Tackling social and systemic change: Meet U of T Engineering’s 2020 Loran Scholar

Loran Scholar 2020


Margaux Roncière is among four U of T undergraduate students and 36 recipients across Canada to receive the Loran Award this year.


Margaux 
Roncière (Year 1 TrackOne) may have just begun her studies at U of T Engineering, but Roncière is already well on her way to becoming a leader in the community.

Roncière is among four U of T undergraduate students and 36 recipients across Canada to receive the Loran Award this year. The award, valued at $100,000 over the course of four years, recognizes students who, in addition to academic achievement, have demonstrated their character and made positive changes in their communities.

Offered to students in their final year of high school, Loran Scholars must maintain a minimum cumulative grade point average of 85 per cent. However, what makes this award unique is its emphasis on character and the belief that “integrity, courage, grit and personal autonomy are better indicators of overall potential than standard academic measures.”

Diagne, Mitchell, Thompson and Roncière faced stiff competition for the Loran Award, having been selected from a pool of more than 5,000 students.

Roncière published a book in high school about an international co-operation project that aimed to develop female leadership in Senegal. She also worked on humanitarian projects in Benin and Nepal.

Now at U of T Engineering, Roncière wants to continue pursuing innovative solutions to humanitarian crises. She says she was drawn to U of T’s engineering program because its “outstanding reputation demonstrates its quality of education and its commitment to innovate.”

“I’m particularly interested in sustainability and social impact, and I believe technology can be a great lever for that,” says Roncière, who is from Dorval, Que.

Roncière was a member of her school’s United Nations club and several student committees. As a first-year engineering student, she is pursuing projects that focus on tackling global development and social and systemic change.

“I joined the Engineers without Borders chapter on Indigenous Reconciliation,” Roncière says.

“In the future, I’d also like to get more involved in policy and mental health advocacy, especially within the engineering faculty.”

Learn more about U of T’s 2020 Loran Scholars.

Article originally published at U of T Engineering News on November 20, 2020. Article by Emily Allison.


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Dean’s World Tour: Checking in with U of T Engineering students across the globe

Dean's World Tour Zoom Snapshot


Dean Christopher Yip met virtually with undergraduate students in time zones around the world during the first-ever Dean’s World Tour on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020.

This week, U of T Engineering Dean Christopher Yip took a virtual trip around the world.

Using the digital meeting platform Zoom, Dean Yip facilitated a series of open discussions for undergraduate students, who are currently studying remotely in dozens of locations around the world — from Toronto to Tehran to Taipei — due to public health restrictions put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“We wanted to do this session because we are now more than halfway through the semester, which is the time when the stress level naturally starts to inch up a bit,” said Dean Yip in his opening remarks.

“I want to hear from you about what’s working and what isn’t, but I also want to give you a chance to connect with other students in your time zone who may be going through the same challenges you are.”

More than 100 students registered for the three sessions, each of which was scheduled at times convenient for a certain section of the globe. Session 1 covered Southeast and East Asia, while Session 2 covered Europe, Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East. Session 3 was aimed at students in North, Central and South America.

The Dean was joined by front-line staff including academic advisors, learning strategists and the Faculty’s registrar and Mental Health Programs Officer.

Also joining were more than a dozen alumni, from recent graduates to seasoned professionals. Each shared their own experiences on how students can make the most of their time at Skule™, how to network and prepare for future career opportunities, and offered to connect with those in their regions of the world.

“I was really grateful to get a chance to talk to Faculty, alumni, and students from U of T Engineering because it demonstrated the support and availability of the community from all over the world,” said Carmelle Chatterjee (Year 3 ChemE), who attended remotely from Frankfurt, Germany.

“Especially in these times. it’s nice to get a reminder of what we all have in common and how we can connect, regardless of our background or where we may be situated in the world.”

This event was the first of its kind, but it likely won’t be the last. U of T Engineering has extended its Remote Access Guarantee for the Winter semester.

I’ve been so gratified and impressed to see how everyone has handled the current situation, using their engineering talent to develop creative solutions to unusual challenges,” said Dean Yip. “Going forward, I think it’s really important to continue to maintain our strong community, form new connections and for me to hear directly from students.

Article originally published in the U of T Engineering News on November 13, 2020. Article by Tyler Irving.


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Three-peat victory: U of T Engineering team wins AutoDrive Challenge, Year Three

Zeus, a self-driving car. The car has a blue and white paint job.


Zeus, shown here outside the Myhal Centre in October 2019, is a self-driving car designed and built by aUToronto, a student-led team from U of T Engineering. This week, aUToronto placed first overall in the three-year AutoDrive Challenge, an intercollegiate competition between eight top engineering schools across North America. (Photo: Liz Do)

aUToronto has placed first in an intercollegiate challenge to transform an electric car into a self-driving one — their third consecutive win.

“All of us take pride in the work that we have done at aUToronto,” says Jingxing “Joe” Qian (EngSci 1T8 + PEY, UTIAS MASc candidate), Team Lead for aUToronto. “The competition results clearly reflect the high calibre and dedication of the team.”

