PROFILE: Giuliana Frizzi, CivE MASc candidate

Always on green: From rooftop labs to the playing field

Giuliana Frizzi (CivE MASc candidate) at the Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory (GRIT LAB) on the rooftop of the University of Toronto Student Commons Building and in action for the U of T Varsity Blues Women’s Lacrosse team as a midfielder (jersey # 16). (Photo by Phill Snel, CivMin)

Giuliana Frizzi is a Civil Engineering MASc candidate, working under the supervision of Prof. Jennifer Drake, who not only excels at academics, but competitive sports as well.

Frizzi grew up in the New Jersey town of Verona, population just over 13,000, some 20 miles west of New York City. It was in this small town she developed a love for sports, including soccer and lacrosse.

A passion for engineering led to completing her undergraduate degree in environmental engineering in Vermont at the University of Vermont where she joined the university’s lacrosse team on her own merit.

Now at U of T as a graduate student, Frizzi works on the rooftops of the Student Commons building and the Daniels Building, each with a Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory (GRIT Lab).

Following her yearn to stay in competitive sports, she’s joined the U of T Varsity Blues women’s lacrosse team. Frizzi wears jersey number 16 as a midfielder with the team.

This week marks the end of the regular season for the team, finishing with an even win-loss record of 4-4. The Blues go into the playoff season, beginning Saturday, October 30, in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Championship with round robin matches versus Brock University, then Queen’s University.

With the ability to juggle demanding schedules for academics and sports, Frizzi sat (virtually) with CivMin to share how it all works for her as a new arrival to Canada and U of T.


What attracted you to bring you from Vermont to U of T here in Canada?

Giuliana Frizzi (jersey #16) playing for the women’s lacrosse Varsity Blues team at the University of Toronto Varsity Stadium (vs Trent University) on Saturday October 2, 2021. Frizzi (MASc Candidate) is a graduate student in the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering (CivMin) in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering (FASE) with faculty supervisor Prof. Jennifer Drake. (Photo by Phill Snel, CivMin)

I was doing a stormwater engineering class at University of Vermont and Professor Drake came virtually to one of my classes to talk about her program. At the time I was considering staying at Vermont for an accelerated Masters, which is a one-year program. I was taking that class for graduate credit, so I was the graduate student in charge of facilitating the conversation with Professor Drake and the students. In the process I got to know her and her program pretty well and I knew that I’ve always had an interest in green roofs ever since I was younger. I remember doing a school project when I was in eighth grade and my choice was to do vertical and rooftop gardens, so her program really interested me.

In the end, I just applied, went through the interview process with Professor Drake, and got admitted. It was the only Canadian school I applied to.


How many other schools did you apply to?

There was Vermont, University of California, Berkeley, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado State University and Ohio State University. I got into all the schools I applied to, but in the end, University of Toronto had the research program and the financial package. It just had all the best qualities.

It was kind of like intimidating to go make this leap. It is Canada, so it’s not totally different country, but the fact I couldn’t visit the school was kind of an intimidating part in my decision process. But in the end, Professor Drake really got me comfortable with the environment. If I could handle life in New York City, I could handle Toronto. It’s great that this is a city school. , but it’s also all very centrally located and I really liked that. As well, I did a little virtual tour on Google Maps and stuff like that, which helped with virtually exploring the area.


Do you see benefits to living right downtown, as you’re essentially right by the campus?

Yes, definitely. Coming from the States, and not being familiar with the area, I knew I at least wanted to live close to campus so I could more easily get to my classes. And I love where I live, so I’ll probably just try to stay here. But, now that I know the area, I would be more comfortable moving further away. Right now, it’s great to be in downtown but also in the college-like atmosphere, so it’s a good balance.

Is there anything or while we’re on the downtown thing in there, anything you like in the area? Or at the campus that it’s been great, a great discovery or just really convenient.

I do like all the greenery on campus like Queen’s Park is a pretty cool area that I like to go when running. I do like how it’s not too far from the water, so occasionally I take my bike out and go for rides along the waterfront.

Kensington Market is such a great little area – they have a lot of little shops where you can get tacos one place and just a few feet away get customized doughnuts, which I thought was really cool. You get a lot of variety of experiences, and types of international cuisine, which is very cool.

