Posts Categorized: Alumni

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:




Survey Camp update: November construction progress


A November 2020 view of the MacGillivray Common Room (centre with workers) and washrooms structure (left). U of T Survey Camp at Gull Lake, near Minden, Ont., began construction of its new facilities, including the HCAT Bunkhouse, during spring 2020. (Photo courtesy of Wayne Bennett, CivE 6T9)


The University of Toronto’s Survey Camp, on Gull Lake near Minden, Ont., has seen a great deal of transformation since the spring. The pandemic necessitated the cancellation of the in-person course CME358, Civil and Mineral Practicals (CAMP), at Survey Camp this year. The upside, however, has been the unfettered progress to construct new facilities with a new bunkhouse, washroom and student lounge.

The HCAT Bunkhouse and MacGillivray Common Room, as well as the washroom facilities, are well underway and slated to be completed by summer 2021.

Engineering alumnus Wayne Bennett (CivE 6T9) visited the construction site mid-November and provided a progress report to CivMin:

Heather and I were in Haliburton and dropped in on the Survey Camp, which was well under construction. There was a lot of activity with about 8 – 10 staff on site getting the buildings completed and they were almost ready for roof trusses. They hoped to have that done by Dec. 10 so the winter work could be done inside the enclosed buildings. I was really impressed with the size of the new accommodation and hopefully it will be ready for summer 2021 when this COVID time is over. We will be back in the area in late January and will drop in again to see how they are getting on.


A November 2020 front view of the HCAT Bunkhouse construction. U of T Survey Camp at Gull Lake, near Minden, Ont., began construction of its new facilities, including the MacGillivray Common Room and washrooms, during spring 2020. The goal is for completion summer 2021. (Photo courtesy of Wayne Bennett, CivE 6T9)

A November 2020 side view of the HCAT Bunkhouse construction. U of T Survey Camp at Gull Lake, near Minden, Ont., began construction of its new facilities, including the MacGillivray Common Room and washrooms, during spring 2020. The goal is for completion summer 2021. (Photo courtesy of Wayne Bennett, CivE 6T9)


Previous stories from Survey Camp:

Survey Camp Centennial celebration and ceremonial groundbreaking on Saturday, September 7, 2019.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for the upcoming new construction of the HCAT Bunkhouse and MacGillivray Common Room. (Photo by Phill Snel)

Plans and illustrations for the facilities from 2019. 

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


Bridge and safety advice from alumnus Brian Gray

Brian Gray at a U of T 50th Reunion Reception June 2018 (left) and in his graduation portrait (right).

When engineers talk about bridge plans, it usually conjures up visions of infrastructure; Brian Gray (CivE 6T8, MEng 7T1), however, has game plans in mind.

As an advancing beginner to the duplicate bridge-playing community, Gray has authored columns and a book, with a recently penned a column published in the fall 2020 edition of the bridge publication American Bridge Teachers’ Association The Quarterly Magazine.  Appropriately, it’s a pandemic-themed article titled “The Safety Play“advising readers to stay home.

Linking the ethics of practicing engineering to card playing, Gray stresses “The ethics in engineering is just like the ethics in bridge. With bridge you have a convention card of all the agreements you have with your partner on how you’re going to bid. But you cannot have anything secret.” There must be full disclosure.

“Ethics and engineering. Sometimes you have to tell a client like a good friend what he needs to hear. We at Peto McCallum do a lot of work for conditional offer to purchase properties. We do soil tests, and the client may love the property, they’ve done the market study; this is the site for our building. But sometimes you have to tell them there’s a high water table. You want three levels of underground parking, there will be costly dewatering and permanent waterproof membrane design requirements.”

“Peto also does investigations. Occasionally, after property registry search, field soil sampling and chemical testing, we have to be the bearers of bad news,” Gray continues. “The site was an old BP (British Petroleum) gas station in the 50s. That’s why it’s available.  So, when you’re doing that type of work, where the results of the report will determine the feasibility of the project. You really do need to call a spade a spade and not a ‘good news’ report.”

Brian Gray’s article in the American Bridge Teachers’ Association fall 2020 magazine. Erroneously, the publication used a photo of Brian’s twin brother.

Gray was introduced to the card game of bridge as a youth, when his parents would host social parties. “Saturday night there were suddenly tables put out and bowls of treats, I like nuts,” he recalls. He also admits to missing a class or two playing bridge at the Galbraith third floor common room.

 Dabbling with the game over the years, he found the game of duplicate bridge as a calling and started playing in 2012.

Gray saw beginners struggling and that there was a missing link for newcomers to leave the comfort of the classroom to transition confidently and successfully to the clubroom environment.


Brian Gray (CivE MASc 6T8) displays his book A Newcomer’s Guide: Stress-Free Introduction to Duplicate Bridge. (Photo provided by Brian Gray)

The result is A Newcomer’s Guide: Stress-Free Introduction to Duplicate Bridge, published February 18, 2020.

John Rayner, Canadian Pairs Champion and member of the Canadian Bridge Hall of Fame wrote “Brian’s book should be a ‘must-read’ for every newer player and for more experienced players as well– you have done bridge players a great service with your guide.”

