Posts Tagged: CivMin

U of T researchers win TRB Urban Freight Transportation Paper Award

Diagram of the winning proposal.

Congratulations to University of Toronto authors Tufayel Chowdhury, James Vaughan, Marc Saleh, Kianoush Mousavi, Marianne Hatzopoulou, PhD, and Matthew J. Roorda, PhD, who received the Best Applied Research Paper Award for their paper “Modeling Impacts of Off-peak Delivery in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area” from the Transportation Research Board’s Standing Committee on Urban Freight Transportation (AT025).

The research was sponsored by The Atmospheric Fund, Region of Peel, City of Toronto and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

The paper award was presented at TRB in Washington, DC on January 10, 2022.

Originally posted by UTTRI

Meet your CivMin club leaders

Min Club President Joleia Bucad (L), Civ Club Vice-Chair Bo Zhao, and CivMin GSA President Praveen Siluvai Antony (R).

Entering this academic year with a renewed sense of optimism, the leaders of CivMin’s student clubs are on a mission to restore pre-pandemic levels of student involvement while continuing to support undergraduate and graduate students in their academic, professional and personal journeys here at the University of Toronto.

We recently chatted with each club leader to discuss their goals for the year and to get to know them a bit better.

Meet Civ Club Vice-Chair. Bo Zhao

Meet Min Club Chair Joleia Bucad

Meet GSA President Praveen Siluvai Antony







Meet Civ Club Vice-Chair Bo Zhao

Bo Zhao (Year 3 CivE) is Civ Club Vice-Chair for 2021-2022. (Photo courtesy Bo Zhao)


We are recognizing the student leaders making a difference at CivMin this academic year, and we recently chatted with Civ Club Vice-Chair Bo Zhao. There is no Chair for Civ Club this school year, so in line with the constitution, Zhao takes on Chair duties as Vice-Chair.


What’s your goal this year as Civ Club’s designated leader?

My main goal is trying to recover the in-person opportunities we had in Civ Club before the pandemic. Hopefully, we can get the green light for the Dinner Dance to be held in the winter semester as well. Another goal of mine is to try and improve mental health and well-being in Civ while ensuring everybody’s academic concerns are taken care of throughout our program.


The Civ Club Common Room reopened about a month ago. What has the response been? 

Civ Club Common Room in Galbraith Building

On a practical level, it just gives people a space to eat their lunches and study, but I think most importantly it’s there to foster a connection between students. I remember back when I was in my first year, I met a lot of my upper-year classmates through the common room and the CivMin computer labs. Now with the space open, hopefully, we can start revitalizing the student community as we recover from the pandemic.


What is Civ Club?  

It’s about making sure everybody feels like they’re going into a program where they spend four or five years with the tools and support to improve themselves and not feel too stressed about school. We’re also here to make the little changes to help improve our student experience bit by bit, however, we can through academic or social activities.


How did you first get involved with Civ Club?  

I started last year as a mentorship director. I oversaw coordinating the mentorship program of upper-year mentors and first-year mentees. We try to develop social events and exam review sessions. My role was particularly important last year as we helped first-year students transition to university when it was a fully online experience.


What are some of your tips for people that are just getting to discover campus in person for the first time? 

The 4th-floor computer labs in the Goldcorp Mining Innovation Suite

I recommend just going outside of the engineering corner of campus, at least once, just to take a walk. It’s nice to see the whole university and going for a walk can help de-stress you as well. I also recommend visiting the common room and the mining 4th-floor computer lab (Goldcorp Mining Innovation Suite), once it’s open, which are basically open 24-7. So if you need a spot to be somewhere late or really early, they’re always open for people to use.




What’s your favourite spot to grab a bite to eat on campus? 

For me, it’s probably the green food truck outside of Bahen (BA) because it’s so conveniently placed 


How can students get involved with the Civ Club? 

Email us if you guys have any ideas of how you think you want to improve the student community, we’ll do our best to work with you to make it happen.  


What do you like to do in your spare time when you’re not studying? 