The team also took the top overall prize for the most cumulative points over the three years of the AutoDrive Challenge. Second place went to Texas A & M, with Virginia Tech scoring third. The other schools in the competition were: University of Waterloo, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, North Carolina A&T State, and Kettering University.

The AutoDrive Challenge began in 2017, when each of the student-led teams was provided with a brand-new electric vehicle, a Chevrolet Bolt. Their task was to convert it into an autonomous vehicle, meeting yearly milestones along the way.

Sponsors of the AutoDrive include General Motors, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and a number of other companies that produce hardware and software for self-driving cars.

The U of T team took the top spot at the first meet of the competition, held in the spring of 2018 at the General Motors Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz. In the second year, they again placed first at the competition, which took place in MCity, a simulated town for self-driving vehicle testing, built at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The third yearly meet was originally scheduled to take place last spring at the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, Ohio. However, it was postponed and reorganized due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“The goal of this year’s challenge was to simulate an autonomous ride-sharing scenario,” says Qian. “That means the car needed to arrive at a sequence of pre-determined address points and perform pseudo pick-up and drop-off behaviours. The routes would have been much longer and more complex compared with Year 2.”

In the absence of a live event, the organizers used what are known as “static event” scores, which are based on reports and presentations that the teams could submit remotely. These included an analysis of the social responsibility aspects of the project, the overall conceptual design and the results of a number of sophisticated computer simulations.

Qian says that the latest iteration of Zeus includes a number of enhancements, including improvements in perception, path planning and GPS-free localization. To make them, the aUToronto team overcame numerous challenges, not the least of which was coordinating more than 50 team members who were working remotely on the project.

“We are located in many different places around the world, so team building and organization becomes extremely important,” says Qian. “We have weekly meetings online where sub-team leads present their updates to the rest of the team, and we have also been planning virtual paper talks and knowledge sharing sessions.”

“aUToronto has been focused on putting together a top-notch self driving car for three years now,” says Keenan Burnett (EngSci 1T6+PEY, UTIAS MASc candidate), who served as aUToronto’s Team Lead through the first two years of the AutoDrive Challenge. “This win is the result of hundreds of hours of work by our team.”

“As a faculty advisor, I have watched with awe as the 100%-student-run team really seized this unique opportunity,” says Professor Tim Barfoot (UTIAS). Barfoot, along with Professor Angela Schoellig (UTIAS) is one of the two co-Faculty Leads of the team. He also serves as Associate Director of the University of Toronto Robotics Institute and the Chair of the Robotics Option offered by the Division of Engineering Science.

“Robotics is a very hands-on discipline, so experiences such as the AutoDrive Challenge are needed to complement classroom learning,” says Barfoot “I am deeply grateful to SAE and GM for organizing this activity and the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering for their ongoing support through the Dean’s Strategic Fund.   I feel our graduates are better prepared to head into the exciting field of autonomous vehicles than perhaps anywhere in the world at this moment in time.  The fact that we won the competition is a bonus.”

The competition has been rolled into a fourth year, with a live meet set to take place sometime in 2021, again at MCity in Ann Arbour, Mich.

“We’re very proud the results of this third-year competition and looking forward to raising the bar yet again at the fourth-year competition,” says Burnett. “Although we’re disappointed we didn’t get to show off our autonomous functions this year, we’re looking forward to going back to MCity and demonstrating our Level 4 self-driving car.”

But aUToronto is also thinking beyond the end of the AutoDrive Challenge.

“We’ve always said we do not want to design a system that is specific towards this competition,” says Qian. “Our goal is to achieve full autonomy under many different scenarios.”

Article first published at U of T Engineering News on October 2, 2020. Article by Tyler Irving.


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Back to Skule™: Mental wellness strategies for students

Working from home

Photo via Envato.

This year, U of T Engineering students are preparing for a very different back-to-school season. Keeping mental health in mind will be more important than ever. 

Below, U of T Engineering’s Mental Health Programs Officer Melissa Fernandes lays out some advice on how students can effectively deal with some of the new challenges they may be facing. 


Challenge #1 — A sedentary, screen-filled day  

While faculty and staff have been working to ensure that your learning can happen asynchronously where possible to accommodate your daily schedules, it is likely that you will be spending a significant portion of your day on a screen. 

This is unavoidable, so be sure to take care of your body by taking breaks. Get up, move and look beyond your screen. Make sure that you get in all the things your body needs: 

  • Seven to nine hours of sleep 
  • Nutritious meals and snacks 
  • Lots of water (and yes, I will say it, using the toilet as needed!) 

Remember, mental and physical health are fundamentally linked. What’s good for the body is good for the brain! 

Challenge #2 — Finding community & supports  

Usually, orientation events help to break the ice and showcase opportunities for students to engage with each other in social settings. 

Many of this year’s orientation events were shifted to online delivery, but it still may have been a bit more difficult to make these connections.  

The important thing to note is that these opportunities (clubs, societies, resources) all still exist and for the most part are all continuing with their mandates. So, it’s not too late if you are looking to get connected to a resource offered here at U of T. 

Check out these resources for more information on joining anEngineering specific club/team,a U of T club/organizationor to explore the resources available throughout campus consider downloading the Student Life App. 

