prof. Marianne Hatzopoulou (left) and her research team, comprised of MASc candidate Keni Mallinen (centre) and Arman Ganji , PhD (right), with the UrbanScanner on the Uof T campus. UrbanScanner is  a rolling laboratory capable of monitoring air quality, traffic, trees and built environment in urban settings. (Photo by Phill Snel)


What rolls around the city getting a lot of admiring looks for its flashy chromed finishes and high tech roof protrusions? It’s not the latest tech from a popular web search engine company; it’s something entirely different. Meet UrbanScanner, a mobile testing laboratory on wheels, in the form of an automobile, researchers are driving around Toronto to monitor air pollution.

The Transportation and Air Quality (TRAQ) research group within the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering at U of T, led by Prof. Marianne Hatzopoulou, has partnered with Scentroid, a Toronto-based company developing sensor-based systems for urban air pollution monitoring. The result is the development of UrbanScanner.

Hatzopoulou’s team, comprised of research associate Arman Ganji, PhD and Keni Mallinen, an MASc candidate, has been getting a lot of looks while gathering their data, but little is known about this mysteriously well-equipped rolling lab.

Watch an introductory video:

With a 360-degree camera, LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), GPS, an ultrasonic anemometer, temperature and relative humidity sensors, as well as particulate matter and gas sensors, UrbanScanner can monitor air pollution in a variety of methods. A platform on the roof of the vehicle streams data to a cloud server, with air pollution measured every second and paired with the camera and LIDAR images.

An example of UrbanScanner data points collected for pollution concentration overlapped with a City of Toronto street map.

Besides air quality, the traffic, trees and built environment are constantly measured. All of the data is overlaid over city maps with the aid of GPS, allowing for real-time measurements of traffic flow, number and height of trees, as well as building forms. With the ability to measure air flow and pollution near built-up urban areas, the maps can reveal elevated pollution levels, especially at rush hour and depending upon the season.

All of the data collected thus far takes time and effort to process, but Hatzopoulou has plans going forward. “Since September 2020, UrbanScanner has been collecting air quality data across Toronto, both along major roads and within Toronto neighbourhoods,” she says. “These data were paired with images of the urban environment from the UrbanScanner camera and these images will be analyzed to extract important features that affect air quality. This massive database will continue to grow as UrbanScanner collects data across seasons and will help us predict air quality in space and time, providing crucial information about population exposures in the City.”

A graphical abstract for the UrbanScanner project shows urban routes, samples taken and mapping.

Hatzopoulou adds, “Our team is also working on a smaller, more compact version of UrbanScanner with multiple units that will be installed on commercial/delivery vehicles. Imagine a dozen UrbanScanners collecting data simultaneously every day in Toronto!”

The research team is also developing a website to share data from the UrbanScanner project with the public and working on ways to enhance public engagement around urban air quality.

So, now if you see UrbanScanner in your neighbourhood you’ll know exactly what the team is up to. Please feel free to take a snap and tag #UrbanScanner and @CivMin.

By Phill Snel


By the numbers:

~250,000 • Number of data points collected in a month.

2,280 • Kilometres driven in a month of study.

101  • Hours of collection data.

60 • Kilometres driven each day of monitoring.

14 • Sensors on UrbanScanner.

4 • Wheels.

3 • Researchers.

2 • Seats in UrbanScanner.

1 • Mobile laboratory platform.

~ CivMin ~





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Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science

February 8, 2021
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.”

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.


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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.


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.


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!




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!'”

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!


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. 


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!”


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!


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.


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. Read More

CivMin’s Prof. Packer to receive Lifetime Achievement Award from AISC

February 8, 2021

Prof. Jeffrey Packer, now sporting a beard during our stay-at-home time.

Professor Jeffrey Packer is to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC). He is among 12 named for recognition by the organization.

According to the AISC announcement, “AISC awards recognize individuals who have made a significant difference in the success of the fabricated structural steel industry. Whether it’s for an innovative design, an insightful technical paper, or a lifetime of outstanding service, an AISC award bestows prestige and well-deserved recognition upon its recipient. The Lifetime Achievement Award honors (sic) individuals whose continued outstanding service has made a difference in the success of AISC, the structural steel industry, and the structural steel design, construction, and academic communities.”

The recognition for Prof. Packer reads as:

Jeffrey Packer is one of the leading researchers and foremost experts on tubular steel structures in the world. In his 40-year career at the University of Toronto, he has conducted groundbreaking research on tubular steel members, connections, and structures and has published extensively on these topics, including numerous books and design guides. His work has significantly advanced both the state-of-the-art and the state-of-the-practice in tubular steel construction. His work has also had a major impact on design standards for tubular steel structures, including those in the AISC Specification for Structural Steel Buildings.