On Friday nights I’m usually playing in the Toronto Chinese Orchestra. I play the Erhu (Chinese-bowed fiddle). It’s been a great way to destress, and I recommend people do activities outside of engineering to find another community one can be a part of.  


By David Goldberg 



Visit Civ Club’s website for more info and follow them on all social media channels:  



Instagram: @civclub 

Twitter: @civclub 


This low-cost smart sensor can help optimize interventions to improve water quality and public health

SmartSpouts — low-cost sensors embedded in these water filters — can track when and for how long the spigot is open. More than 200 of them have been successfully deployed in a radomized controlled trial in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. (Photo: David Meyer)

A sensor known as the SmartSpout, designed in part by U of T Engineering professor David Meyer (CivMin, CGEN) has been successfully deployed in a large-scale field trial in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. 

Prof. David Meyer

 The results, published in Environmental Science & Technology, showcase the power of rich datasets gathered by low-cost sensors to improve public health by helping governments and development agencies hone in on both technological and social interventions that have the greatest impact. 

“Let’s say you want to improve drinking water quality, so you distribute a whole bunch of household water filters,” says Meyer. “Well, if nobody is using the filters, they don’t help anyone. Understanding usage — who is using them, when, how consistently, and why or why not — is critical to designing more effective interventions.” 

One way to determine usage is through surveys. But just as with any type of poll, responses given by the participants don’t necessarily match their behaviour. 

“When you go to the dentist, you probably claim you floss every day, whether or not you actually do,” says Meyer. “One of the big advantages of a sensor is that you can learn about what people are actually doing.”  

 The development of the SmartSpout started about eight years ago, when Meyer and one of his co-authors, Professor Natasha Wright of the University of Minnesota, were both graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

“We were taking the same civil engineering graduate course, taught by Professor Susan Murcott,” says Meyer. “She had had this idea for a new kind of sensor, and when she found out we were both mechanical engineers, she asked us if we could build a prototype.” 

Meyer and Wright have been working together on this project ever since.  

The idea was simple: the sensor would attach to the spigot of a water container equipped with a purification technology, such as a filter or chemical tablets. Using an accelerometer similar to that found in most smartphones, the sensor would detect and log how long the spigot is held open for and at what time. 

While the SmartSpout is not the first sensor designed to track the usage of such interventions, it distinguishes itself from the competition by its simplicity and low cost. 

Using an accelerometer rather than a flow meter that directly measures how much water is flowing was one cost-saving innovation. Another was the use of near-field communication, rather than technologies such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. 

Together, these two design changes reduce power consumption and enable the sensor to be about one-tenth the cost of comparable products. 

By 2017, the sensor was ready to be deployed in a two-year randomized control trial, organized by the University of Virginia and the University of Venda in Thohoyandou, South Africa. The field-study was led by Professor Pascal Bessong at the University of Venda and Professor Elizabeth Rogawski McQuade at the University of Virginia. 

A year later, the team collected data from 232 households in Limpopo Province. Households received one of three types of water storage containers: one containing a water filter, one containing tablet that released antimicrobial silver ions, and one without either of these two technologies.  

The findings confirmed that surveys are not very accurate: they overestimated consistent usage by 53 percentage points when compared with the sensors.  

“We found this huge range, from households that use it every single day, to households that almost never use it,” says Meyer. “This is important when you consider what other teams have shown, which is that even if you use the filter 90% of the time, you’re only getting 4% of the health benefits. So consistent use is key.” 

It only takes one drink of contaminated water to become infected with a pathogen. And the more times that happens, especially early in life, the more likely it is to lead to chronic effects, such as damaged tissue in the intestines that can lower nutrient absorption and lead to other health effects, such as stunting. 

“If we can push those households that are at 90% usage up to 100%, that can have almost 10-times the impact than going from 50% to 60%,” says Meyer. “And we need sensors like these to help us find the households at 90%.” 