Challenge #3 — Staying motivated 

As you attend classes and complete homework assignments in your room, on your own, in the midst of a global pandemic that may bring up feelings of grief, fear, and a looming second wave it may be challenging to stay motivated. This will be even more difficult if you are met with challenging concepts, a rigorous workload, and possibly grades that are lower than you expected. 

In these times, remember that resilience is a process that involves using the resources we have around us, and inside of us, to promote our well-being. When you are met with challenge or failure, reframe it as a learning opportunity and reach out for support. By doing this, you will be displaying your ability to have a grit and growth mindset.  

You may choose to reach out to: 

The important thing is that you reach out to someonewe are all here to help you succeed! 

If things get to be too much to handle on your own or if you are recognizing that your mental health is beginning to affect the way that you would like to function, consider connecting with: 

 We are all in this together. Welcome to U of T Engineering! 

Melissa Fernandes

 

Article by Tyler Irving originally published September 9, 2020, at U of T Engineering News.


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How to work effectively when your team is both global and virtual

Solar Ship

A steel-tethered airship, known as an aerostat, designed by Solar Ship, Inc. The company is one of several clients whose projects are facilitated by U of T Engineering’s International Virtual Engineering Student Teams (InVEST) initiative. (Photo: Solar Ship, Inc.)

Last January, U of T Engineering launched a new program focused on using online collaboration tools to build effective, multidisciplinary design teams with members all over the world. Its creators could not have known how timely their efforts were.

“Prior to the pandemic, utilizing virtual-international teams was seen as a time and cost-saving approach to harness talent and maximize efficiency,” says Professor Elham Marzi (ISTEP). “In the present state, we are seeing organizations left with little choice but to embrace virtual-international teams as the best way forward.”

There are signs that the shift online caused by COVID-19 may continue even after the virus subsides. Already, major technology companies such as Twitter, Shopify and Facebook have told their employees that they can keep telecommuting indefinitely.

“This is the new global reality our graduates need to prepare for,” says Marzi.

The International Virtual Engineering Student Teams (InVEST) initiative facilitates virtual and cross-cultural collaboration by connecting U of T Engineering students with their peers at partner universities abroad.

Student teams undertake technical projects under the supervision of faculty members at partner universities. They also participate in value-added learning activities on technology use, effective teamwork and intercultural communication and understanding.

Together, these international, multidisciplinary teams complete design projects, sometimes for an external client, using a suite of software tools to communicate and track their progress.

InVEST is delivered by a team that includes:

  • Professor Elham Marzi (ISTEP), InVEST Director & Principal Investigator
  • Rahim Rezaie, InVEST Assistant Director
  • Debbie A. Mohammed, University & Industry Liaison
  • Anuli Ndubuisi (OISE), Research and Program Manager
  • Oluwatobi (Tobi) Edun, Operations & Research Manager
  • Patrick Ishimwe, Website & Social Media Developer

“Some of our students already travel abroad at some point in their degree programs,” says Rezaie. “But travel is expensive, and the students usually can’t stay away for more than a few weeks. Virtual collaboration offers a more scalable way for the university to enhance international experience for graduates.”

InVEST, which is supported by the Dean’s Strategic Fund, was designed to be compatible with existing experiential learning activities, such as fourth-year capstones courses, MEng research projects, or independent project courses.

However, at the request of U of T’s Centre for International Experience, the team has added a number of summer research exchanges that were moved online due to travel restrictions.

“What this program provides is the ability to have eyes and ears in more than one country,” says Edun. “This leads to a bigger and more diverse set of ideas around the table, and a richer experience for everyone involved.”

Jeff Mukuka (Year 4 CivE) is one of the participants. His project is a design exchange internship with Solar Ship, Inc., a company that designs tethered and mobile airships, known as aerostats, for applications ranging from tourism to freight transportation.

“Through InVEST, I’ve had the privilege of working with people from many countries, including the U.S., U.A.E., Nepal and Zambia,” says Mukuka. “The experience working with such a diverse team was transformational and I have made many lifelong friends.”

In addition to their design work, students in InVEST engage with educational modules that help them address some of the issues that come up during extended online collaboration.

“These days, we’re all learning that Zoom etiquette is important, that we need to be respectful when having a meeting that essentially lets your co-workers inside your home,” says Marzi. “That’s true whether you’re in Ecuador, Canada or Africa, but how it is perceived may vary from place to place, so we’re getting the students to think through that.”

InVEST Session

Students and staff from three InVEST projects participating in an intercultural learning session held July 16, 2020. Left to right, top to bottom: Tobi Edun, Professor Elham Marzi, Anuli Ndubuisi, Malama, Laura Williams, Mohamed Mbarouk, Matt Jagdeo, Sampanna Bhattarai, Chao Wang, Maryam Naqi, Rayni Li, Ali Khan, Carlos Qixiao, Jenny Li. (Photo courtesy Elham Marzi)

 

“I learned a lot from the modules: intercultural communication skills, group conflict resolution, and how to use software tools for virtual collaboration,” says Mukuka. “The skills I have acquired are invaluable, especially now that the future is projected to have more remote work even after COVID-19 ends.”

Mukuka’s project is one of four completed over the last several months, with others ongoing, involving a total of 24 students. These include 13 students from partner universities such as University of Johannesburg in South Africa, and the University of the West Indies in Trinidad.

