Posts Categorized: News

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

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 

CivMin faculty and students garner CSCE recognition

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

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

EWB Co-Presidents Natalie Enriquez-Birch (Year 2 IndE) and Lauren Streitmatter (Year 3 EngSci)

Tell us about yourselves:
Natalie: My name is Natalie, I’m in Industrial Engineering. I started in Track One, and I decided to go into IndE. Right now I’m finishing my second year in Industrial Engineering but I’m actually in my third year at U of T. I did my second year in part-time engineering because I wanted to do some classes in Arts and Sciences. I’m trying to minor in Latin American studies and Indigenous studies. I’m from Toronto and have grown up here most of my life, other than that I also grew up in Ecuador because that’s where half of my heritage is from. I’m co-president this year and I’ve been involved with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) since my first year.
Lauren: My name is Lauren I’m in third year of Engineering Science in the Energy Systems option and I’m minoring in Environmental Engineering. I’m from just outside of Chicago but half of my family is from Canada in Toronto which is what motivated me to come here. I’m also co-president of EWB and have been involved since my first year.

How did you both get involved with EWB?
Lauren: I got involved in my first year in the Policy and Advocacy portfolio. We have six different portfolios in EWB right now and they vary year to year but Policy and Advocacy is still one we have now. I was interested in more of the social impact side of engineering. So that portfolio gave me the chance to participate in a petition campaign to promote the UN sustainability development goals. We also got to host events for International Women's Day and I liked being able to work on different awareness projects while still learning about technical content. EWB was a place for me to get a balance from the technical content of school. In second year, I was in the Local Poverty Alleviation portfolio, and also an exec in VP Mentorship (now called VP Community), which is a position to help the community become more tightly knit. I really liked both those experiences, I really liked being in the club, the community and all the people I met, so I really wanted to run for president at the end of my second year.
Natalie: When I started at U of T, I knew I wanted to join a club right a way. As I was browsing the clubs in engineering, EWB is the one that spoke to be first because I’ve always been interested in social impact. I got involved and joined the Indigenous Reconciliation portfolio because it is one of my interests. It kind of exceeded my expectations in terms of how many opportunities there are to get involved because it’s such a big club, there’s something for everyone.

I was part of Indigenous Reconciliation and through that portfolio I actually went to Nunavut. I went to Iqaluit with some of the other members in the portfolio in first year. That was a really exciting opportunity and after first year I did a program with EWB Canada called the Junior Fellowship. Through that program I did an internship, I worked for a social enterprise in Uganda for four months. They were doing acceleration for local agribusinesses there and I was in a marketing role. In second year I decided to apply for the exec team and I became the VP of learning, which is one of our core values at EWB. We always try to have opportunities for people to learn about social impact. One thing I’m really passionate about is doing my own research and sharing it, so I loved that position. Running for president was a bit of a natural progression for me as I’ve always been really super involved with the club. I hadn’t always considered doing it but I got inspired when it was time to run.

What does EWB do?
Natalie: EWB is a social impact club and at its core it’s looking to create leaders who are critical thinkers and have a basis of understanding systemic change. In particular, we target engineering students and students in technically focussed STEM fields, in order to compliment their technical studies with an understanding of social impact. I think what people get out of EWB is being able to challenge the status quo. Especially within technical realms and ask the question, if I'm working for social impact or in a mission driven organization, how can I know a technical solution is the best solution? And be comfortable with that. I think that’s what’s interesting about EWB, we really want people to be challenging the way that they think about the world.

What does a typical year on EWB look like?
Lauren: When people join the club they can join as a general member, get a feel for it and not be attached to a portfolio. But usually after a certain point, at least most people will filter into at least one portfolio, some are in multiple. It’s whatever portfolio interests them, and it’s up to the initiative they take to get involved in that portfolio. Each portfolio works on certain projects and those projects almost always have room for more people to work on them, but it’s up to you to insert yourself into them and take on that work.

In terms of the actual trips and especially in the past two years, our trips have taken more of a local focus. The junior fellowship program EWB Canada runs, which sends a fellow to Africa, is something our club has not done in the same capacity because of COVID but also because of our changing relationship with EWB Canada. It’s also that’s an opportunity that’s only available for one to two students anyway. For the most part, people in our club participate by being part of a portfolio that is working locally. There may be the occasional extra opportunity you can sign up for but it’s less common.

EWB Chapter-run Student Leaders' Summit in Muskoka, January 2019.