Duplicate bridge is widely used in club and tournament play. The game is called duplicate, as competing pairs play the same cards with  the same Dealer and Vulnerability, with scoring based on relative performance. Essentially, every hand is played in competition with others playing identical cards. “The cards are in a plastic board, and it sits on the table. You play the cards with the four people at the table. When you’re finished you put them in the board, and it gets passed on to another table,” explains Gray. “The interesting part about duplicate bridge is it’s the scoring system, but it’s basically the same game everyone plays.”

The publicity tour for the book never had a chance to get underway. Visits to several clubs and tournaments had been mapped out, but the pandemic intervened and no in-person gatherings were to be held. Gray, then wintering in Scottsdale, AZ and close to many bridge clubs, was able to return to Canada and his home in Mississauga, Ont.

Though initially easing into semi-retirement in 2011, Gray has stayed working in engineering as a Principal Consultant at Peto MacCallum.  “Where would you find somebody with 42 years experience in geotechnical engineering? I have a love of doing foundation investigations for bridges and now my new love has been duplicate bridge,” Gray reflects on his dual loves.

After completing his MEng at U of T Gray worked with Golder Associates, a geotechnical firm, for five-and-a-half years, then with Peto MacCallum for 45 years. “I was the president of Peto MacCallum from 2000 to 2003 and on the board from 1987 to 2010,”

“Of note, 2020 was a great year for me – 50 years as an engineer. I published my first bridge book and 45 years at Peto in June, ” recalls Gray.

Gray’s ability to keep accurate track of his work has transcended into his play. “I’m an engineer, I keep records. When you’re doing work, you monitor – things like settlement of buildings, you do assessment of performance of structures by taking data. I keep track of the number of games – I played 885 games to date and know who was my partner – I’ve had over 100 partners.”

As a parting reminder he quips, “Engineering and Bridge are linked acknowledging the importance of Ethics, Mentoring and Continued Learning. Bridge keeps the grey cells working; it’s a mental mind game sport!”

By Phill Snel

Class of 5T8 holds online reunion

Civ alumni from the class of 5T8 gather for a virtual reunion with a video conference on Thursday, November 12, 2020. Pictured in this composite image (clockwise from top left): Barry Hitchcock, Donald Cryder, Leonard Pitura, Ewen Fisher, Winston (Win) Pearce, Dave Wright, Arnold Emmott, Prof. John Timusk, Bob Kadlec, and Dr. Ian Harrington.

More than 62 years since graduating, U of T’s civil engineering class of 5T8 still enjoy getting together to reminisce. The current worldwide pandemic has foiled their usual Toronto-area lunches at a North York hotel, so they’re making the most of the situation with a video conference reunion.

A dozen of the almost 30 classmates contacted via email were able to show up for the virtual gathering, held the afternoon of Thursday, November 12. The time of day was crucial, as it allowed alumni from coast-to-coast to join in at a reasonable hour. The 1 p.m. ET gathering saw classmates from Vancouver to the Maritimes, as well as from Georgia, GA.

The usual social lunches, held a few times throughout the year, are no longer possible, so CivMin offered to help host an event for them. Spearheaded by Barry Hitchcock, 90, the group of engineers recounted tall tales from Survey Camp, having fun playing in the Lady Godiva Band and success in the early days of Concrete Canoe competitions.

Winston (Win) Pearce proudly displayed his vintage U of T Engineering jacket for those assembled, adding it still fit him well. The appearance of the jacket memorabilia prompted Professor John Timusk to recall he had to hitchhike to Niagara Falls and back every weekend while holding a 1955 summer job in Owen Sound, Ont. Wearing a similar Engineering-branded jacket made him appear respectable enough to pick up on the side of the road.

With camaraderie evident, the jests haven’t diminished over the years either. Leonard (Len) Pitura remarking on his friend’s long hair, grown out over the pandemic, quipped,”Barry, I can see you haven’t been to a barber for a while!”

The group enjoyed the gathering and agreed to participate in another reunion in the new year.

By Phill Snel

If you’re a Civ or Min alumni group hoping to hold an online reunion, please email to see if we can assist.

New chair of RCCAO has strong CivMin ties

A “top down” bridge construction equipment in 2008, designed and built by Bermingham, with (L to R) Peter Smith, Stefano Gabaldo (both with Bermingham Foundation Solutions) and Mark Mallett, Project Manager for Flatiron. The eight km long elevated expressway was built over environmental sensitive wetlands for the Washington bypass. (Provided by Peter Smith)


Peter Smith, the newly elected chair of the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO), has strong ties to U of T’s Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering.

In a circuitous journey, Smith started his engineering education at U of T in 1972, then by his third year found himself employed in the industry. Though completing his engineering degree at “another institution,” he maintains strong ties here where he started.

Survey Camp benefactor
As executive director of the Heavy Construction Association of Toronto (HCAT), Smith has generously supported new development efforts at U of T’s Survey Camp on Gull Lake, near Minden, Ont. With construction of the HCAT Bunkhouse currently underway, the new versatile facilities will benefit future generations of students attending camp.