Packer served on AISC task committees that developed the Specification for the Design of Steel Hollow Structural Sections and has served on AISC Task Committee 6–Connection Design since 2002. In 2005, Packer received an AISC Special Achievement Award for his work on tubular structures. In addition to Canadian and international technical committees, he has also served as a member of the American Welding Society D1.1 Committees on Design (TG1) and Tubulars (TG7). The result of his work has had a profound and sustained impact on the structural steel industry.


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Three CivMin students receive a University of Toronto Student Leadership Award

February 4, 2021

Philip Cline, Elizabeth (Liz) Hii and Stephanie Marton, all fourth year civil engineering students, are the three UTSLA winners from our Department.

The University of Toronto Alumni Association has announced three CivMin students are among the 18 Engineering recipients of a University of Toronto Student Leadership Award (UTSLA).

Philip Cline, Elizabeth (Liz) Hii and Stephanie Marton, all fourth year civil engineering students, are the three award winners from our Department.

The UTSLA continues U of T’s long-standing tradition of recognizing outstanding student leadership, service, and commitment to the university. This tradition began with the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award, which was established in 1994 by the UTAA in honour of Mr. Gordon Cressy, former Vice-President, Development and University Relations.

A full list of all recipients is available online.

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Surveying Survey Camp: The Repairs, Renovations and Expansion of Gull Lake

February 2, 2021


Rendering of the HCAT Bunkhouse and MacGillivray Common Room (Credit: V+A Architects)


After more than a century of operation, Survey Camp — one of U of T Engineering’s oldest and most unique sites — is in the process of receiving a much-needed facelift.

Cutline: The scope of the Survey Camp project also includes a new sewage treatment system (pictured). According to Saint-Ivany, the challenge in preparing and installing this advanced on-site wastewater system is that the work to place the oil/grease interceptor, balancing tank, anaerobic digesters, dosing tank, and biofilters and to excavate and place sand fill into the two new dispersal beds has to bracket the winter season. The base-cut excavations for the beds, which can’t be left open through the winter, need to be in good scarification condition, with no snow in them, in order for the sand fill to be placed. Photo courtesy of Morosons Construction Ltd.

Progress on the HCAT Bunkhouse and MacGillivray Common Room, a new modern and flexible-use building, has officially passed the halfway point and are slated to be completed by summer 2021. New washroom facilities are also under construction.

“The wood framing of the three structures has progressed with plywood sub-flooring installed, washroom trusses installed and bunkhouse roof framing and sheathing complete,” says Tom Saint-Ivany, Director of Facilities & Infrastructure Planning at U of T Engineering. “The trenching for the incoming water line has been backfilled, with the waterline installed back to the pump house. Plumbing drains have been roughed-in and electrical rough-ins have commenced. Exhaust ductwork is in place in the washroom building and the exhaust fan is on site. Septic system installation has progressed, with sand fill material stockpiled on site. The buildings have been skirted with tarps for weather protection/heating and a weather barrier has been applied to the bunkhouse.”

Saint-Ivany says that in addition to the installation of the board and batten siding, windows and doors, extensive exterior work on the structures will commence over the winter, including the placement of wall insulation, electrical services, paneling, benches, vinyl floor finish, ceramic tile, interior signage and a variety of fixtures. By spring, a second electrical service and pad-mounted transformer will be in place and exterior landscaping will be completed.


A view of the HCAT Bunkhouse (foreground) framing and the MacGillivray Common Room floor (rear left) and washroom (rear right) in November 2020. (Morosons Construction Ltd)

A view of the MacGillivray Common Room floor (foreground) and washroom (rear) in November 2020. (Morosons Construction Ltd)


Located more than 100 kilometres north of Toronto, on the shore of Gull Lake, near Minden, Ont., Survey Camp is home to U of T’s CAMP (Civil and Mineral Practicals), a multi-week field educational program that challenges U of T Engineering undergraduate students to overcome the adversity of unpredictable, real-world field situations. Nearly 8,000 students have walked the grounds since the inaugural CAMP session in September 1920. Today, as many as 200 Civil and Mineral Engineering (CivMin) students participate in CAMP each year.


DEEP connections at Survey Camp

Survey Camp is remembered by many Civ/Min alumni as a place where they formed deep and long lasting bonds with classmates and faculty. But did you know that Survey Camp also host students outside of CivMin? High school students, attending the Da Vinci Engineering Enrichment Program (DEEP) Leadership Camp, have used the location since 2003. This unique program offers youth the opportunity to explore personal leadership development through a unique integrated curriculum that includes practical applications drawn from STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields in an outdoor setting. Participants explore topics in science and engineering through fun, interdisciplinary activities —taught by some of our faculty’s top alumni, PhD candidates, and Master’s and undergraduate students. Thanks to Camp supporters, exploration, discovery and learning is fosters in the next generation of engineers!

Over the years, Survey Camp has also expanded to host students outside of CivMin. High school students, attending the Da Vinci Engineering Enrichment Program (DEEP) Leadership Camp, have used the location since 2003.