What are the six portfolios students can get involved with at EWB?
Lauren: Indigenous Reconciliation, Local Poverty Alleviation, Policy and Advocacy, Sustainability and Environmental Justice, Cyber Ethics/Digital Rights and Youth Engagement.

Can you tell us about your experience on trips?

Natalie: The trip I went on to Uganda was pretty life changing. While I was there I was working with a social enterprise and they ran a program to accelerate agri-businesses in the area. I ran the marketing side of that. So I would get the marketing materials ready to market to both prospective entrepreneurs as well as partners and other people who can support it because a social enterprise does need to make money but it's not necessarily looking to make a lot of profit. What was cool about the junior fellowship is you get work experience and you also get to understand how the work culture in another place is different from the work culture you’re used to. I had never worked outside of Canada before but I also got an opportunity to travel and see the county as well as surrounding countries.

I think the most important part of that experience was the people I was travelling with. There were about eight other people with me in Uganda, but in the program in total there were 15 from other universities across Canada. They’re still some of my best friends now, I still keep in contact with a lot of them. They share a lot of similar values to me and are like minded so sharing that experience with them is what made it such a great opportunity.

The trip I did in Nunavut was not affiliated with my EWB, it’s something I found out about through my involvement working on the portfolio. But the point there is that portfolios connect you to opportunities but not necessarily everyone who joins a portfolio will go on a trip. In terms of a trip I took to Uganda, it’s not something that’s happening in the same capacity. Not just in our chapter but in the organization, this year they restructured the program so it doesn’t look the same as it did in the past. Most people who join EWB don’t go on a trip it’s kind of rare and especially right now because of COVID and other reasons, it’s really not at all the main focus.

What has the EWB been up to now that everything is virtual?
Lauren: Luckily since we’re not a building focussed tech design team. We aren’t struggling too much with not having the ability to meet in person and build so we’ve been able to adapt a lot of our events to online settings. All six of our portfolios are still running, pretty much in full capacity. They’re still able to run through Zoom. There are regular learning events, project meetings and weekly or monthly portfolio meetings. So lots of meetings happening in the club still.

Our policy advocacy portfolio is in the middle of creating a podcast, the first episode is about to be released. The starting up projects are in the research phase and are able to do that just as well. We also have more established projects, like the Local Poverty Alleviation portfolio is working on a food bank that’s stepped in and become the main food bank for U of T. The UTSU food bank closed during the start of COVID, so the food bank our club is working on has grown and expanded a lot. They're working really hard on keep donations coming in so they can still keep supplying food to students in need. We still have a lot of the same sense of community. Now more than ever, it’s really on the individuals who want to get involved to get involved. It’s a lot easier for people to fall through the cracks online. For those who are taking the initiative to join different portfolios, projects and meetings, they are still able to participate pretty fully in an online setting.

What is the best way for someone to get involved with EWB?
Natalie: The best way to get involved is registering with a membership form but to get access to that link you’ll have to get in contact with us. Send us an email, let us know you want to get involved, we’ll send you a membership form and once you complete that you’ll get access to our Slack board space which is our main hub. On the Slack board space you get access to all the portfolio channels, where they tell you about their events, weekly meetings, projects and if they’re looking for people to increase the capacity of their teams. Once you’re on our Slack you’re set, you just have to make sure to check it. But reach out to people if you want to get involved and learn more about a specific project or portfolio.

Anything to add?

Lauren: We are open to everyone, beyond engineers. We really like having people from Arts and Science to join as well and create an environment where our projects are super interdisciplinary. The Eng and STEM students can learn from Arts and Science and vice versa.

For more information about Engineers Without Borders: University of Toronto Chapter please visit

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


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.

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

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.

CivMin’s Prof. Saxe an Innovation at Interfaces award winner


CivMin’s Prof. Shoshanna Saxe

CivMin’s Prof. Shoshanna Saxe has been announced as one of the Innovation at Interfaces 2020 award winners by the Low-Carbon Renewable Materials Center.





Announcement of Innovation at Interfaces 2020 Award Winners

The Low Carbon Renewable Materials Center (LCRMC) has just announced the winners of their first award ‘Innovation at Interfaces‘. With the goal to build stronger relationships within UofT research, teams of two researchers were selected supporting their projects on sustainable materials, processing, practices and data analysis. The 8 winning teams demonstrated ingenuity in their proposed projects which likely will attract further financial support and in-kind contributions from both internal and external stakeholders.