There’s also a number of vintage clothing stores. I’ve run into a couple of those. It’s so funny how much American clothes I see there – either just a ton of cowboy boots or just American University t-shirts and more.


Giuliana Frizzi (MASc Candidate) at a Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory (GRIT LAB) on the rooftop of the University of Toronto Student Commons Building on Thursday, September 30, 2021. Frizzi is a graduate student in the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering (CivMin) in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering (FASE) with faculty supervisor Prof. Jennifer Drake. Frizzi plays for the U of T Varsity Blues Women’s Lacrosse team as a midfielder (jersey # 16). (Photo by Phill Snel, CivMin)

You’re exploring this now, but what specific research would you like to pursue?

I am part of the GRITLab [Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory] research group with a focus on green roof systems. What I will be working on is identifying the feasibility of different soilless materials for green roofs. Typically, a plant system has a soil base and is rooted like that, but it can be very heavy for structures on top of roof. There’s been some experimentation with lighter weight and soilless material, so I’ll be researching different types and will be implementing those different materials into this roof system.


Is it technically known as soilless, or do we call them growing mediums?

Growing medium is the overall term for all of them. There’s soil, soilless and sometimes there’s blue roofs which are essentially just water.

With blue green roofs there’s a thicker layer for the water catchment and then it still has that green roof on top of it. It just holds a little bit more water, but water is heavy, so you have to balance it with the structural integrity of the building. You don’t want to have to build a new building just to have a green roof, so you adapt to what the existing roof can hold.


In Vermont you were involved in athletics and you continue to be here at U of T. Could you touch on your past and what you’re doing here?

The University of Vermont is a Division One school for sports, like lacrosse, so it’s very competitive. Our division was America East, so we played other northeastern U.S. schools.

I take pride in my process with joining the team there, as I wasn’t originally committed to be on the team. In the States students “commit” when they’re in sophomore year of high school, so the 10th grade, and they select the school they want to play for. For me, I picked Vermont for the program, and the school atmosphere, first and then walked onto the team after a tryout.

I really take pride in choosing my school first and making sure I like this school and the environment that I’m in. And then I get to play the sport I love as a cherry on top.
And that’s how it also worked with U of T – I found the program, applied to it and then randomly I was wondering if they have athletics there. I looked up on their website and found there’s a lacrosse team and then contacted the coach, Jesse Porter. She responded, “We would love to see what you’ve got. Here’s our tryout schedule, come on out.” I made the team and it’s great, because, once again, I first chose the school with the program I love. And now I get to keep playing the sport I love.


How have you successfully managed to mix your academic pursuits and sporting endeavors? Perhaps you can talk about the mix of how you make it work with the scheduling and demands for your time.

At the University of Vermont it was definitely a lot more intensive for both training and my school schedule. I was taking five classes a semester with my engineering degree and I would be practicing three to four hours every day. I’ve always done sports my whole life, even when I was younger I played lacrosse and soccer in the same season. And so I’ve been really used to the routine of wake up, go to school, go to practice, do homework, eat some dinner, and go to practice again. I kind of like sports in that it gives me time management, so if I’m not at practice or not at class, I have to be doing work or, honestly, going to bed.

I like the structure it gives me and here [at U of T] it is a little less rigorous of a training schedule and I’m only taking three classes, so I do have a little bit more free time, which is kind of nice, but that will definitely get filled up as my research gets more intensive. It’s also nice to have lacrosse as an escape from the school life. It’s the one time, for two or three hours, when I can just forget about all the deadlines I have.


Does competitive sports give you another social, or support, network?

Oh yes. I got really close with the girls on my undergrad team, and I’ve already gotten close with the girls on this team at U of T. It’s great because I am one of the older people on the team, being a graduate student. They also have a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering [Kristie Liu, BME PhD candidate] and another grad student doing a Masters of Public Health [Olivia Hofmann, MPH candidate], but the girls are all very inclusive.

Another thing that drew me to my participation on the team was, because I didn’t know how much time I would have for sports with my classes and my research, the coach was very flexible. She’s adamant about allowing you to come and practice whenever you have time. Obviously if you don’t attend many practices, you probably won’t play games, but basically it’s great to have this policy.

She’s had medical students do it before and would come to a practice here or there and just help the other girls get better as well and provide some numbers for drills. School has always been first, no matter what my situation, but it’s nice to know I can still play in some capacity on the team, depending on my time commitments.