After 100 years of vigorous use, a comprehensive upgrade and expansion — both to restore the historic existing structures and to accommodate U of T Engineering’s growing needs — were imperative.

“These developments demonstrate the University’s commitment to support experiential learning at Camp for the long term,” says Professor Emerita Brenda McCabe (CivMin), who is acting as the faculty lead on the project. “The facilities remain respectful of the history of Camp but beckon a new age of learning. Expanded facilities allow multiple student groups to use the facility concurrently. The new septic system allows us to reduce our impact on the environment. These are just the direct and immediate benefits. There will be many secondary benefits that we have yet to see.”

McCabe is anticipating that researchers, in addition to undergraduate students, will benefit from the revitalized Camp site as well.

“It is hoped that we can host graduate courses at Camp in the fall,” she says. “These would be research-focused courses that engage graduate students in a learning environment that is distinct from the city.”

That is, however, dependent on COVID-19 and any physical restrictions that may be put in place. Survey Camp was greatly impacted by the pandemic in 2020, both from an educational and development perspective.

“Many things had to be cancelled or postponed,” says McCabe. “For example, we’ve partnered with the Gull Lake Cottagers Association each year since about 1923 to offer the GLCA annual regatta. In 2020, we had to cancel the regatta. Similarly, we could not in good conscience offer CAMP to students as the facilities did not allow us to safely house the students and instructors. However, the students still need to complete the course to graduate. So, given the new facilities, we are looking to hold slightly larger camps over the next few years so that we can ‘catch up’ and ensure that all of our students experience CAMP.”

Covid 19 caused the cancellation of Survey Camp 2020 as well as unique construction challenges. (Morosons Construction Ltd)

Construction also experienced some setbacks because of COVID-19. Saint-Ivany says that the ability of the general contractor, Morosons Construction Ltd., to mobilize on-site was delayed by about a month due to the Ontario-wide COVID-19 shutdown last spring. The cost of wood products, which are used extensively in the construction of the HCAT Bunkhouse and MacGillivray Common Room and washroom facilities, also increased sharply during COVID-19 as supply was limited and in high demand.

All things considered, Saint-Ivany is confident the site will be ready by summer 2021.

“The buildings are expected to be substantially complete in April with takeover by the University in May,” he says. “Altogether, and COVID-19 dependent, the new facilities will be ready for use by students at the beginning of July.”

By Jamie Hunter


Centennial Campaign for CAMP:

This exciting progress wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of hundreds of supporters
who have brought us to 85% of the $1.5 million fundraising goal. There’s still time to get involved!

Leave your mark on Camp:
The ongoing Centennial Campaign for Camp offers alumni an opportunity to once again “leave their mark” on Camp, and bolster the success future generations of Civil and Mineral Engineering students. All donations are matched dollar-for-dollar as we work toward a goal of $1.5 million (we’ve reached 85 per cent to date!). Donors are gratefully acknowledged on the campaign website. Those who contribute $1,000 or more will be recognized on a permanent donor wall. In addition, bunkbeds can be named for $5,000 and built-in benches for $10,000

Learn more online:
or contact Kristin Philpot +1 (416) 946-7827

Thank you!

We are grateful for every donation. Big or small – every gift makes a difference!
We’d like to give special acknowledgement to those who have given at a leadership level:

Bunkhouse Benefactor: The Heavy Construction Association of Toronto (HCAT) 

Student Common Room Benefactors: Robert MacGillivray (CIV 8T5) & Scott MacGillivray (CIV 8T2) 

Program Benefactors
Peter Halsall (CIV 7T7)
PCL Constructors Canada Inc 

East & West Wing Benefactors:
Hugh Macklin & Jennifer Joyce Macklin
Buttcon Limited

Bedroom Benefactors:
The Association of Ontario Land Surveyors
Lloyd McCoomb (CIV 6T8)
Devon Biddle (Civ 6T7) & Linda Biddle (P&OT 6T5)
John Donald Barber (CIV 6T2)
Bruce Chown (CIV 5T5)
CAMP Instructors – Iron Bars