Rather than try to patent the design of the SmartSpout, Meyer and his collaborators have decided to leave it in the public domain. Their hope is that other groups — including development organizations and even potentially the companies that manufacture water filtration devices — take the idea and run with it. 

“I like the idea of use-it-or-lose-it schemes, where you can tell if the water treatment device is being used, and if it’s not, you can give it to someone else,” he says. “To do that, you need sensors that are cheaper than the devices themselves. With the SmartSpout, we’re roughly at cost parity, so it’s a big step toward being able to deploy these everywhere.” 

By Tyler Irving

This story originally published by Engineering News

CECA U of T Team Participates in the Electrical Contracting Innovation Challenge

By: Mahia Anhara (Year 3, CivE on PEY), Co-Project Manager of CECA U of T Student Chapter


CECA U of T is the student chapter for the Canadian Electrical Contractors Association. Our student-led club brings together like-minded students, who are interested in finding sustainable building solutions.

We are participating in the annual international competition called the Electrical Contracting Innovation Challenge (ECIC), where students are challenged to design an innovative electrical system for a new residence hall on our respective university campuses that will meet the needs of the building occupants. This competition is organized by the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). 

The U of T ECIC team consists of over 35 students from various programs, such as engineering and architecture. The team is further divided into five sub-teams, each focusing on a unique aspect of this competition: Lighting, Building Energy Management, Smart Building Design, Building Information Modelling, and Project Management. The sub-teams have worked very hard in the last three months to propose innovative and cost-effective electrical solutions for a potential U of T dorm.   

The Lighting team has proposed 11 different fixtures of LED lights for the entire building. The lights can be dimmed and timed due to the integration of KNX building automation systems, leading to energy savings. 

The Building Energy Management team has proposed rooftop solar panels for on-site electricity generation, an all-electric variant refrigerant flow (VRF) HVAC system for heating/cooling, and smart temperature meters to regulate the internal environment. These systems contribute to the sustainability and net-zero goals of the building. 

The Smart Building Design (SBD) team proposed several technologies to provide residents with an enhanced occupant experience. The areas they focused on are security, access control, communication, hands-free control, and building automation systems. Examples of the SBD systems include smart card technology for accessing dorm rooms, IP addressed security systems, wide coverage mesh router system for reliable internet connection, and various app-based touchless technologies. 

The Building Information Modelling team has produced a 3D model on Revit of the electrical solutions consisting of symbolic components for over 50+ fixtures. This team has also created construction drawings and shop drawings as a part of the proposal.  

The Project Management team has developed the cost estimate for the proposed systems accounting for material, labour, equipment, and indirect costs while adhering to the project budget of $2.3 million USD. In addition, the PM team has created a detailed construction schedule for the proposed work that meets the client’s timeline.         

The competition has been extremely rewarding for the team. We asked some of the participants about their experience. Here are some of their answers:

"My experience in the ECIC has been simply amazing. It was great to be part of a team that collaborated in terms of creativity, communication, and research. I gained exposure regarding the industry and learned a lot about the number of details that go into building a comfortable living environment." - Shikhar Chaurasia  (Track One, 2T4)


“ECIC has been a challenging competition that would not succeed without supportive members and hard-working team leads. I am impressed by the commitment shown by my colleagues and I have learned much about electronics and building automation from research and discussions.” -James Kwok (CivE, 2T3)


“Being a part of the BIM team, I learned how to use Revit to draw electrical drawings and create important elements such as lighting symbols, switches, and Revit families, etc. thanks to the informative and practical workshop sessions hosted by our Lead and CECA. I got to see how the different systems of the building come together in the model and learned how to organize them to make modelling work more efficient. It was a fun and great experience!” - Jane Gao (CivE, 2T1+ PEY)

We would like to say thank you to every member of the CECA U of T team for all their hard work and dedication this year and ELECTRI and NECA for giving us the opportunity to participate in this rewarding competition.