Originally posted on LCRMC

New engineering firm loaded with alumni is thriving during pandemic

Grounded Engineering’s founding foursome of (L to R): Chris Elvidge, Matthew Bielaski, Jason Crowder and Michael Porco. (Photo courtesy of Grounded)

“Some nerd culture, definitely,” says Michael Porco (CivE 1T0) a founding Principal of Grounded Engineering. “Maybe we should include Star Wars or Marvel trivia in our interview process,” jokes Porco in admitting to the now mainstream pop culture references brought up often in company meetings.

The new engineering firm has so many young engineers, the calculated average age of employees is firmly within the range of millennials. “We saw that our youngest staff member was, other than an intern, 23 and our oldest was 47, but our average age is 32. We’re a very young team,” according to Porco.

In November of 2019 some University of Toronto Engineering alumni banded together with a few other experienced colleagues to found Grounded Engineering. Now, some 15 months later, the original group has expanded to a staff of over 50.

A Santa hat adorns the Grounded Engineering logo inside the office. (Photo courtesy of Grounded)

As any good superhero tale should, there’s a beginning. “Our origin story, if you will, was basically myself and the other three founding principals. We all worked together for at least a decade in the geotechnical engineering industry in Toronto and Southern Ontario area. We had a certain vision for where we wanted to take that firm; we decided we wanted to do something different,” Porco explains. “You know what, let’s focus on our staff, and build a firm where it’s a great place for people to work. An environment where people really are proud to say they work at Grounded.”

The four founding Principals of Grounded, made up of Porco, Jason Crowder (CivE PhD 0T4), Matthew Bielaski and Chris Elvidge, created the firm with the goal of offering a full-service shop for ground engineering. Within a short time, additional partners included Associates Mike Diez de Aux (MinE 0T5, MASc 0T7), Bryan Crljenica, Max Ho (CivE 1T4), Amanda Li (CivE 1T1), Bruno Mirassol, Ylena Quan and Naji Shbaklo (MEng 1T3). Other U of T alumni include Chantelle Chun, Deepak Kanraj, Hussain Imam, Jason Ngo, Jessie Wu, Matthew Garcia, Nick Ng, Tarek Hamdan, and current PEY student Patricia Robalino.

The entirely employee-owned firm provides expertise in multiple engineering areas, including geotechnical, hydrological, environmental, geostructural and construction.

An exterior winter view of the Grounded Engineering office in the Leaside area of Toronto. (Photo courtesy of Grounded)

The rapid growth of staff ranks has come in spite of, or perhaps because of, the current pandemic. While other firms felt the need to reduce staff during the pandemic, Grounded took advantage of the opportunity to expand. Though the company’s below-ground work had to be halted during the initial construction shutdowns experienced in March 2020, a safe return to construction sites and remote working from home allowed the resumption of full-speed operations.

The pandemic has meant working from home for much of the office-based staff, save for the laboratory crew, so staying connected virtually has meant a great deal to the fledgling company. To celebrate the firm’s first anniversary on November 4, local craft beer was purchased and left at the office for employees to collect on their own time beforehand. Then, when the day of celebration came around, everyone in the video meeting “had a drink in their hand and that was nice to share together,” recalls Porco.

Recently, an “aha” moment came to the core team when discussing the sheer number of U of T Engineering alum at Grounded, and their shared experiences at university. A quick check on LinkedIn revealed about half of the current staff are, indeed, connected to the institution.

Some of the shared experiences of a U of T Engineering education means fond recollections of classes and professors. Porco points out specific links to CivMin professors. “Professors Murray Grabinsky and Mason Ghafghazi. We have a sort of, I want to say special relationship with them. We always reach out and interact with Mason, especially me personally. Seeing how we’re a geotechnical firm, I think it’s only fair that we shout them out.”

Working from home means, though the numbers of staff have exceeded the office space’s physical capacity, fortuitously there’s not yet a need to make a move to a larger space. Though there’s definitely an eye towards the future and a full complement of employees gathering for the first time. Porco states “We’re trying to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the fact we need to get together just for everyone’s mental health. Maybe, as long as everyone is comfortable, there has to be an outdoor event next summer.”

Michael Porco in his home office with his shelves of Star Wars Lego models. (Zoom video framegrab)

The entire company’s staff have been incredibly supportive and during the pandemic, where they’ve spent more time apart than together. “Basically, we were overwhelmed with the support of not only Junior engineers, but also of our client network as well and so we’ve grown astronomically quickly.”