Heading into the fall semester, the team will expand the program with more projects.

“We are in contact with more than fifteen universities around the world at the moment,” says Edun. “Some of the projects I’m excited about for the fall include one about biogas production, in partnership with Covenant University in Nigeria, as well as one about making power grids more resilient to lightning strikes, with Brazil’s Federal University of Minas Gerais.”

All members of the InVEST team agree that while online collaboration across cultures was already emerging as a critical skill for engineering graduates, the current situation has accelerated the trend.

“When we started out, we heard from partners that online collaboration would be complicated and cumbersome,” says Rezaie. “Our goal was to de-risk this approach, to show people that there was value in this kind of engagement. That value proposition has become a lot clearer over the past few months, which has led to much more interest.”

Visit the InVEST website to learn more about the program.

Article by Tyler Irving originally posted at U of T Engineering News. August 20, 2020.


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Students spark new solutions for COVID-19 challenges

Student Engagement Awards

From left: Lilian Kabelle (CivE MEng candidate), Marie Merci Ishimwe (ECE MEng candidate) and Ngone Lo (Faculty of Information). The team is building an “engineering think tank” to counteract the impact of COVID-19 in East Africa. (Photos courtesy of Lilian Kabelle)

As the COVID-19 pandemic rearranged the plans of students across U of T Engineering over the past few months, one question was on many minds: what can I do to help?

Now, dozens of students are taking action.

The U of T COVID-19 Student Engagement Awards were created to fund inspiring innovations designed to respond to the COVID-19 crisis to take flight. Across the University, more than 150 multidisciplinary teams have received up to $3,000 each to support development of their projects over the next three months.

A total of 47 U of T Engineering undergraduate and graduate students are leading or contributing to these teams. The Faculty has invested an additional $54,000 total to support the engineering projects, which address a wide range of issues, from hand hygiene to reduce the spread of the virus, to strategies to maintaining good mental health while in isolation.

“I feel very thrilled, grateful and inspired. As a team we are honored to have U of T’s support in our endeavours to make a difference,” says Lilian Kabelle (CivMin MEng candidate). Her team’s project envisions an “engineering think tank” which will bring together engineers of various disciplines to consider and counteract the impact and challenges of COVID-19 in East Africa.

Kabelle, who grew up in Kenya, believes this coordinated approach could identify and develop viable engineering solutions for issues that are complicating the fight against the virus.

“I have a burning desire to be a causative change agent for positive development in my home region, to whatever degree possible,” adds Kabelle, whose team also includes Marie Merci Ishimwe (ECE MEng candidate) and Ngone Lo (Faculty of Information).

Their team is currently building the think tank platform, gathering data to finalize the challenges to be tackled in the think tank, and confirming commitments from volunteer engineers to engage in the project.

The complete list of U of T Engineering projects includes:

    • The future of protein design: a machine learning approach to COVID-19 outbreak — Tianyu Lu, Joseph Bellissimo, Hannah So, Rochelle Wang, Shea-sarah Garcia, Danielle Serra, Rose Talebi, Edward Shen, Xiaotong Wang (ChemE), Adriana Díaz Lozano Patiño (EngSci), Gamen Liu (ChemE)
    • A proposal for the development of an App for self-reporting of COVID-19 associated symptoms — Sulaiman Jalloh (ChemE MEng candidate), Patrick Bampanga (ECE MEng candidate), Abhinav Mohan (MIE MASc candidate), Leticia Nndagang (MEng candidate), Kuda Masalila
    • The Global Artistic Manifestations of COVID-19 — Ben Sprenger (MechE), Ally Fraser (MechE)
    • Tackling Shortages of N95 Masks with a Simple, Effective, and Removable Desiccant Strip Design — Ziting (Judy) Xia (ChemE), Purushoth Thavendran (ChemE), Amro Aswad (ChemE), Jingyi (Jenny) Wei (MechE), Xiaoou (Bessie) Li (IndE)
    • Assessing the Effectiveness of Videos for Exergaming Technology for use with Isolated Older Adults During COVID-19 Pandemic — Sharon Ferguson (MIE MASc candidate), Chelsea Ferguson (MechE), YouZhi Hu (MIE MASc candidate)
    • Knowledge Without Borders — Songeun You (CompE), Daniel Lu (CompE)
    • UnityOR: a digital assistant for the operating room — Ingrid Grozavu, Daniel Szulc (BME PhD candidate), Brandon Ho
    • Environmental Impacts of Hand Hygiene Practices: Handwashing with Soap and Alcohol-Based Hand Rubbing — Daniel Tse (CivMin MEng CEM candidate), Pedro Torres-Basanta (CivMin MEngCEM candidate), Lisa MacTavish (CivMin MEngCEM candidate)
    • Survey: Impact of COVID-19 on Graduate Students in Canada — Sivani Baskaran, Frank Telfer, Maegan Ong, Dawn Bannerman (ChemE PhD candidate), Caroline Pao, Samantha McWhither, Bryony McAllister, Isabella Lim, Vidhant Pal (BME PhD candidate), Farah Qaiser, Kali Iyer
    • Agent-Based Modelling in Global Health: An Analysis of Various Social Distancing Policies using COBWEB — Adebisi Akande, Dina Bernstein (MechE), Leshi Yang, Muhammad Anas Ansar, Yi Yue Jiang, Yuzhou Pan
    • COVID-19 Crisis Management: a 360 Perspective — Priyanjli Sharma, Michelle Nurse, Avani Bhardwaj, Emma Sass (CivMin)
    • Assessing the Need for Virtual Medical Care in Canadian Communities Using Machine Learning Models and Predictive Analysis — Abdula Maher, Esmat Sahak (EngSci), Ahmed Kaimkhani
    • Analysis of Economic Impact Caused by COVID-19 Pandemic and Comparisons to that Caused by Past Public Crises — Weiqing Wang, Zhiya Lou, Guanyao Liang, Jincheng Leng, Ziyi Wang, Jiaru Li (IndE), Xiaoli Yang
    • Healing by the Arts — Nahyun Lee, Junhyeok Hong (ECE), Chaemin Kim
    • Flatten the Negativity — Karishma Shah (ECE), Nimit Vediya
    • Documenting the Post-COVID City — Jillian Sprenger, Katy Tiper (BME PhD candidate)
    • COVID19Recovery — Leo Zhu (ChemE MASc candidate), Julia Lee, Grace Guo, Sissi Zhu, Juliana Lee
    • Engineering Think Tank — Lilian Kabelle (CivMin MASc candidate), Marie Merci Ishimwe (ECE MEng candidate), Ngone Lo
    • Easing the burden: A dashboard to track COVID-19 financial aid across the globe — Adam Lam, Mubtaseem Zaman (CompE)
    • Together we Learn: Fostering an online learning community in an Engineering Science undergraduate course — Rubaina KhanNikita Dawe (PhD candidate)
    • Projecting the supply and use of pristine and reprocessed N95 respirators in a hospital — Paul Chen (ChemE PhD candidate), Matthew Yau, Tommaso Alba, Krish Bilimoria, Shangmou (Samuel) Wu
    • Home-based COVID-19 Self-care System — Ramtin Mojtahedi (BME PhD candidate), Saeed Shakib (CivMin PhD candidate)
    • Studio Babble: Creative Engagement in the Age of COVID-19 — Gemma Robinson, Aisling Beers, Declan Roberts, Jay Potts, Savanna Blade (EngSci), Sheetza McGarry
    • The COVID Action Hub — Denise Lee, Melanie Seabrook, Emma Seabrook, Shiyi Zhang (CompE)
    • Mitigating stigmatization, ensuring food security and preventing the transmission of COVID-19 in Bangladesh and Canada — Tahsin Reza Tasnim Reza, Mahiya Nasrin, Nithila Sivakumar, Clara Chick, Thanoshan Ariyanayagam (CompE)
    • Dear Uni to Be — Brandon Yu, Ahmedullah Shah, Alessia Priore, Theodora Girgis (EngSci)
    • Equipment trade website business model and interface design — Tianyi Yu (CompE), Minjing Xu
    • Get educated on the subject, stop with the misinformation — Rosa Yang, Yinghui Liu, Yihe Zhang, Tianyi Tang, Xinyu Zhou (MSE)

Article first published by U of T Engineering News. Article by Liz Do and Tyler Irving.


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2019-2020 Award Winners from the U of T Engineering Class of 2T0

Recognition of Awards

Congratulations to the 2019 – 2020 award winners from the Class of 2T0 for their incredible academic achievements!

Class of 3T5 Second Mile Award
Rahemeen Ahmed / Civil Engineering

The Elsie Gregory MacGill Memorial Scholarship
Jin (Victoria) Cheng / Engineering Science

Otto Holden Scholarship
Amin Heyrani Nobari / Mechanical Engineering

John Dixon Campbell Memorial Prize
Sijie Tian / Industrial Engineering
Rouzbeh Hadjibaba / Industrial Engineering

John Dixon Campbell Memorial Scholarship
Rui Cheng Zhang / Mechanical Engineering

Dr. Arthur Herrmann Memorial Award
Emma Shibata / Mechanical Engineering

G. W. Ross Dowkes Memorial Prize
Narmin Zakizade / Chemical Engineering

J. E. Reid Memorial Prize
Hao Yun Hsu / Electrical Engineering

MacKay Hewer Memorial Prize
Leigh McNeil-Taboika / Chemical Engineering

Ontario Professional Engineers Foundation for Education Gold Medal for Academic Achievement
Hanzhen Lin / Engineering Science

Adel S. Sedra Gold Medal
Jordan Lee / Computer Engineering
Zi Han Zhao / Electrical Engineering

A. B. Platt Award, Toronto Section of the Society of Tribologists & Lubrication Engineers
Zhenghao Yan / Materials Engineering

Ontario Chapter, American Concrete Institute Award
Zhe Hao Dong / Civil Engineering
David Anthony Gallucci / Civil Engineering
Da Eun Yoo / Civil Engineering