Smith’s role at the RCCAO, a unique alliance of labour and management construction groups, is to advocate for investment in Ontario infrastructure. “The City of Toronto is about $1.3 billion short of the monies they need for their budget,” Smith says. “We’re trying to encourage the provincial government, and the federal government to step up and help big cities. For example, in Toronto the Gardiner Expressway is crumbling. We have a big rainstorm and the city needs to release raw sewage into Lake Ontario – there was one day last year they released one billion litres of raw sewage into the lake. Those are some of the upgrades that we would like to see done; the only way you can do that is with capital works.”

This message seems all the more pressing during the pandemic, Smith emphasizes, as capital works can have a trickle-down effect on employment and the economy.

Civil by chance
The road to a long career in civil engineering began by chance. “I started first year in chemical engineering and ended up getting a job in the summer at a refinery in Mississauga (Ont.). All along the lakeshore there were oil refineries, but they’re all long gone now. I applied for a job as a process engineering student, but ended up getting a job in in drafting and construction, because they only hired students after their second year in process. I realized I liked it a lot more.”

Personally, I think civil is the best field to be in, because there’s such a huge variety. If you like the outdoors there’s opportunities, you can be in environmental, you can be in building science and structural, as well as all types of construction. It is incredibly varied.”

Career highlight
“I’ve been privileged to be involved with big projects here in Canada, working in all three oceans,” Smith says. “In Asia things can sometimes be far larger in scope. In was in Hong Kong as they were building a six-lane elevated highway, which was twenty six kilometres across the ocean to go to Macau.”

Smith further explains, relaying the immensity of the task, “As it’s right across the open ocean, with ships transiting the route, so at one point it drops down into the ocean and then back up again. They built two islands to allow the highway to drop down underneath the ocean floor for a kilometre – it was just an absolutely mind-blowing civil engineering project. The scope is incomprehensible. Our company was making some very specialized drilling for this, and it was pretty amazing to see that as a civil engineering moment.”

Develop your people skills
Besides working on enormous projects around the world, Smith is quick to also mention he’s met some really interesting people during his career. The ability to work well with others is a skill some engineers may not realize they need.

“People get into management and so you’ve got to work with your soft skills too – engineers are notorious for being introverted,” notes Smith. “I would advise any young engineer to not ignore non-technical electives they think they’re being forced to take.”

By Phill Snel

Alumnus Bin Liu (CivE 1T4) among eleven honoured with 2020 Engineering Alumni Network Awards


Eleven outstanding members of the U of T Engineering community were recognized Nov. 5 at the 2020 Engineering Alumni Network (EAN) Awards.

The evening awards ceremony, held virtually this year, celebrated alumni and students for their accomplishments and their contributions to the Skule™ community

“The Faculty has just been amazing in its resilience, and tonight’s winners really embody that spirit,” said Dean Christopher Yip. “You illustrate the role that engineers can play in meeting the world’s most daunting challenges.”

“When I came to Toronto from Hong Kong in the late 1980s, I didn’t know that getting an engineering degree from U of T would set me up for a lifetime of success, but it has,” said Allen Lau (ElecE 9T1, ECE MASc 9T2), one of this year’s winners of the Engineering Alumni Hall of Distinction Award. “I call on my fellow engineering alumni to think about how the training and skills you’ve gained at U of T can improve business, society, diversity and equity in the city and country we call home.”

This year’s recipients were:

7T6 Early Career Award

The Class of 7T6 annually presents the 7T6 Early Career Award to engineering graduates who have attained significant achievement early in their career and shows promise of further contributions. The award is presented to an individual who is distinguished early in their profession, community, university and other related fields.

Bin LiuBin Liu (CivE 1T4) graduated from the civil engineering program at U of T in 2014, he is the Co-Founder and CEO of iMerciv. iMerciv’s mission is to cater to the orientation and mobility of people living with vison loss. The first product, the Buzzclip is a wearable sensor that help users safely navigate around any objects that they may encounter. It is currently in market and empowering the lives of people with vision loss in over 25 countries.

iMerciv is currently launching Mapinhood with the support of the Microsoft AI for accessibility grant, Mapinhood is a crowdsourced pedestrian navigation app that provides personalized and barrier free navigations for all pedestrians.


Learn more about Bin Liu (video)

Engineering Alumni Medal

First awarded in 1939, the Engineering Alumni Medal is the highest honour awarded by the Engineering Alumni Network. High achievement is the common thread that links past recipients of this medal. In their diverse careers, these individuals have demonstrated superior accomplishments and have responded with flair and excellence to the challenges they have faced. They are outstanding role models for U of T Engineering students.

Ted Davison

Edward J. Davison (Eng Phys. 6T0, MA 6T1) received the A.R.C.T. degree in piano in 1958, the B.A.Sc. in Engineering -Physics and the M.A. in Applied Mathematics from the University of Toronto in 1960, 1961 respectively, and his Ph.D. degree and Sc.D. degree from Cambridge University in 1964 and 1977, respectively. Ted began his service to the Department of Electrical Engineering in 1964, progressing to become University Professor for ECE, and later Professor Emeritus in 2004. This also included time as an Assistant Professor at University of California, Berkeley, from 1966-1967.