U of T ECIC team members participating in the virtual competition kickoff meeting

Editor's note: CECA U of T will submit its proposal on Friday, April 30, 2021

U of T Entrepreneurship Week: Four engineering startups to watch

From left: HOPE Pet Foods; Xesto; Themis; and, Reeddi

With nearly a dozen startup incubators and accelerators spread across its three campuses, the University of Toronto is a thriving hotbed of entrepreneurial activity — even amid the pandemic.

U of T Engineering entrepreneurs and their startups are finding innovative solutions to pressing problems — all while creating jobs and strengthening Canada’s innovation ecosystem.

As U of T’s virtual Entrepreneurship Week kicks off, here are four exciting U of T Engineering startups to keep an eye on in 2021:


Olugbenga Olubanjo (back row, second from left) poses for a photo with members of the Reeddi team, local community members and his startup’s power-providing capsules during a pilot project in Ayegun, Nigeria (photo courtesy of Olugbenga Olubanjo)

Clean energy startup Reeddi has developed a portable tool that provides clean and affordable electricity to individuals, households and businesses in energy-poor regions of the world.

Founded by Olugbenga Olubanjo (CivE MASc 1T9), who has personal experience of growing up in energy-poor communities in Nigeria, the company provides portable energy via compact capsules that are charged at solar-powered stations located in communities. Customers rent the capsules at an affordable price and are incentivized to return them on time by earning credits that can go toward future rentals.

For Olubanjo, who earned a master of applied science in civil engineering at U of T, helping and giving back has always been central to his entrepreneurial outlook.

“At the end of the day, it’s not only about making money. Anyone can make money, but it’s about the happiness that you give people,” says Olubanjo. “Just knowing that my innovation could have a positive impact on people’s lives – oh my God, there’s no feeling like that in life.”

Reeddi received support from the Entrepreneurship Hatchery and the Lo Family Social Venture Fund.

HOPE Pet Foods

Sofia Bonilla, a U of T post-doctoral researcher who is preparing to launch a line of alternative-protein pet foods, already has her dog Snuffie gobbling up insect-based treats (photo courtesy of Sofia Bonilla)

Bugs aren’t on most dog and cat owners’ pet food shopping lists, but U of T Mississauga’s HOPE Pet Foods is looking to change that by using insects and other alternative sources of protein to produce pet foods that are both eco-friendly and nutritious.

Founded by postdoctoral researcher Sofia Bonilla (ChemE), HOPE Pet Foods is producing dog food made with insect proteins and cat food made with algae-based proteins.

Bonilla, the mother of two small children and owner of an enthusiastic insect-protein-eating dog named Snuffie, was recently a semifinalist in Scotiabank’s Total Mom Pitch Competition. HOPE Pet Foods also picked up the second place prize in the Adams Sustainability Innovation Prize and has received support from U of T’s Lo Family Social Venture Fund.

“What we think we can bring to the market is an evidence-based, scientific approach, where we are really looking at the evidence behind dog nutrition and the best possible protein is the one with all the amino acids, but is also sustainable,” Bonilla recently said, adding that HOPE Pet Foods’ products will also appeal to consumers who care about their products being cruelty-free.


Using the iPhone’s TrueDepth camera, Xesto offers a free app that allows users to take pictures of their feet in order to obtain an accurate shoe size (image courtesy of Xesto)

The iPhone’s TrueDepth camera may have been designed with facial recognition in mind, but U of T startup Xesto has developed a way to use the technology so you can find perfectly fitting footwear.

The UTEST startup, whose co-founders worked with researchers in The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE), offers a free app that allows users to take pictures of their feet in order to obtain an accurate shoe size. The Xesto Fit app then references the output with the sizing guidelines of over 150 shoe brands.

Xesto has been granted one patent for its process and has another pending, with CEO and co-founder Sophie Howe saying the startup’s involvement in UTEST was a big step forward.

“It was our entry to the U of T startup community, which has provided us with an incredible amount of resources and a launchpad that enabled our growth,” said Howe.