Skule Society ($1,000 – $25,000)
Class of 0T3
Classes of Civil 6T0–6T5 Campaign for CAMP
Class of Civil 6T8 Campaign  for CAMP
Class of Civil 8T0 Campaign for CAMP
John Bajc, 8T2
Beacon Utility Contractors Limited
Ronald W. Bell, 6T9
Wayne M. Bennett, 6T9
Evan Charles Bentz, 0T0
David C. Brownlow, 5T6
Thomas A Bunker, 5T0
Brian Carter, 6T1
Arun Channan, 8T0
Michael Circelli, 8T3
Michael Cook, 6T3
Ralph Cowan, 6T8
Steve Patrick Dennis, 9T9
Gregory Dimmer, 8T3
Paul G. Douglas, 7T8
Henry N. Edamura, 6T0
Marie-Anne Erki, 8T0
EXP Services Inc
Hugh Fraser, 8T0
Gordon Gracie, 5T2
David H Gray, 6T8
Gull Lake Cottagers’ Association
Leslie & Margaret Kende 6T0
Anthony Lanni, 6T9
Ross Lawrence, 5T6
Arthur Leitch, 6T9
Terrence MacDougall, 6T9
Orlando Martini, 5T6
Brenda McCabe, 9T4
Malcolm McGrath, 5T4
Robert McQuillan, 5T0
Model Railings & Ironworks Inc.
Maureen and Robert Mountjoy, 7T5
Kristin Philpot
Peter and Michelle Rhodes, 6T7
Sidney Richardson, 5T1
John H. Rogers 3T9
Glenn L. Rogers
Matthew J. Roorda
Kenneth Selby, 5T7
Senior Women Academic Administrators of Canada
Barbara Simpson
Brent Sleep,
Dana Stanojevic, 9T9
John Starkey, 6T1
John Vinklers, 6T6
Paul Walters, 5T6
Nicholas Walker, 6T5
Arthur H. Watson, 7T5


Previous stories about Survey Camp include:

Survey Camp update: November construction progress

Survey Camp construction underway

Survey Camp Centennial: CAMP100

Read More

Toronto’s first-ever Black student-run hackathon returns for third year, going virtual and global

February 1, 2021

The NSBEHacks 2020 team, many of whom are back to lead NSBEHacks 2021. This year’s student organizers also include Adam Cassie (Year 3 ECE), Rebecca Lashley (Year ECE), Kyra Nankivell (Year 1 IndE) and Boleng Masedi (Year 4 ECE). This photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of NSBEHacks)

This weekend, 300 high school and university students will have 24 hours to code, design, build, network and learn from mentors at NSBEHacks 2021 — an event that aims to equalize the footing of Black and other minority students within science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Alana Bailey (Year 3 CivE)
(Photo: Daria Perevezentsev)

“Black-facilitated events like these are important because limited opportunities are often afforded specifically to Black students in STEM, as there aren’t many of us,” says Alana Bailey (Year 3 CivE), president of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) U of T Chapter, and one of the lead organizers.

Launched in 2019 and founded by U of T computer science alumni Kyra Stephen and Temisan Iwere, as well as alumna Ayan Gedleh (IndE 1T9), NSBEHacks is the first Black student-run hackathon within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

“It was very important to me to make sure that things are easier for incoming Black students in tech,” says Iwere, who has stayed involved with NSBEHacks since graduating. “The technical industry can be very intimidating, especially when you get into certain spaces and realize that you’re the only one who looks like you. It can be an alienating experience.”

Alana Bailey (IndE 1T9)
(Photo: Daria Perevezentsev)

This year, NSBEHacks goes beyond city limits. For the first time, the hackathon is fully virtual, allowing participants to join in from across North America, the Caribbean, and Asia.

In addition to sponsors RBC, Accenture, Google, NVIDIA, TD, Bloomberg, Ecobee, Shopify, FDM and EA, the event has also partnered with Major League Hacking (MLH) this year. MLH is the official student hackathon league in North America and is providing free access to software to participants during and after the hackathon.

Keeping students engaged in coding and designing, even after they’ve virtually walked away from this weekend, is how the NSBEHacks team will be measuring the event’s success.

“We want to see students feeling confident and a sense of belonging. We want to inspire them to get involved with NSBE after, applying to STEM programs at U of T, and staying in touch with companies from our career fair,” says Bailey. “NSBEHacks is one of the ways to ensure that going forward, we are building strength in numbers.”

By Liz Do

This story originally published by Engineering News 

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CivMin faculty and students garner CSCE recognition

February 1, 2021

CivMin professors and students honoured by CSCE: (top row L to R) Prof. Khander Habib, Prof. Doug Hooton, Prof. Jeffrey Packer with (bottom row L to R) graduate research students Jens Kuhn and YuJing Fan, and Prof. Frank Vecchio.

The Canadian Society for Civil Engineering (CSCE) announced its 2020 Honours, Awards and Fellowships, recognizing several CivMin faculty and students.

Among those recognized by the CSCE are Prof. Khander Habib, Prof.Doug Hooton, Prof. Jeffrey Packer, along with graduate students Jens Kuhn and YuJing Fan (CivE MASc 1T7), and Prof. Frank Vecchio.

Sandford Fleming Award
Prof. Khander Habib presented the Sandford Fleming Award for 2020. The award is presented annually to a member of the CSCE who has made particularly outstanding contributions to the development and practice of transportation engineering in Canada.