Ted was inducted into the University of Toronto’s Engineering Alumni Hall of Distinction in 2003, and was awarded the Electrical and Computer Engineering Club Teaching Award in 2002. His research interests are in the area of Control Systems Theory and Automation, with a particular interest in Large Scale Systems, Decentralized Control, Robustness, Controller Design of Large Flexible Space Structures, and Process Control.

Learn more about Edward J. Davison (video)

Engineering Alumni Hall of Distinction Award

The Hall of Distinction is an assembly of extraordinary alumni, selected for membership by their peers for their exemplary accomplishments. These are graduates whose performances have ultimately defined what is most outstanding in our graduates and in our profession. The careers of the members stand as examples and add a sense of reality to the aspirations of successive generations of U of T Engineering students.

Pat Burchat

Patricia Burchat (EngSci 8T1) is a Professor in the Physics Department at Stanford University. Her research focuses on studies of the Universe at both the largest and smallest scales. She helps lead a large international team of scientists preparing to analyze data which will provide the most extensive census of the Universe to date. She and her collaborators will use these data to investigate the nature of dark matter and dark energy, and the cosmological evolution of the Universe.

At Stanford, she has served as Chair of the Physics Department and has numerous awards for excellence in teaching. She was elected as Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society. Pat has played a leading role in the growth of the APS Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics, and has been recognized for her dedication to mentoring students.

Learn more about Patricia Burchat (video)


Howard Ginsberg

Howard Ginsberg (EngSci 8T9) is a graduate of the University of Toronto Neurosurgery Program (0T3), with additional fellowship training in neurosurgical and orthopedic spinal surgery techniques. He also holds degrees from U of T in Engineering Science (8T9), an MD (9T3), and a PhD in Biomedical Engineering (0T1). He is an Assistant Professor in U of T’s Department of Surgery, and a neurosurgeon and the Spine Program Director at St. Michael’s Hospital.

Dr. Ginsberg’s research focuses on engineering applications to neurosurgical procedures with the goal of improving safety and outcome for patients. He has supervised several engineering students on research projects, trained surgeons from around the world and helped thousands of patients during his career. Dr. Ginsberg is the co-founder and chief medical officer of Point Surgical Inc., a spin-off company that has developed new technology for immediate and accurate intra-surgical identification  of  cancer  types  through  a  combination  of  laser  vaporization  and  affordable  mass spectrometry.

Learn more about Howard Ginsberg (video)

Allen LauAllen Lau (ElecE 9T1, ECE MASc 9T2) is the CEO and co-founder of Wattpad, the global multiplatform entertainment company, where he leads the company’s vision to entertain and connect the world through stories.

A leader in Canada’s technology sector and startup ecosystem, Allen is a member of the Canadian Council of Innovators, a lobby group that advances the interests of Canadian technology companies at all levels of government. He is also the co-founder of Two Small Fish Ventures, a fund that invests in Toronto and Waterloo-based early stage internet companies with strong network effects.

Prior to Wattpad, Allen co-founded FeedM8, a mobile advertising company that was later acquired. He also previously co-founded Tira Wireless, where he helped leading brands optimize content for mobile delivery.

Allen received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Toronto’s Electrical Engineering program.

Learn more about Allen Lau (video)

Shumin ZhaiShumin Zhai (MIE PhD 9T5) is a Principal Scientist at Google where he leads and directs research, design, and development of input systems, interaction methods, and mobile haptics. His past research career has contributed to theoretical models and understandings of human-computer interaction as well as broadly deployed practical user interface designs and product innovations.

He originated and led the SHARK/ShapeWriter project at IBM Research and a start-up company that pioneered the swipe typing keyboard paradigm. His academic publications have won the ACM UIST Lasting Impact Award and a IEEE Computer Society Best Paper Award, among others. He served as the 4th Editor-in-Chief of ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction. He received his Ph.D. degree at the University of Toronto in 1995. In 2006, he was selected as one of ACM’s inaugural class of Distinguished Scientists. In 2010 he was named Member of the CHI Academy and a Fellow of the ACM.

Learn more about Shumin Zhai (video)

2T5 Mid-Career Achievement Award

The Class of 2T5 was the first class in Canada to receive iron rings at The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer. Since 1975, the Class of 2T5 annually presents the 2T5 Mid-career Achievement Award. This award recognizes a graduate (11 to 25 years from undergraduate graduation) who has earned respect within the profession as well as the broader Canadian community.

Michael HelanderMichael Helander (EngSci 0T7, MSE PhD 1T2, ChemE PDF 1T4) is President and CEO of OTI Lumionics Inc., an advanced materials company he cofounded during his PhD at the University of Toronto in 2011. The company commercializes disruptive materials and process technology for OLED displays and lighting, from headquarters in Toronto and offices in Asia. The company’s technology, based on more than a decade of intensive research and development and backed by a robust intellectual property portfolio, offers substantial savings and performance and lifetime improvements.

Helander received a BSc in Engineering Science and a PhD in Materials Science & Engineering from the University of Toronto. He was a visiting scientist at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada and was a Governor General Gold Medal winner, Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar, and Chorafas Prize winner. He is also an alumni of the Creative Destruction Lab, the Next Founders, and the Canadian Technology Accelerator.