Centennial Senior Project Award
Rashad Brugmann / Civil Engineering
Lia Orders Codrington / Engineering Science
Somerset Prittie Jarvis / Civil Engineering
Sophie Ordman / Civil Engineering
Syed Muhammad Ali / Mineral Engineering
Faiq Ali Qadri / Mineral Engineering
Jacob Bruce Gary Rumsey / Mineral Engineering
Patrick Dong Min Chang / Chemical Engineering
Sofia Tijanic / Electrical Engineering
Dawei Shi / Computer Engineering
Zhenglin Liu / Mechanical Engineering
Rachel Wong / Industrial Engineering
Diana Darinka Vucevic / Materials Engineering
Hanzhen Lin / Engineering Science Engineering
Jihad Raya / Mineral Engineering

Society of Chemical Industry Merit Award
Wei Cheng Hooi / Chemical Engineering

W.S. Wilson Medal
Caleb Daryl Stuckless / Chemical Engineering
Adam Robert Parker / Civil Engineering
James Meijers / Computer Engineering
Sofian Zalouk / Electrical Engineering
Ali Haydaroglu / Engineering Science
Selena (Shi Ting) Lu / Industrial Engineering
Kyle Michael Owen-Springer / Mineral Engineering
Zhenglin Liu / Mechanical Engineering
Joshua Ilse / Materials Engineering

Wallace G. Chalmers Engineering Design Scholarships
Arash Nourimand / Mechanical Engineering
Aditya Pal Bhatia / Mechanical Engineering
Omar Rabbat / Mechanical Engineering
Clara Zaki / Mechanical Engineering

John W. Senders Award for Imaginative Design
Betty Bingruo Liu / Engineering Science
Netra Unni Rajesh / Engineering Science
Jacob Brennan Smith / Engineering Science
Charlie (Seung Doo) Yang / Engineering Science
Sulagshan Raveendrakumar / Engineering Science

Gordon R. Slemon Capstone Design Award in Electrical & Computer Engineering
Arnav Goel / Computer Engineering
Jiashen Wang / Electrical Engineering
Tsun Man Beston Leung / Computer Engineering
Miguel Alejando Teran Benalcazar / Computer Engineering

John H. Weber Scholarship in Mechanical Engineering
Arash Nourimand / Mechanical Engineering
Aditya Pal Bhatia / Mechanical Engineering
Omar Rabbat / Mechanical Engineering
Clara Zaki / Mechanical Engineering

Peri Family Industrial Engineering Design Award
Tianshu Shen / Industrial Engineering
Xiaonian He / Industrial Engineering
Yian Zha / Industrial Engineering


At age 18, U of T Engineering’s youngest grad has accomplished more than most – and she’s just getting started

Maddy Zhang

May 26, 2020. Maddy Zhang is the youngest graduate of the class of 2020 at the age of 18 (photo by Johnny Guatto).

Maddy (Xiaoxiao) Zhang (EngSci 2T0) knew how to read by the time she was two years old. By Grade 1, she had mastered multiplication tables.

At age 11, she visited the University of Toronto on a family trip from Beijing, fell in love with the old buildings on campus and decided she wanted to study here one day.

That day came just three years later. Zhang was the youngest student in her year when she began in 2016 and probably the youngest-ever student in Engineering Science, a rigorous program at U of T Engineering where students simultaneously learn Newtonian mechanics, epsilon-delta calculus proofs and human-centred engineering design.

Next week, Zhang, now 18, will obtain her undergraduate degree at an age when most students are just beginning university. After saying her good-byes to her “engineering science family” in Toronto, she’s off to the Netherlands to pursue a master’s in aerospace engineering.

“Over the past four years, I feel I’ve been working toward a goal of making sure that age is not my only narrative,” she says over the phone from her university dorm, where she’s lived the past four years.

“I don’t want it to be the only thing that defines me.”

To be sure, she’s no different from most other students graduating from U of T this June. Like her classmates, Zhang has ambitious plans — in her case, earning another degree and making a meaningful contribution to her chosen field: sustainable aviation. At the same time, she shares that, just like anyone else, she faced unexpected setbacks and navigated periods of self-doubt, particularly in first year.

“Everyone learned a lot about engineering and also everyone probably learned more about who they are and who they want to be, and it’s the same case with me,” she says.

When Zhang arrived on campus, she was a shy, diminutive 14-year-old with purple glasses. But she still managed to blend in seamlessly with the other first-years.

Charlie Keil, the principal of U of T’s Innis College, was notified that a particularly young student was moving into the Innis residence, but it was only much later, during a dinner on campus for new students in residence, that he learned who that student actually was. “A student beside me, who I’d been talking to already, whispered ‘I’m the girl who’s 14’,” he recalls. “I had no idea.”

As he got to know Zhang over the years, Keil says he had formed the impression that being younger than her peers wasn’t much of a challenge for Zhang. “She possesses a preternatural amount of self-confidence and approaches things very positively,” he says.

Zhang didn’t keep her age a secret, but she didn’t bring it up unless she had to. Even still, word spread among her classmates that there was a 14-year-old in their midst. One day, in a course on structural engineering, one of her teammates on a project tried to solve the mystery by guessing other students’ ages. When Zhang told him she was the youngest student, he couldn’t believe it.

“He jumped out of the chair,” Zhang recalls. “He was 20 at the time, so I guess he just felt old.”