Habib has been a professor at the University of Toronto since 2010. Habib received his BSc. (2000) and MSc. (2002) degrees in Civil Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology. He received his Ph.D. (2007) from the University of Toronto. Before joining the University of Toronto, he served as a Professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering of the University of Alberta (2007-2010). Habib received several awards including Eric Pass Award (Honorable mention) from the International Association of Travel Behaviour Research; Early Researcher Award from Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation; Minister’s Award for (transportation) Process Innovation from Alberta Ministry ofTransportation; Pyke Johnson Award and numerous best paper awards as well as certificates of appreciation from theTransportation Research Board (TRB) of US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine; Educational Achievement Award from the Transportation Association of Canada, Trottier Fellowship at the Institut de Energie Trottier in Montreal; Dean’s Merit Pool awards and Percy Edward Hart Professorship from the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the University ofToronto. He serves editorial boards of several top-tire transportation journals and works as an editor of two journals. He is a member of TRB’s standing committees on transportation demand forecasting and travel behaviour analysis.

Areas of Expertise: Strategic transportation planning, travel demand modelling, travel survey methods, transport economics, transport policy, econometric choice modelling, emerging transportation technologies, and smart cities in the era of automated and transformative transportation (on-demand mobility, ride-sourcing and sharing economy).


Fellow of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering
Prof. Doug Hooton is recognized as a Fellow of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering 2020.

Robert Douglas Hooton is a Professor in the University ofToronto’s Department of Civil Engineering and holds the NSERC/ Cement Association of Canada Senior Industrial Research Chair in Concrete Durability and Sustainability. He received his BASc (1974) and MASc (1975) from University of Toronto and PhD (1981) from McMaster University. Dr. Hooton is a registered Professional Engineer in Ontario and in addition to being a member of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, he is a Fellow of the Engineering Institute of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Engineering. He is an Honorary member of the American Concrete Institute (ACI), and Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Concrete Technology (UK), Fellow of RILEM, Fellow of the American Ceramic Society, and Fellow of ASTM.

He received the Engineering Institute of Canada’s Julian C. Smith Medal (2016), the Ontario Professional Engineers Medal for Research and Development (2012), ACI’s Wason Research Medal (2014), as well as ACI’s R.E. Philleo (2013), and A.R. Anderson (2011) awards, and the CSA Award of Merit (1997). Well known as an expert on both Cementitious Materials and Concrete Durability, he has been active on over 40 standards, technical, and code committees in North America and Europe, holding a number of leadership positions on these committees. Several new standard test methods and building code changes related to concrete durability in Canada and the U.S.A. have been developed or championed by him based on the results of his research.


Casimir Gzowski Medal
Prof. Jeffrey Packer, with students Jens Kuhn and YuJing Fan, are awarded The Casimir Gzowski Medal for 2020 for their paper on Rectangular hollow section webs under transverse compression (cjce-2018-0485). Established by Sir Casimir in 1890, the Casimir Gzowski Medal is awarded annually for the best civil engineering paper in surveying, structural engineering or heavy construction.

Abstract: An investigation is presented into full-width, RHS X-connections subject to transverse compression, including the effect of a compressive or tensile chord preload. A re-evaluation of world-wide experimental tests on fullwidth X-connections revealed considerable inaccuracy with current design recommendations, as well as significant discrepancies between them. A finite element study was hence conducted to further investigate the behaviour of such connections. A critical value of the bearing length-to-chord height ratio was found, where yielding failure of the chord webs turns into buckling failure, and this has been implemented in the subsequent design recommendation. e proposed design procedure is based on 350 finite element results, covering a wide range of chord sidewall slenderness values, bearing length values and chord stress ratios, as well as against a screened data base of 125 experimental tests. The proposal is shown to offer excellent predictions and incorporates a simple reliability analysis.


A.B. Sanderson Award
Prof. Frank Vecchio, is presented the A.B. Sanderson Award for 2020. The award is presented to a member of the CSCE who has made particularly outstanding contributions to the development and practice of structural engineering in Canada.

Frank J. Vecchio, Ph.D., P.Eng., is Professor and Bahen/Tanenbaum Chair in Civil Engineering in the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering at the University ofToronto. He has been on Faculty since 1985. Dr. Vecchio received his doctorate from the University of Toronto (1981), where he also received his B.A.Sc. (1978) and M.Eng. (1979) degrees. Prior to joining the Faculty at the University ofToronto, he was employed as a research engineer at Ontario Hydro (1981-1985). He is a registered Professional Engineer in Ontario. His research interests relate to the development of improved analysis procedures for reinforced concrete structures, particularly for those that are shear-sensitive. Recent activities include the development of improved constitutive models and nonlinear finite element procedures, application to the assessment and forensic analysis of concrete structures, and analysis of damaged, repaired or rehabilitated structures. Additional interests include the modelling and assessment of fibre reinforced concrete (FRC) structures, structures rehabilitated with fibre reinforced polymers (FRP), and structures subjected to extreme loads including blast, impact, fire and earthquake. He is the author of over 120 technical papers in these areas.

Dr. Vecchio is a Fellow of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers (CSCE) and former recipient of the CSCE Whitman-Wright Award (2011) and Horst Leipholz Medal (2014), and the Ontario Professional Engineers Engineering Medal – Research and Development (2014). He continues to be an active member of several international technical societies and committees relating to the design and assessment of reinforced concrete structures.