Have you found, since you’ve got the experience and a couple of years on your teammates, this experience has been a benefit to the younger players? Have you found yourself in more of a leadership role?

Yes. I’ve definitely found myself displaying more leadership with the team. Sometimes there’s questions about how to run certain defensive movements, or even just overall skills like that. I have been approached by the younger players for tips and for other help like that.

But I am still learning as well. It’s interesting to see the different coaching styles from the States and in Canada, and just how people play in general. It’s very cool that I’m learning their style of play and then, in turn, I get to share my style of play that I’m used to. It’s great to be the kind of leader on the team so that people are comfortable asking me questions. It’s very humbling and just great to be able to grow the knowledge of lacrosse together and just grow with everyone.


Do you have any tips for other students who would be coming to campus for the first time or downtown Toronto for the first time?

I guess the first thing I did was obviously get familiar with the campus. Before the first day of classes I figured out what buildings I would be in and would go walk around to see how much time it took me to get from my place to the various buildings. A good place to start is doing a self-guided tour, especially if formal tours are still not available because of COVID. Definitely get familiar with the campus, so just walking around is a good thing to do.

I had to get used to the transitions and timing. I didn’t know this about this at first, but there’s such thing as “U of T time” here. I had a class that ends at 3 p.m. and another one starting at 3 p.m., and I was wondering how am I supposed to make this work? It turns out classes start 10 minutes after the hour, giving you time to get from one building to the other.

Another suggestion is to find a study spot early on. I found one that’s in the new student centre [Student Commons], as it’s in the same building my lab is in – my lab is on the roof of it, so it’s convenient. Some people prefer libraries. Just try to find what works best for you. Some people like working with some activity or noise in the background, while some people need total silence. At a big school like this, with so many libraries and so many places to do work, there’s a lot of spaces to choose from.

Also, some other advice is to be really open to new networking or social events, though it might seem cheesy, but definitely explore those opportunities. There’s SGS [School of Graduate Studies] events too all the time being promoted, so pay attention to those emails. I attended the graduate student mixer at the Maddie [Madison]. It was really cool. I got to meet some other people who came out. There’s many who stayed from their U of T undergrad to do a grad, so they already have people that they have formed a group with. It’s really nice, being a new person at U of T, to meet new people here.


What’s next? We know you’re just beginning, but what’s on the horizon here for you?

In the near future I will be doing a lot of literature review to develop a structure for research I’ll be conducting in the summer. I need to figure out what materials we want to use as soilless materials. I need to see what other research has been done with those various materials to have a background to build on. Or maybe glean information from other studies on materials or procedures.

Also, I’ll be holding a lot of meetings with my professor [Prof. Jennifer Drake] about getting this all together. There are planting beds on the rooftops that will all be gutted and cleaned out for the new plantings to be started in the summer.

Right now, this first year, the first two semesters I will be concentrating on finishing all my classes I need for my degree. I will also be doing a lot of side little research participation as a task of just getting myself familiar with the system and the lab and what my topic is on.

Then, come the summer and the whole second year of my program, I will be doing the hands-on research, called analysis. Then it’s writing and the thesis, which is the real meat of the research.


You have a pretty full schedule of sports and academics. is there time for something else just for yourself?

While it’s warm I try to walk around. If I’m going to a certain store, I try to walk there so I can see what’s around the surrounding areas and in between. The public transportation here is amazing, but sometimes if you take the subway, you don’t see where you’re going on during the journey. The streetcars are nice because you can still see, and it’s at a faster pace.
I also try to do some biking.

With all the rigorous school and brain-intensive stuff that I do, at the end of the day I try to read a little bit. Sometimes, when the last thing I want do is more reading, I just throw on some TV. I’ve also met a couple of people within my building, and through school, that I hang out with on the weekend. When I was still new to Toronto, back in August and September, I managed to take in a couple of Blue Jays games and experience the city like a regular Torontonian.

By Phill Snel

Giuliana Frizzi (jersey #16) playing for the women’s lacrosse Varsity Blues team at the University of Toronto Varsity Stadium (vs Trent University) on Saturday October 2, 2021. Frizzi (MASc Candidate) is a graduate student in the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering (CivMin) in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering (FASE) with faculty supervisor Prof. Jennifer Drake. (Photo by Phill Snel, CivMin)

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