Learn more about Michael Helander (video)

Angela Tran

Angela Tran (EngSci 0T5, ChemE MASc 0T7, ChemE PhD 1T2) is a native Torontonian who calls San Francisco home, where she is a General Partner at Version One. Investing in the US and Canada, she has a unique perspective on both ecosystems. Angela’s desire to help others and work with people who are bringing about positive transformational change led her to the world of VC, where she quickly made a big impact.

Angela focuses on health/bio, AI/ML, social platforms and other startups leveraging network effects. She is a firm believer that good investing is both value- and data-driven. Prior to Version One, Angela co-launched Insight Data Science, a YC-backed startup designed to help PhDs transition from academic research to careers in industry via a six-week training program.

Angela is a trustee on the board of the Computer History Museum where she chairs the NextGen advisory committee. She is a board member for the C100 and is involved with the Creative Destruction Lab in Vancouver.

Learn more about Angela Tran (video)


Malcolm F. McGrath Alumni Achievement Award

Named in honour of Malcolm McGrath on his retirement as assistant dean — alumni liaison, this award recognizes contributions of personal service to the Faculty, the University or to the community. McGrath was the first assistant dean responsible for alumni affairs and development in the Faculty. Among his many accomplishments are the growth of the Annual Fund, the Engineering Open House, the introduction of the Skule™ Stage Band, and the establishment of the Graditude Campaign.

Eric Matusiak

Eric Matusiak (MechE 9T1) is an experienced consultant with a passion for retail and the broader consumer business sector. He has over 20 years of consulting to leading retailers in North America across multiple formats including department stores, specialty apparel, footwear and mass merchandise.  He has worked across all departments and functions from store to back office, enabling him to address client challenges and opportunities from multiple perspectives.

As the National Retail Industry Leader at BDO, Eric leads a group of retail and IT professionals who implement ERP, POS, BI and other retail technologies that enrich consumers’ experiences and improve retailers’ business results. Eric also advises retailers on technology strategy and helps organizations manage the process and organizational components of their business to ensure that technologies align to business strategy.

Based in Toronto, Eric is a member of the Retail Council of Canada, an alumni board and committee member at the University of Toronto and alumni mentor at the Richard Ivey School of Business.

Learn more about Eric Matusiak (video)

L.E. (Ted) Jones Award of Distinction

This award was established to acknowledge the contributions of Professor Emeritus L.E. (Ted) Jones and is in recognition of the contributions over his long and distinguished career to students, alumni and the Faculty. It also pays tribute to his continuing support and dedication to the Engineering Society and the Engineering Alumni Network (EAN) of the University of Toronto. The award endorses Jones’ great appreciation of the arts and his love of music.

Kate SohnKate Sohn (EngSci 1T9 + PEY) was exceptionally dedicated to music and dance during her time at U of T, often fulfilling not only artistic roles but also positions of leadership and mentorship in the community. While regularly performing as a violinist in various orchestras and chamber ensembles, she also directed Skule Orchestra as Managing Director and Concertmaster. She often volunteered as an independent musician, most notably for events hosted by the Division of Engineering Science.

As a freelance composer, her composition has been featured in an animated short which was accepted to the Reel Asian International Film Festival 2019. She began her dance training in university and performed with community and competition teams whose styles ranged from hip-hop, jazz funk, heels, street and K-Pop cover. Kate hopes to continue to nurture her passion for both music and dance alongside a career in medical devices.

Learn more about Kate Sohn (video)

Honourary Member of the EAN

Acknowledges the exceptional contributions of an individual who is not a member of the EAN but has contributed in a very significant way to bettering the Faculty, the EAN and/or the lives of current or future members of the EAN.

Cristina Amon

Cristina Amon is Alumni Distinguished Professor in Bioengineering and Dean Emerita at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. Under her leadership, Canada’s #1 ranked engineering school has become a global hub for inter-disciplinary research and education known for its strategic Faculty-wide initiatives, cross-Faculty centres and institutes, and innovative undergraduate and graduate programming. Her commitment to outreach and diversity has set a new standard for Engineering schools worldwide: the number of women faculty members at U of T Engineering has doubled in the last decade and the Faculty celebrated an historic 40% women first-year undergraduate enrolment for its second consecutive year in 2017.

Prior to her deanship at U of T, Amon was the Raymond J. Lane Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Institute for Complex Engineered Systems at Carnegie Mellon (until 2006). She received her master’s and doctorate degrees from MIT in 1988. Her research pioneered multidisciplinary thermal designs and made ground-breaking innovations to transient thermal management, optimization algorithms for renewable energy, nanoscale transport in semiconductors and biological systems. Her scholarly contributions are published in 16 book chapters and over 350 articles in education and research literature.

She has been inducted into the Canadian Academy of Engineering, Hispanic Engineer Hall of Fame, National Academy of Engineering, Royal Academy of Spain and Royal Society of Canada, and elected fellow of all major professional societies in her fields. Additional accolades include the ASEE Westinghouse Medal, ASME Heat Transfer Memorial Award and SWE Achievement Award, the highest honour.