From the CSCE’s 2020 Honours, Awards and Fellowships

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Meet Engineers Without Borders: U of T Chapter Co-Presidents Natalie Enriquez-Birch and Lauren Streitmatter

January 25, 2021

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. Read More

Meet Concrete Toboggan Co-Captains, Elisabeth Gagnon and Georgia Collins

January 22, 2021


Co-Captains Georgia Collins (Year 3 CivE) and Elisabeth Gagnon (Year 4 MechE)

Tell us about yourselves:
Elisabeth: I’m Elisabeth but most people call me Liz. I’m MECH 2T1 and I’m currently doing my PEY at a biomedical engineering company called Profound.
Georgia: I’m Georgia Collins and I’m a third year Civ student. Any Hobbies?
Elisabeth: I play basketball and softball recreationally. I’m also new to fostering cats. I got a cat today so it’s very new, her name is Squeak and she’s really cute. I fostered her through the Toronto Cat Rescue.
Georgia: I really like oil painting and I like travelling a lot. Normally, I’d be travelling a lot more than I am now. My first destination would ideally be Germany. I’ve lived in Germany before so I’d love to go back to see my high school friends. How did you get involved with Concrete Toboggan?
Elisabeth: I was always looking to join a design team. I’m into biomedical engineering so I never even thought about Concrete Toboggan. But last year, some of my friends said my skills would be good in a design, because I have a lot of hands on experience. So I tried it and I loved it and I’ve been here ever since. This is only my second year on the team but I got involved because it’s a way for me to apply what I’ve learned in mechanical engineering into an actual thing I can build. Even if it isn’t what I go into as an adult, it’s really fun. I love a team atmosphere, I love sports and this is just like a sports team but with design.
Georgia: I got involved in first year early on. I went to an initial meeting and I didn’t know anything at all but I really liked the people on the team. So I became friends with them and started going to more builds. I liked working with people of other disciplines because I got to hear about things I wouldn’t have ever heard about in my program in Civil Engineering. In second year I got to apply what I was learning in class, when we were doing the concrete fabrication, which was really nice. I applied for a captain position this year because I really enjoyed being on the team and I wanted to move up into more of a leadership position and have more responsibility. What does the Concrete Toboggan Club do?
Georgia: Concrete Toboggan is a design team that focuses on building a concrete toboggan, which is an unusual thing. It has four main requirements, a concrete running surface, a shell, a steering mechanism and a braking mechanism.
Elisabeth: A misconception is that the toboggan is all concrete but it’s only our skis, so it’s only what’s contacting the snow that has to be made of concrete. The rest is all mechanical or carbon fibre. Originally, the competition was just a slab of concrete but eventually it got more sophisticated and people added steering and braking systems.
Georgia: This year we have electro-mechanical steering, which is much more advanced compared to a just a slab of concrete.

Casting Day for 2020 Competition

How is it now that everything is online?
Elisabeth: Normally we’d have an in-person competition in February and we would race our toboggan and there’s a technical exhibition. But because of COVID it’s been moved online. The equivalent competition is, we still design a toboggan, and we still cast it and come up with a theme. A big part of the competition is also the theme and spirit side. Every year we come up with a new theme. This year our theme is “Bogglympics,” which is Olympics themed. So the competition is still being held but everything that would be in person has an online equivalent or is cancelled. Do you come up with the theme collectively?
Georgia: That’s the unique part about us as a design team, and many design teams don’t have this. The theme is a big part about the competition we go to and a big part of what unifies us as a team. So it’s collectively decided upon. Typically previous year’s members come up with something in the summer before the school year but then it’s developed throughout the year.
Elisabeth: Our team is divided into two sub-systems, we have the design side and spirit side. Design is focused on the design and fabrication of the toboggan. Whereas the spirit side focuses on the theme and spirit challenges. We also have a technical exhibition where we display our fabrication and design process. There are games and interactions and that’s the spirit side of things. Where are the competitions typically held (in a normal year)?
Georgia: It’s at a different location every year, last year it was in Toronto at Snow Valley. This year it was supposed to be in Calgary. It’ll be pushed a year, so next year it will be in Calgary again.
Elisabeth: Typically, it alternates between East Coast and West Coast, so after Calgary it’ll be on the East Coast again. It’s an international competition with a few teams from the U.S. even.
Georgia: Fun fact we’re the largest student run engineering competition in North American. Aside, from winning the competition, what would a successful year of Concrete Toboggan look like to you?
Georgia: We were successful in winning last year but the biggest success was how tight knit the team became and the friendships and connections you make within the team. And also, on the design side of the team, it’s important to push ourselves and always strive for the newest innovations. That’s something that makes us standout at competitions. I would say we really lead the pack in some ways in innovation.
Elisabeth: As Co-captain, what I would say is a successful year for me is seeing new members join the team and grow and seeing their development. Especially with the hands-on aspect, you really learn a lot in a short period of time. It’s really impressive to see first year’s or first time on the team member’s growth from the beginning of the year to competition.