Kim Lau became friends with Zhang in first year. On the surface, they seemed an unlikely pair: a minor and a mature student who, just shy of her 30th birthday, had gone back to university after working as a dental hygienist.

Lau, who speaks Cantonese, called Zhang “mei mei” (little sister) – but Zhang joked that Lau’s intonation made it sound like she was saying “beautiful lady.”

More than her age, it was Zhang’s attitude that impressed Lau. Zhang was always game to learn new things and seemed to know a lot already. She rides a unicycle around campus. She draws for fun – and as a way to sharpen her mind and learn to focus. She’s fluent in two languages, Mandarin and English, and can get by in Norwegian.

She’s also a black belt in taekwondo and dances ballet. She started taking martial arts and dance classes at the same time because her mom wanted her to be “elegant but tough,” according to Zhang.

“That’s a lot of learning in one person,” Lau says.

When Zhang’s 16th birthday finally rolled around, Lau planned to make the event one Zhang would remember. After a workshop, a weary Zhang headed back to the engineering science students’ common room. When the lights flicked on she saw she was surrounded by friends and two Costco sheet cakes – one vanilla, one chocolate – set out on a long table.

“That was just so heartwarming,” Zhang recalls. “Every time I feel lonely or miss my home, I think to that moment and I know that I’m never alone because EngSci are like my family, sort of. In a weird way, since I left home I feel like EngSci sort of raised me.”

Even for someone as bright as Zhang, university wasn’t always easy. In her first year especially, Zhang missed her parents who live outside of Canada. And she felt insecure about her grasp of programming, which she hadn’t studied before university unlike many of her classmates.

“I realized that all I needed was confidence,” she says. “When I started university there were a lot of things I needed to overcome. Some of these things were because of my age; some were not.”

Zhang could always count on her Engineering Science family for support – in Toronto and beyond. She made friends on the other side of the Atlantic through a programming internship at a tech startup in Norway. The thought of a 15-year-old interning at a tech company was unusual enough to land Zhang in the Norwegian news. Her boss raved about her independence, talent and impressive grasp of Norwegian after just a few short months (Zhang still practises Norwegian with Duolingo and by reading the Norweigian newspapers out loud).

She put her Norwegian to good use again last summer, when she landed a research position through U of T at a university in Trondheim. There, she worked with Associate Professor Jason Hearst (EngSci 0T9), an Engineering Science alumnus, on a project related to the physics of turbulence flows. On Zhang’s first day in the lab, Leon Li (EngSci 1T1, MASc AeroE 1T3) , a PhD candidate and another U of T alumnus, took her around the room making introductions, making sure to point out Zhang’s age.

“Universal shock,” he recalls. “I quickly learned not to think ‘when I was your age, I was …’ because there was just no comparison.”

Zhang specialized in the aerospace stream of Engineering Science in part because it combines interesting math and physics, but also because air travel has many sustainability-related hurdles to overcome.

Her involvement in U of T’s aerospace team, which designs and builds drones, rockets and satellites, also got Zhang hooked. “Seeing a man-made thing fly is just so satisfying,” she says. “It’s like magic.”

From a sustainability point of view, “it can have a really large impact and there are so many challenging problems that still exist,” she says, citing efforts to reduce drag and noise.

She points to another sustainability-minded teenager as inspiration.

“Greta Thunberg, she’s around my age basically,” she says of the Swedish environmental activist who is just one year Zhang’s junior. “She did an amazing job being an activist … but I want to work toward the same goal in my own way – in my engineering way.”

She pressed on toward that goal in her final year working on research with Professor Philippe Lavoie (UTIAS), associate director of the Centre for Research in Sustainable Aviation. The results of that research are being prepared for publication in a scientific journal.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has grounded flights around the world and raised questions about the future of air travel, Zhang is undeterred. Borrowing language from robotics, she says she’s “activated this control system.”

“When there are disturbances along the way – and COVID is like one giant disturbance – just make sure you have a goal in mind, and you can adjust your daily life around that, but still aim toward that goal.”

The next stop in her academic journey is the Delft University of Technology, where she will be pursuing a master’s degree in aerospace engineering on a full scholarship that covers tuition and living expenses.

Although Zhang says she took the “express pass” to university, she’s not afraid to slow down and take everything in.

She plans to celebrate her graduation by watching U of T’s virtual convocation event on June 2 and having a video call with her closest friends. She may also take a stroll around campus, if the sun is shining, and perhaps squeeze in a little work. One thing that’s not in the cards: celebrating with a glass of champagne. That, she says, will have to wait until she is of legal drinking age.

Article by Geoffrey Vendeville originally published at U of T Engineering News on May 27, 2020.


New U of T Engineering Academy prepares incoming students to excel in first year

U of T Engineering Academy

U of T Engineering Academy is a new self-paced, optional and not-for-credit program that is free to all incoming first-year students. (Photo illustration credit: Unsplash and Kyle Coulter)

U of T Engineering is launching a new program designed to give incoming students all the material they need to shine in their first-year courses.

The University of Toronto Engineering Academy is an optional and not-for-credit program that is free to all incoming students for Fall 2020. Students gain access to a suite of established learning modules in math, physics and chemistry that they can move through at their own pace.