Professor Amon received the Engineers Canada Award for the Support of Women in 2010, was named one of the YWCA’s Women of Distinction in 2011 and one of Canada’s 25 Most Influential Women in 2012, and received the Ontario Professional Engineers Gold Medal in 2015 – the most prestigious honour for engineering public service, technical excellence and professional leadership.

Learn more about Cristina Amon (video)


By Engineering Strategic Communications

This article originally published by Engineering News

Survey Camp construction underway




Construction underway for new facilities at Survey Camp July 2020. (Photo by Brent Sleep)



A ceremonial groundbreaking at the U of T Survey Camp on Gull Lake, near Minden, Ont,. as part of Centennial celebrations on September 7, 2019, for the upcoming construction of the new HCAT Bunkhouse and MacGillivray Common Room. With spades (L to R): Brent Sleep, Chair, Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering; Georgette Zinaty, Executive Director, Advancement & Alumni Relations; Scott MacGillivray (Civ 8T2), Alumnus & Donor; Christopher Yip, Dean, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering; Robert MacGillivray (Civ 8T5), Alumnus & Donor; Brenda McCabe (Civ 9T4), Faculty and Project Lead.(Photo by Phill Snel, CivMin)

Construction of new facilities at Survey Camp is now underway. A century after the first group of University of Toronto Engineering students used the site, located on the north shore of Gull Lake near Minden, Ont., a modern and flexible-use building has been planned. The new HCAT Bunkhouse and MacGillivray Common Room are some of the new facilities being built during the centennial year.

While no course is actually taking place on the grounds this summer, as precaution during this public health crisis, the construction is proceeding and had been reported ahead of schedule as of a mid-July report. The land clearing and grubbing was completed, as well as several concrete pours for footings and some boreholes for testing the hard clay base.

Purchased in 1919, the first cohort of U of T students took classes on the site in 1920, with the 2019 class becoming the 100th consecutive year to attend Survey Camp – now known as Civil And Mineral Practicals (CAMP). Centennial celebrations included the ceremonial groundbreaking for the construction of two new connected buildings, a bunkhouse and common room, on Saturday, September 7, 2019. The campaign is appropriately called CAMP100.

Planning for a new building requires a dedicated approach, many opinions sought, several committees to meet with and hoops to jump through. “What we want is for it not to stick out (compared to the other buildings); it’s about the place, not about the building,” said Professor Brenda McCabe, who is acting as the faculty lead on the project.

Among the considerations, with feedback from students and alumni, was the new building should create continuity with existing structures, recognize the character and culture of survey camp, and maintain the existing site topography. Other considerations include the need for accessibility under the Accessibility Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), giving wheelchair access to bedrooms, washrooms, and the common room.


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

Floor plan of the new complex (With files from V+A Architects)













Centennial CAMP100 celebration and images

Read about and look inside the new Survey Camp buildings




Leave your own 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 & Mineral students. All Donations are matched dollar-for-dollar as we work toward a goal of $1.5 million (we’ve reached 70 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, built-in benches for $10,000 or even rooms for $25,000 and above.

Direct link to donate 

Connecting with: Loui Pappas

Connecting with: Loui Pappas

While the U of T campus is closed to the public, in-person classes and some lab work, an attempt is being made to connect with individuals continuing to work from home. This is part of a regular series to help bring us together as we remain apart during this public health crisis.

Loui Pappas, P.Eng.
VP Business Development, Transportation
Morrison Hershfield

Loui Pappas (CivE 8T8, MASc 8T9) is Vice President, Business Development, Transportation
at Morrison Hershfield Limited
and remains very involved with the Department.
He shares his perspective as a professional working during the pandemic.


How has your corporation changed its operations during this time?
I was impressed how fast ours, and other consulting firms, shifted operations to have their staff work from home. I wouldn’t have expected it to be so seamless but in hindsight anything is possible when talented people work together. Most firms now are collecting staff surveys on how best to keep the team productive, motivated, and most importantly, safe and healthy, and that will define the new/best ways for business to move forward.

How have you changed your own approach with working from home?
Still figuring this out, I think we all are, there is no one-size fits all answer, and we are all learning ‘best practices’ of working remotely to establish a routine that works. Being home with family has been neat, my wife is a journalist at TV Ontario and my daughter is CHEM2T2; both are equally busy, so we typically stay out of each other’s hair. But getting through this together will remain with us forever and talking about how the world is changing in front of us is cool too.

Can you tell us about some new challenges you’ve faced and how they’ve been dealt with?
Definitely have missed facetime with colleagues and clients and the camaraderie that goes with it.  Consulting for transportation infrastructure projects requires collaboration, and using tools like Teams and Skype help, but things just take longer to do. Most peers feel they are working more than before, so finding that right balance between work, personal time, and family time has been a harder nut to crack.

Have you found yourself doing anything completely new/different for personal activities?
Physical training to my basement, with less equipment, but still making my workouts enjoyable and effective, listening to podcasts on current affairs and wellness, etc. Now that the weather is nicer, doing yard work and taking advantage of the trails in Toronto. I need these activities as my mental and stress relief.

Do you have any recommendations to others in dealing with their own stress?
I’ve always been wired to accept the high stress nature of running an employee owned engineering firm, so I am probably not the best person to give advice on stress management, LOL. But what I have been doing more is consciously differentiating the activities that really matter, and the activities that I am able to control, and letting go of the things I can’t control.