2020 Shell

How can someone get involved?
Elisabeth: What’s unique about our team is it’s open to anyone. You can join any time during the year and you can be from any discipline, even Arts. Our competition team has 30 people already but even if you can’t get to competition you can still help with the design and spirit side of things and we really encourage people to come out and get involved.

To join you can visit our website or follow us on Instagram and we post about general meetings. We have general meetings once a month. You don’t have to have attended any prior meetings, you can just drop in. You just have to show up one day and that’s how you join. You can definitely DM or email us to ask any questions.

When are the meetings held?
Elisabeth: Typically it’s on Wednesday, but it varies month to month and it’s on Zoom. We post about it a week before on Instagram, so if you follow us you can stay up to date. What’s your best memory of Concrete Toboggan?
Georgia: My best memory was getting the chance to ride in the toboggan. It’s five people that get to go in the toboggan. Last year we were really fast and kept winning every race. It starts off with a speed run, so you run individually down the hill and they test your time. Then typically there’s a steering test and then eventually you go head-to-head with King of the Hill. In King of the Hill you keep running your toboggan down continuously trying to beat your opponents. It was really exciting that whole day and full of adrenaline because we just kept going up and down. Eventually we won, and the feeling of coming out of the toboggan at the end and having the team rushing toward you and banging on the toboggan was really exciting. It felt like all our hard work paid off, which was really nice.
Elisabeth: Obviously winning the competition is a huge part that stands out in my memories but last year, on competition day, after the first run, the ski attachment sheared off so there was a crack. It could no longer keep the ski to the toboggan, or if we were to run again it was at risk of failure. So in between runs I had to go to our van and use this super glue. It was a metal binding glue and you’re not supposed to apply it with your hands but we had no choice. It was freezing cold and we were scooping it with our hands and smearing it on hoping it would keep the ski and the ski attachment together. I really enjoyed the adrenaline and rush and it worked! Our toboggan ended up winning!

Race Day 2020

Anything else to add?
Elisabeth: It can be intimidating as a first year student or if you haven’t been that involved in school, to go to a club for the first time but we have new members joining all the time, it’s very open. Also, all the upper years are very welcoming on the team. There’s a family and friendship that bonds the team really well and that’s what’s unique about our design team. We build lasting friendships. Read More

Meet Concrete Canoe Co-Project Managers, Ashley An and Stella Gregorski

January 22, 2021

Concrete Canoe Co-Project Managers, Ashley An (Year 4 CivE) and Stella Gregorski (Year 3 ChemE)

Tell us about yourselves
Stella: My name is Stella, I’m a Chemical Engineering student in third year. I’ve been involved with Concrete Canoe for three years now. I started out as a general member, then a concrete technical lead last year before becoming Co-Project Manager this year. Concrete Canoe is the only design team I’m a part of but I’m also very involved with the school spirit community and the band in EngSoc so I do a bit of everything. I find being involved with the student spirit community helps inform the way I approach leading the team.

Ashley: My name is Ashley I’m a Civil Engineering 2T1 student and I’ve been with the team for four years now. I started as a general member, then I was a concrete lead and last year I became co-project manager. So I’m continuing in that role this year. I’m also involved with other clubs within civil engineering dept. but I really enjoy doing Concrete Canoe because it’s a chance to bond with my team.

Any hobbies?
Stella: It’s kind of a cliche, but I’m really involved in music. I spend a lot of my time trying to discover new music and sometimes I dip my toe in arranging music because I think it’s a good way to decompress. I also really enjoy puzzles, so everyone buying puzzles off the shelves in mass quantities during the pandemic has not been appreciated. Us puzzle fanatics need them! I really enjoy my downtime, getting outside to walk around and just not doing anything for a while.

Ashley: Right now I’m living downtown, so it’s easy to go on walks and visit a lot of construction sites nearby. I like doing that in my free time especially after taking the construction management course in second year. I can now identify all the different structures and techniques. I also like to point out different types of cranes to my friends-which they find annoying.

How did you both get involved with Concrete Canoe?
Stella: For me I actually had a friend in first year who I met during frosh week and we were walking through clubs fair and she said, “Oh, I want to do a design team, you should do a design team with me.” I was so new to everything but I was like if I know friends are doing it, it could be fun. Basically, we came across the concrete canoe club first. Three years later, she’s moved on to do other things and here I am, a Concrete Canoe project manager. A lot of my extra curricular activities centre around school spirit and student government so it’s nice to have a creative outlet and dip my toe into design.

Ashley: In first year I was in Track One, which is general engineering stream. I was introduced to concrete canoe by my friends who were also in Track One. We just kind of floated to this design team by like the mantra, “Concrete that can float,” which is pretty cool. Also, I think concrete canoe is a very close knit community, like a small family, and if you find friends there, you’ll have them for a long time.