They will have regular opportunities to check in with mentors, upper-year U of T Engineering students who can help them navigate the material and coach them on how it will be applied in first-year courses. If a student wants extra instruction on a particular topic, they can also request to participate in a session with a celebrated high-school teacher.

Designed with close consultation between high-school teachers and curriculum leads in the U of T Engineering First-Year Office, as well as the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (Troost ILead), the program was launched to support students who may have had their final year of high school disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“U of T Engineering Academy gives students what they need to fill in any gaps in their Grade 12 year, as well as a friendly introduction to our Faculty with the support of our incredible students and professors,” says Micah Stickel, Vice-Dean, First Year for U of T Engineering. “And because it’s optional and not-for-credit, it’s a great way to gain some experience with online learning and explore what kinds of approaches work for you.”

When a student accepts their offer of admission, they’ll also have a chance to register for U of T Engineering Academy through the same Engineering Applicant Portal. They will then receive an email with access details and any tech requirements. Access to the learning materials will be available in early June, and students can move through at their own pace through July.

For students who feel they might benefit from a little extra support after completing U of T Engineering Academy, the First Year Foundations program provides that boost. First Year Foundations is a suite of optional sessions, workshops and courses to help incoming students prepare for several aspects of university life — from developing effective study and learning skills, to getting ahead with introductions to concepts like computer programming, the engineering design process and communications.

“The year so far hasn’t gone the way any of us expected,” says Chris Yip, Dean of U of T Engineering. “We’re here to make sure that no matter what happened in the final year of high school, we’re giving our students the tools and supports they need to be comfortable, prepared and ready to have a terrific experience when they start this Fall at Skule™.”

Article by Marit Mitchell originally published at U of T Engineering News on May 19, 2020.


New ‘rock candy’ approach could lead to simpler, faster tests for COVID-19

Professor Leo Chou (IBBME)

A team led by Professor Leo Chou (IBBME) is pursuing a non-traditional approach that could lead to simpler, faster COVID-19 tests.

Testing for viruses is not a new science, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the bottlenecks in established methods. Now, a team led by Professor Leo Chou (IBBME) is pursuing a non-traditional approach that, if successful, could lead to simpler, faster tests.

“What we are finding out in this pandemic is that surges in global demand can cause every step in the process to break down due to supply chain shortage,” says Chou, who joined U of T Engineering as a professor in January 2019. “There are opportunities to make these tests simpler and more streamlined.”

While the project is in its earliest stages, the team hopes to overcome the limitations of traditional methods by pursuing a strategy based on short, synthetic strands of DNA. These strands can be customized to react in certain ways in the presence of genes from the virus that causes COVID-19.

Currently, most tests begin with a nasal swab to extract virus particles from the body. These particles are then shipped to a testing lab, where heat, detergents and enzymes are used to open them up and expose the viral RNA — the genes that the virus uses to replicate itself.

The RNA is then subjected to the ‘gold standard’ technique known as real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Using specialized enzymes and a device called a thermocycler, RT-PCR amplifies targeted RNA sequences — such as those known to code for viral genes — to determine whether or not they are present in the sample.

In theory, RT-PCR can provide results in a matter of hours, but the need for specialized infrastructure has been a key limitation of testing around the world.

“Because samples collected at the point of care must be shipped to a central lab for testing, logistics become a key issue,” says Chou. “For one single sample to get tested, you are usually talking about a turnaround time of two or three days.”

In contrast, the new approach could lead to a one-step test. The team aims to design customized DNA sequences that are capable of self-assembling into a larger structure, but which are missing a key catalyst to bring them all together: an RNA sequence specific to the COVID-19 virus.

“The best analogy I can think of is growing rock candy,” says Chou. “You start with a saturated solution of sugar molecules in water, but they don’t do anything because they don’t have anything to crystallize around. When you introduce a stick into the solution, the crystals form rapidly around it.”

In this analogy, the short DNA sequences made by Chou and his team are the sugar, and the viral RNA serves as the stick. By design, only the correct RNA sequence would work — genes from other viruses or contaminating organisms would not trigger the same reaction.

If the virus is present, its RNA would quickly cause the DNA strands to self-assemble. The team could easily attach pigments or light-emitting molecules to the DNA strands, resulting in a solution that changes colour in the presence of viral genes.

Chou says that the technology already exists to manufacture the short DNA sequences quickly and inexpensively, and that these molecules are stable, meaning they can be stored wet or dry at room temperature for months or years.

Because it wouldn’t require complex materials or equipment such as enzymes or thermocyclers, the new test could be done in one step at the point of care, eliminating the logistical bottlenecks that are currently hampering testing efforts.

While he believes that the new approach is promising, Chou cautions that it will take many months before a prototype can be developed, and many more to determine whether or not the test is anywhere near as reliable as RT-PCR.

“All the tests that are being used right now took years to develop and clinically validate,” he says. “This is no different, but the strategy we’re proposing is unlike anything that is already being used. We aim to have proof-of-concept done within a year. If it works, it could have some very exciting advantages.”

Article by Tyler Irving first published at  U of T Engineering News on May 4, 2020. 


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