What character traits have helped you in past economic downturns.
I have always had a mindset in business that a ‘bump in the road’ is always up ahead. There have been three recessions since my graduation and this current situation is the fourth. Because of that I became more flexible with career objectives. I think this flexibility has given me more options at Morrison Hershfield, and is a good trait for everyone to have. The current young generation is seeing its first of several bumps in the road.

Do you have any advice for the young engineers seeking to find placements or full-time employment?
I very much enjoy connecting with young engineers, and the reason I stay connected to SKULE.  Yes, the consulting industry is taking a hit, many firms imposed layoffs and hiring was suspended.  For new grads, we hope infrastructure stimulus money will assist with recovery, so when things change for the better, companies will look to you in ramping up with their operations. So keep expanding a network online and staying connected.  Reach out to your network occasionally for an opinion or a different perspective on things. For those still in SKULE, embrace the changes being made to your education in coming months. Use the support networks available to you. The Faculty, through Dean Yip’s leadership, is changing for the better to educate and support you, all for your benefit.  What you do in these weeks and months ahead will define how well you come out of it.  Stay positive.

Anything else you’d like to discuss to offer insights to current students and new grads?
Use these times as your first resilience test, the first of many challenges in your career. Start thinking about how you, equipped with a world-class education from U of T Engineering, might behave, work, and be differently when all of this is done. It is natural to be anxious, but know that we’ve come back from past hardships, each time we came out stronger. We desperately need your generation to drive these new changes, and to leave behind the old ways of thinking that divide us — sexism, racism, prejudice, greed, etc.  Use your education received at SKULE™, your talents, each other, and your collective passion and influence to fix things my generation couldn’t, and eventually change the world for the better.

Learn more about Loui Pappas by visiting his LinkedIn profile.

Connecting with: Mike Buckley

While the U of T campus is closed to the public, in-person classes and non-essential lab work, an attempt is being made to connect with individuals continuing to work from home. This is part of a regular series to help bring us together as we remain apart during this public health crisis.


Mike Buckley, P.Eng.
Director of Design Services, PCL Construction Canada Inc

Mike Buckley (MASc 8T8) is Director of Design Services at PCL Construction Canada Inc.
and is a member of the Department’s Industry Advisory Board.
He shares his perspective as a professional working during the pandemic.


What major hurdle(s) have you had to personally overcome during this public health crisis?
Like most people I have had to come to terms with not seeing my children, and brand-new granddaughter in person, and learn to survive by using modern tools such as Skype or Zoom to socialize with them. The same goes for my friends. However, given the situation, safety and control of the spread comes first. And, as I have said to many people, before the days of web conferencing, and cheap international travel, there are many parents and grandparents who said goodbye to their children who immigrated to this country, never to see them again. So, we are in fact lucky that we can still at least get a glimpse of our loved ones, if only virtually.

How has your corporation changed its operations during this time?
PCL Construction has an impeccable construction safety record, safety is engrained in the culture. So much so, that safety is the first KPI reviewed at all operation meetings. So, it is not a surprise that there was an immediate and relatively early response to the COVID-19 crisis by the company. The obvious responses were implemented such as working virtually where possible etc, but the response also included establishing corporate and district level response management committees that built consistent advice and operational guidelines for safe operations in the office and on construction sites. Controlling both physical distancing and hygiene issues on active construction sites presented its own set of challenges, with no real precedent for responding to a public health crisis on this level. PCL, along with the industry had to navigate the climate together.  In an industry that is highly competitive, the collaboration and sharing of best practices amongst various firms was significant and overall resulted in what anecdotally seems to be a very low infection rate across the construction industry.

PCL produced and shared with its employees and the public at large many advisory documents, both about the COVID-19 virus, and its spread, but also practices for hygiene, and keeping your family safe.

Outside of the operational response, PCL also put a great effort into managing and providing support for individual employees and their families. This included regular updates on the operations of the company, but also access to counseling services for those who may need it due to the stress of the current situation, and accommodation of parenting needs due to daycare and school closures etc.

How have you changed your own approach and operations with working from home?
My role at PCL is quite unique and naturally allows for remote working more than what those on a construction site might face. So, what this meant for me was pulling an addition monitor out of the closet at home and setting up a regular work area where it would be comfortable and quiet for hours and hours of video conference calls. I am currently splitting my time between home and office, and where required, visits to sites. Working from home has allowed me to put more time to work, without impacting my personal time due to elimination of commuting time.

Can you tell us about some new challenges you’ve faced professionally for the first time and how they’ve been dealt with? Have you found yourself doing anything completely new/different for business and/or personal activities? What are your crystal ball predictions for getting back to work? Will our new “normal” be appreciably different?
Quite honestly, the biggest challenge I have faced in my professional life has been the fact that my internet connection has been challenged due to bandwidth issues in the neighbourhood and having patience with others as they get used to the uptake of technology.  The result to all of that is that now I have far more touch points with clients and consultants in any given week because it easier to get together virtually. In the time it takes to collect ten people in a meeting room due to travel time, we can complete a virtual meeting. So, we can afford to meet more frequently. While I will admit that the virtual meetings have become more effective and efficient over the past few months, they will never fully replace the need to meet in person. However, the professional landscape has changed forever. Where virtual meetings were the exception before, they are the new normal, and less frequent in person meetings will occur. Also, here to stay is the day of more “telecommuting”, which no longer is just a notion of an opportunity for most companies and employees but a reality.  The pandemic has been the beta test for expanding of work from home regimes for many companies who thought it impractical.