What does the Concrete Canoe club do?
Stella: I’ll explain what we do in a normal year since this year has been kind of an anomaly. What we do is we design, build, test and race a canoe made entirely out of concrete. As Ashley said, it’s kind of an interesting process because you’d never expect concrete to be something that should float and that’s why it presents such an interesting engineering challenge. It’s also a good way to apply the information you learn in your courses in a fun way.

Over the summer, the exec team begins to lay out the foundation for the project by doing some light leg work by planning out sponsorships, material acquisitions and what not. In fall is when we have our recruitment and form our team. We have weekly meetings usually on Saturdays for an hour or two. We do a lot of testing of concrete mixes and members get to help us make the beams and are invited to the labs to test them during the week. We also have a lot of workshops during the fall in addition to those.

We have workshops to determine the aesthetic and theme we base our canoe design around. As well as potential costumes for competition or a display board and other spirit aspects. We also have a workshop on hull design because we do a lot of AI generation of hull designs throughout the year. We also have a structural workshop, so if you’re taking CIV100 that does help out with that.

In the spring we finalize things. We usually have a big casting day in February where we actually make the canoe. It usually takes about six to eight hours to make the canoe. Then in May is when we have our competition and take our canoe that’s sanded and ready to go. We present it and we actually get to race it. Race day is usually a really fun event because you get to go and cheer on your team and see how all the other team’s canoes compete.

How are you continuing the club’s activities this year in a virtual world?
Stella: So it’s been a little bit of a challenge. Last year, our competition was canceled around March, even though we had already made a canoe. This year the CSCE made the tough decisions to cancel this year as well. So there isn’t an in person competition and they’re actually discouraging construction of an actual canoe.

We’ve been fortunate that the CSCE has put forward an alternate competition for this year. So what we will be doing is a little bit of forensic engineering by looking back at a past canoe and analyzing what could have been better. We’re going to do an in-depth discovery of what could have made it go wrong and what could be improved.

As I mentioned, our exec team put a lot of work this past summer laying out the groundwork for new innovations and materials. So, CSCE has given them the opportunity to look at a past canoe and figure out how those innovations and new materials would have made it better. It’s obviously a poor substitute for getting to make an actual canoe this year but we’re very thankful we can still apply all the hard work our exec team has done. We are going to be writing this report and doing all sorts of analysis which is kind of a cool opportunity for us to have a retrospective.

Can other students still get involved?
Stella: It’s a bit of a challenge this year when we aren’t doing as many in person events that people can actually come out to and experience. But the report isn’t something we are determined to keep just to our exec team. We love when people come out to meet us and want to join our little canoe family and continue to grow with us. The competition for the forensic analysis will be mid-May so we’ll be writing it throughout the semester. There are plenty of opportunities for students to jump in and get involved. We encourage people to tap in to our social and communication channels. What was your favourite canoe you got to work on and why?
Stella: I’ve only worked on two canoes but I would say my favourite canoe would be the one we made last year, 704 Spadina. I was able to be a bit more involved in it as an exec member and leave my mark on it. It is a little bit tough because both canoes have a special place in my heart. Polaris, which was our 2018-19 canoe, was the first one I got to work on and the only Canoe I got to bring to competition. But with 704 Spadina, I got to take my experience from first year and make it my own.

Ashley: I also really enjoyed working on 704 Spadina. I feel like that canoe was an ode to everything our team has worked toward and will work on moving forward. Mostly because we overcame a lot of challenges that year. Last year we moved to two different work spaces. Our old space at 704 Spadina Ave. is being torn down to create a new residential building. It was a difficult process being in two different locations. We couldn’t mix concrete in one location so we had to transport concrete between the two. It was a five to seven-minute walk carrying really heavy concrete in order to cast the canoe. That was a huge challenge. We were in 704 Spadina Ave. for nine years so it holds a special place in our hearts.

704 Spadina Canoe

What makes it a successful year in Concrete Canoe aside from winning competition?
Stella: You don’t become a project manager without having specific goals in mind for the team. What makes a successful year of concrete canoe for me is after competition is done, no matter what happens, people want to come back for the next season. Keeping people around and making people say, “Man this was a great year,” or “Man this was a tough year but let’s do it again!” You want people to be dedicated not to just the drive of winning but to finish the year and be able to have the retrospective of what could have been done differently. It shows people are passionate and that the passion hasn’t ebbed away over the year.

Ashely: For me, every year right before competition and during competition we say to our team, it doesn’t matter how we do in competition, it’s all about having fun and enjoying yourself with the team. Concrete isn’t the most technical design team at U of T engineering but it is one of the most fun and that’s what gets people to come back.

Race Day 2019, Polaris Canoe.

What is the best way for students to stay up to date with Concrete Canoe ?
So what we’d recommend to people is to sign up for our mailing list, get involved and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Reach out and we’ll find a way to get people involved. Read More

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