The team from Themis uses AI to create a Microsoft Office add-in that saves hours of time drafting legal papers. The students’ startup pitch took home the grand prize at this year’s Demo Day (photo courtesy of Themis)

Themis, a startup whose co-founders include U of T Engineering students Cindy Chen (Year 4 EngSci) and Amardeep Singh (Year 3 ChemE), has developed an AI program that helps significantly reduce the time it takes to draft legal contracts.

The company’s AI-powered Microsoft Word add-in automatically builds a library of clauses from a lawyer’s precedents and makes those available within Word.

Last September, Themis took home the $20,000 top prize at Demo Day, the culmination of an intensive four-month entrepreneurship and mentorship program at the Entrepreneurship Hatchery at U of T Engineering.

“There are no competitors who provide this fully integrated solution out of the box,” said Rishi Dhir, one of two lawyers — alongside Jey Kumarasamy — who co-founded the company with Chen and Singh.

Going forward, Themis is looking to continue to test its prototype and partner with small law firms across Canada to garner feedback.

By: Rahul Kalvapalle
Original story published in U of T Engineering News

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

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


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

An upgraded facility at U of T Engineering — one that is unique in the world — will let engineers test next-generation infrastructure designed to be resilient in the face of natural disasters, from hurricanes to earthquakes.

A grant announced today from CFI’s Innovation Fund 2020 will fund a suite of new tools and equipment to be housed within U of T Engineering’s existing Structural Testing Facility. They will be used to design everything from elevated highways to high-rise residential buildings to nuclear power plants, including replacements for legacy structures across North America.

“Much of our infrastructure is decades old and needs to be replaced,” says Professor Constantin Christopoulos (CivMin), the project leader and Canada Research Chair in Seismic Resilience of Infrastructure.

“The scientific and engineering communities, along with governments and the private sector, are becoming increasingly aware of the inherent vulnerability of our infrastructure. We also need to design new structures to address new pressures, such as a rapidly growing Canadian population, and more frequent extreme weather scenarios due to a changing climate.”

The centrepiece of this new development is the world’s first fully movable, adjustable multidirectional, large-scale and large-capacity loading frame.

“This unique piece of equipment will allow structural elements and structural systems to be tested under more realistic loading conditions,” says Christopoulos. “We’ll be able to better simulate the complex effects of extreme loading events, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes or tsunamis.”

The adjustable, multi-dimensional loading module will be capable of applying up to a total of 2,000 tonnes of force in six translational and rotational directions for specimens of up to eight metres tall and thirty metres long.

The project will also include new state-of-the-art sensing equipment and the redesign of 500 square metres of lab space. Construction is expected to begin in 2022.

To make full use of it, Christopoulos will be working with a large team of experts from within and beyond U of T Engineering. Project partners include U of T Engineering professors Oh-Sung KwonEvan BentzOya Mercan and Jeffrey Packer (all CivMin). This team is also collaborating with a team of structural engineering and large-scale testing experts at other leading North American facilities to develop, commission and use this unique equipment. Collaborating institutions include:

  • Western University’s WindEEE and Boundary Layer Wind Tunnels
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of Sherbrooke
  • Polytechnique Montreal
  • University of Illinois

Once completed, the new facility will be used for research by 10 professors from U of T and their national and international collaborators. It is also expected that it will allow for dozens of unique graduate student research projects and industry tests every year once it is fully operational.

Together this team will be able to carry out a technique known as “distributed hybrid simulations.” This means that full-scale portions of real structures — such as concrete pillars or steel beams — will be tested simultaneously in each of these labs across North America.

By integrating all of these physical tests into a single numerical model, they can use the experimental feedback of each of the large-scale elements to more realistically simulate the response of the entire infrastructure system to extreme loading conditions. The data from the physical experiments will be integrated in real-time with models run using high-performance computers and the UT-SIM integration platform.

“This facility will enhance our capabilities not only here at U of T, and across Canada, but will position Canadian engineers as global leaders in the area of structural resilience” says Christopoulos. “It is a critical step toward designing the resilient cities of the future.”

By Tyler Irving

This article originally published on Engineering News

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.

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