Has there been any additional stress, personally, from uncertainty or other factors? If so, how have you managed to look after yourself? Do you have any recommendations to others in dealing with their own stress at this time?
I am a very fortunate person as I have both stable financial and professional circumstances, so I don’t face the stress that many others have had to endure doing this time. My situation does also allow me to provide support to those less fortunate than myself, which includes my children, whose careers have been interrupted by the pandemic, as well as those in the community who rely on the support of food banks and other social enterprises responding to the crises. Knowing I can help others, helps this crisis pass for me.

Like many others, the time spent working from home has also allowed me to explore more fully some of my hobbies. Of late I have been baking various types of breads, but also more fully exploring some more challenging aspects of charcuterie. I have made my own smoked meat, and sausages as well as tried my had at various types of jerkies.

At the risk of sounding patronizing my advice to others is to stay positive. This will end. I have told my children that at the other end of this crisis Canada will be stronger as a nation, both socially and economically. Why, because the pandemic will build character of citizenry. Just as two world wars and the Great Depression did for those generations who came before us. And, without endorsing any political party, Canada and the provinces are governed by reasonable, responsible and rational leaders who see the good of the many as the key to recovery, instituting what may not be perfect policies, but policies aimed at a recovery that helps all Canadians.

Do you have any sage advice for the young engineers seeking to find placements or full-time employment?
For those younger engineers looking to start your careers, my advice would be the same as it would have been prior to this crisis. Set a plan for where you would like to be five years from now, not tomorrow. Your degree is simply a key to open a door, what you need to get in is the currency of experience. So, don’t pass up opportunities to gain any kind of professional experience, even though it is not directly related what you dream of doing. First, you may find out you like it, but secondly you will be gaining valuable experience in the professional world.

I know this from personal experience. I wanted to design and build buildings, but my first job was centered around repair of buildings. That got my foot in the door at a company, where I eventually began to design buildings. Guess what, I still use that first experience from the repair of buildings every day, 35 years later.


In time for Mother’s Day: Alumnus publishes children’s book

Luigi La Corte (CivE 1T4 + PEY), writer and illustrator of the children’s book Pacha The Mama Llama, used inspiration from his own life to share an inspiring story of a mother seeking a new and better life for her children.
He has partnered with the YWCA, a charity dedicated to helping disadvantaged women and girls in the Toronto area, with 50% of the net proceeds will be donated for every book sold.  


Luigi La Corte (CivE 1T4 + PEY), writer and illustrator of the children’s book Pacha The Mama Llama.

What’s your book about?
The book follows a llama named Pacha, a single mother of two, as she migrates from a barren hill in Peru to Machu Picchu to better provide for her kids. She journey’s through jungles and rough terrain to give her kids a better life than she was given. In that way, it’s really a story about immigration and how wanting a better life is human, transcending race and culture. Even with these undertones, I like to think that for most it’s just a playful story about cute llamas travelling through Peru and having fun along the way, because it is.

What inspired you to write this story?
My grandmother is the ultimate inspiration behind the book. She immigrated to canada when she was in her early twenties. She raised my mom and uncle effectively by herself. She’s Pacha in this story. I wanted to emphasize that the love of providing for your family is a powerful moving force, because I’ve learned to understand the sacrifices my grandmother made in order to establish a life here.

Have you had the urge to publish this story for a long time?
I’ve been wanting to publish for a while, but it’s always been on the back burner. Mostly because I’ve tried (and failed) to start other companies while writing this. Which takes time!

You illustrated the book as well. What came first, the pictures or the words?
The words came first. I wrote the story on a flight to San Diego for work. It took me about 2 hours to write and then about 2 years to perfect. I just couldn’t stop tinkering with it.I illustrated the book last.

Have you been drawing for a long time?
I’m not a good drawer, so whatever you see there is really the extent of my artistic ability. I’ve been drawing since I was a kid but I was just happy to finish.

Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a 1T4+PEY Civil Engineering grad. I work in private equity at a firm called Plenary Americas, which invest principally in infrastructure. I’ve been there ever since graduation. I also like to try and start businesses on the side. A former classmate and I won some seed funding from MaRS in 2016 but it didn’t end up working out. I also like photography and writing. I’m almost done a second book.

As a U of T graduate of Civil Engineering, is there anything you’d like to share with current undergraduate students?
Pursue your hobbies and interests. Not only do they become part of who you are, they could create opportunities as well.

Is there something we’d be surprised to learn about you? Another surprise talent?
I think the fact that I wrote a children’s book is surprising enough!

This might make a nice Mother’s Day gift. Where can people buy this book?
Yes, thank you! You can buy it on Amazon, here.

By Phill Snel


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