In the course of the video interview Porco reveals his home office shelves were replete with familiar and popular forms of large-scale building block model assemblies. “Yes, it’s my wall of Star Wars Lego… I’m definitely a big kid!”

By Phill Snel



Some recent projects by Grounded Engineering can be seen on their Urbantoronto page:




U of T training and research program to focus on green roofs, other ‘living’ infrastructure

The DLIFES network provides training in the design, construction and management of engineered vegetative systems such as rooftop gardens (photo courtesy of the Daniels Faculty)

A new initiative at the University of Toronto is training students in the design, construction and management of engineered vegetative systems for cities facing the impacts of rapid urbanization and climate change.

The Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory (GRIT Lab) at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design recently launched the Design of Living Infrastructure for Ecosystem Services (DLIFES) Network. It’s a five-year-long NSERC CREATE program that will train more than 50 undergraduate, master and PhD students, as well as post-doctoral researchers.

“Governments and private property owners across Canada and worldwide are investing heavily in living infrastructure in order to address current and future challenges of environmental degradation, pollution, habitat loss, and extreme climate events,” says Liat Margolis, an associate professor of landscape architecture.

“This presents a tremendous opportunity to develop 21st-century approaches to education and professional practice that are interdisciplinary by nature, empirical, hands on and engaged with regional urban policy and industry practices.”

The GRIT Lab, which has been in operation for a decade, is an international hub of interdisciplinary and experimental research on living green infrastructure that was spearheaded by Margolis in collaboration with CivMin's Professors Jennifer Drake and Brent Sleep in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, Scott MacIvor in U of T Scarborough’s department of biological sciences, and Sean Thomas in Daniels’ department of forestry.

The first of its kind, the DLIFES network was launched last summer and extends throughout Canada, with academic partners at U of T Scarborough, Ryerson University, Saint Mary’s University and the University of Saskatchewan.

The network also collaborates with eight other universities in the United States, France, Israel, Australia and Japan that are well known for their green infrastructure experimental labs.

The NSERC funding will provide participating students with opportunities for research exchange abroad. Several industry and government partners contribute to the project through technical instruction, advisory board membership, field work opportunities and in-kind material donations.

Recently constructed, sloped green roofs provide new research opportunities (photo courtesy of the Daniels Faculty)

The DLIFES inaugural summer program was delivered online due to COVID-19. It kicked off with its first annual symposium in June. The symposium brought together project partners to share research findings and insights on project implementation across a broad range of contexts and climates. A virtual networking event allowed students to connect with experts in design, construction, environmental legislation and conservation fields.

Over a period of four weeks, interdisciplinary coursework delivered by academic, government and industry partners offered technical training to 22 students in landscape, forestry, engineering and biology. Students had opportunities to develop command of green roof and low impact development design and construction, including soil design for bio-retention and green roof growth media, as well as subsurface urban hydrology.

Over the next four years, the program's coursework will cover a range of technical aspects related to landscape design and construction, plant biology and ecology, soil physics and bio-material sourcing and processing, storm water management, treatment and reuse, sensor instrumentation design and data visualization.

“This program offers the specialized and practical field-based training that is currently lacking and absolutely critical as technologies and new regulations are rapidly changing,” says Drake, a DLIFES principal investigator. “For example, the 2017 federal budget designated upwards of $20 billion in green infrastructure projects over the next decade. New York City’s green infrastructure plan has allocated US$1 billion for new projects to reduce combined sewer overflow. And, in 2019, they legislated a green roof bylaw like that of Toronto’s as part of their commitment to the Green New Deal.”

Cistern-collected runoff versus potable water irrigation systems are tested on the roof at One Spadina (photo courtesy of the Daniels Faculty)

Second-year Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) student Howard Rosenblat studied environmental science and corporate sustainability before joining the graduate program at Daniels, giving him a unique perspective on the green industry.

“I love peeling back the layers to look at different systems, and I find that design is often disconnected from functionality,” he says. “That is what I loved about these courses. They really make you question the why and how.”

Madison Appleby is also in her second year of the MLA program.

“The DLIFES summer program fostered connection and the exchange of information, helping to bridge the gap between disciplines and prevent mistranslation,” she says. “The exposure to innovative research and industry practices, as well as a critical approach to ‘green design,’ is a way of thinking that I will carry forward into my schoolwork and eventual practice.”

In addition to the summer courses and annual symposium, the DLIFES Create Program is leading a number of cutting-edge research projects, one of which is the study of cistern-collected surface runoff for reuse in green roof irrigation. This will provide insight into the role of green roofs in mitigating urban pollution and linking site hydrology between the landscapes at the ground and roof levels.

Another major study being undertaken as part of DLIFES is a survey of the city of Toronto’s green roofs since 2009. Forestry PhD candidate Wenxi Liao and MLA students Rosenblat, Appelby, Allison Smith, and Stefan Herda employed remote sensing techniques to geolocate roughly 700 green roofs, evaluate their endurance or decline over time and measure the overall effectiveness of green roof practices in Toronto.

The new GRITlab at One Spadina was constructed in part thanks to funding from the University of Toronto Lab Innovation for Toronto (LIFT) project. The experimental facility was designed by Baird Sampson Neuert Architects (BSN) with in-kind donations by industry partner Bioroof Systems.

This article originally posted on U of T News


Ontario universities create fellowship to increase diversity in engineering and technology

U of T Engineering is one of six universities announcing the launch of the new Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology (IBET) Momentum Fellowships, designed to expand pathways and improve inclusion of Black and Indigenous voices in higher education and the STEM fields. (Photo: Daria Perevezentsev)

Six universities in Ontario have partnered to create a new fellowship to expand the pathways for Indigenous and Black students pursuing doctoral degrees in engineering to prepare them for academic careers as professors and industry researchers.

Announced today, the Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology (IBET) Momentum Fellowships aim to address the urgent need to provide pathways that encourage and support the pursuit of graduate studies by under-represented groups. This lack of representation has hindered the enrolment of Indigenous peoples (First Nations, Inuit and Metis) and Black graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs.

IBET Momentum Fellowship recipients will receive financial support, mentorship, training and networking opportunities to foster a robust professional community for participating PhD candidates.

“It’s clear that U of T Engineering — as well as the engineering profession and academia in general — must accelerate our work to improve representation of Black and Indigenous students, staff and faculty members, at all levels,” says Chris Yip, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “Launching the IBET Momentum Fellowships is a start, and we plan to listen and evolve our program as we learn from its first candidates. Today, we are pleased to join our partner universities in launching this important initiative.”

In addition to U of T Engineering, the partnership includes the engineering and math Faculties at the University of Waterloo, and the engineering Faculties at McMaster University, the University of Ottawa, Queen’s University and Western University. The six partner universities share the understanding that greater diversity is needed among academic leaders in engineering and technology to reflect all populations and to ensure a full range of thought and problem-solving approaches.

The Momentum Fellowships are a central pillar of the new IBET PhD Project, which aims to change the academic landscape within the next five to 10 years by increasing the number of Indigenous and Black engineering professors teaching and researching in universities across Ontario. The project will also bring more diverse perspectives and voices into engineering research and the Canadian technology industries.

Two recipients each year will receive $25,000 annually for four years as they pursue doctorate degrees and specialized engineering research. Interested Canadian students can apply for the IBET Momentum Fellowships following their application to their graduate program.

Article originally posted in U of T Engineering News

CivE MEng alum receives recognition as problem-solving entrepreneur providing impact

Olugbenga Olubanjo (CivE MASc 1T9), founder and CEO of Reeddi Inc, holds two prototypes for his company’s Reeddi Capsules. (Photo by Phill Snel)

Olugbenga Olubanjo (CivE MASc 1T9), founder and CEO of Reeddi Inc, has been recognized as a 2020 Lo Family Social Venture Fund Award winner.

The announcement:

Reeddi innovatively provides clean, reliable and affordable electricity to individuals, households and businesses operating in the energy-poor regions of the world. Operating a hardware-as-a-service model through our proprietary energy generation & distribution system ensures customers pay an affordable rental fee to easily access clean electricity anytime and anywhere.

Reeddi was recently accepted into Third Derivatives as one of 47 startups from over 600+ startups that applied to this prestigious accelerator from across the globe.

Established in 2020 through a generous $500K donation from Kenneth and Yvonne Lo and family, the Lo Family Social Venture Fund helps U of T students and recent graduates take the most promising, solutions-based social enterprises to the next level, providing support for student-driven ventures that will positively impact the global community – particularly in Asia.

A total of 18 U of T students and recent alumni have been awarded up to $30K in funding.


Read the full story, and learn about other award winners, at:

Past stories about Olugbenga Olubanjo on the CivMin website include:

REEDDI: Putting power in the hands of the people

CivMin entrepreneur creates his own job post-graduation: Delivering clean, affordable energy to Nigeria

© 2021 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering