Student-Built Haven App Aims to Help Prevent Sexual Assault

Nelson Lee and Ethan Hugh

Left to right: Nelson Lee and Ethan Hugh (both Year 2 CompE) are the founders of Haven. (Photo: Lumuat Dinder)

Content warning: This story addresses sexual harassment and assault

A startup created by two U of T Engineering undergraduate students aims to help prevent sexual assaults by instantly connecting users to friends, family and other resources.

The story of Haven began a little more than a year ago, when a close friend shared her story of sexual assault with Nelson Lee (Year 2 CompE).

“I was shocked, and even more so when I started looking into the prevalence of these kinds of incidents,” says Lee. “A study by the Government of Ontario reported that sixty-three per cent of students at Ontario universities report having experienced sexual harassment. We know that sexual harassment can escalate into sexual assault, so I started thinking about how we could prevent that from happening.”

Lee focused in on the idea of an app that would enable students to get help the moment they need it. In January of 2021, he asked his friend Ethan Hugh (Year 2 CompE) to join him.

Their solution is the Haven app. The app starts by asking the user to identify a set of up to five close friends or family members that they trust. With one touch, users can share their location with these people, or signal that they need help.

Have app

Haven enables users to share their location with a set of trusted contacts, as well as to quickly contact emergency services. (Image courtesy: Haven)

For urgent situations, the app offers one-touch access to Campus Safety or emergency services, and includes a pre-written script that Lee says can shorten the time it takes for help to arrive. There is even ­an­­ option to activate a siren.

“We added that as a way to prevent the ‘bystander effect’ we often hear about in these incidents,” says Lee, describing the phenomenon in which people hesitate to get involved in an unfolding situation, and instead stand by. “It makes it really clear that it’s time to step in, even if you don’t know the person being harassed.”

Hugh and Lee spent the summer doing the programming and development. This included learning more about what their potential user base would want in an app.

“We did interviews with more than 250 students, as well as crisis centres and other organizations that deal with sexual assault,” says Lee. “We’ve been working on numerous fronts to ensure that what we’re producing is useful to people.”

They also enrolled in Hatchery NEST, a startup incubator program from U of T Engineering, which connected them to mentors and other experts such as lawyers and former policymakers.

Haven is currently free to download on Android and iOS operating systems.

Premium features enable users to further increase the number of trusted contacts, or to automatically indicate that they have arrived home safely.

Haven launched in early September, and the team says it has already been downloaded more than 1,500 times. It has also been featured on local media and the team has received a lot of positive feedback from users.

“People say it gives them peace of mind, and that they feel safer knowing that their network is just a touch away,” says Lee.

Over the next few months, the team hopes to slowly expand to campuses across Ontario. They are also reaching out to several sexual assault crisis centres to launch an education component of the app, which will outline concepts such as consent, and how to identify when boundaries have been violated.

“Our vision is to make the world a safer place, and we’re really hopeful that we can make a positive impact,” says Lee.


Article by Tyler Irving originally published on U of T Engineering News on October 7, 2021.

New Skule™ Mental Health Bursary supports wellness for U of T Engineering students

Assortment of Skule patches

A new SkuleTM Mental Health Bursary will help expand access to mental health and wellness supports for U of T Engineering undergraduate students who are in need of financial aid.

Launching in September 2021, the bursary was created by the U of T Engineering Society in partnership with the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.

“Unfortunately, university students often skimp on their health because they have no choice,” says Vanessa Elizabeth Ayoung-Chee (Year 3 CivMin), currently the Director of Skule™ Mental Wellness and a member of the 2021-2022 SkuleTM Mental Health Bursary Adjudication Committee.

“Cost is a major issue, especially when it comes to mental health. Our hope is that this bursary removes one barrier for students seeking help.”

Sheral Kumar (Year 4 EngSci) served as last year’s Director of Skule™ Mental Wellness, and was one of the key architects of the new bursary.

“I’ve been part of Skule™ Mental Wellness since my first year, and one of the things I’ve learned is that everyone’s mental health journey is different,” says Kumar.

“In the past, our focus was on promoting learning, creating awareness, and running de-stressing events. For some people, a yoga event is just what they need. But for others, it’s much more important to address the underlying problem, and it’s hard to do that when you’re worried about how you’re going to pay for it.”

Kumar and Christopher Kousinioris, former President of the Engineering Society, worked with Melissa Fernandes, U of T Engineering’s Mental Health Programs Officer, and Pierina Filippone, Assistant Registrar, Scholarships & Financial Aid, to develop the new bursary.

“Through this award, any student can receive up to $450 toward the cost of counselling, workshops, peer support groups, therapy sessions, resource guides, medication, assistive devices and more,” says Fernandes. “We also hope it will help us identify students who require additional support, so we can address underlying causes and connect them to more appropriate and sustainable options.”

Students can apply for the bursary through the Award Explorer. They must be part-time or full-time undergraduate students within the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and submit an application which includes a short (200 words) description of how they intend to use the requested funds.

Half of the seed funding for the new bursary is being provided by the Engineering Society, with the other half coming from the Faculty. In the future, the team aims to secure philanthropic donations to further expand the program.

“This year is only the pilot phase of a bursary that is intended to last forever,” says Kumar. “I hope that the community will continue to invest in student mental health so that initiatives like this can become even more impactful.”

Article by Tyler Irving originally published on August 20, 2021, at U of T Engineering News.

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Friends and family: U of T’s Lucia Stafford to share track with big sister in Olympic debut

Lucia Stafford

Lucia Stafford (Year 4 CivE) will compete against her older sister Gabriela DeBues-Stafford in the 1,500-metre race at the Tokyo Olympics. Both athletes studied at U of T and ran track with the Varsity Blues (Photo: Johnny Guatto)

In less than two weeks, Lucia Stafford (Year 4 CivE) will come up against the fastest runners in the world in the 1,500-metre race at the Tokyo Olympic Games. But at least one of her chief rivals doesn’t intimidate her — even if she’s ranked among the top five at that distance: her older sister Gabriela DeBues-Stafford.

The two sisters, who both studied at the University of Toronto and ran track with the Varsity Blues, have been pushing each other to their limits long before becoming elite middle-distance runners.

“We’ve been running together since I was in Grade 4 and she was right by my side for all of it, starting on our cottage road — just going for 5K and getting dragged by her and my dad,” Lucia says.

“Now we’re toeing the line on the biggest stage ever. That will be pretty special.”

Gabriela, who is three years Lucia’s senior, revealed her potential relatively late for a runner — near the end of high school. Terry Radchenko, an assistant U of T coach for middle-distance and cross-country running, first met her when she was in Grade 10, when she was posting respectable times for her age group but lagged behind the leaders.

Two years later, after training with the U of T track club, Gabriela was leaving her competitors in the dust.

“She didn’t come out of the womb a superstar,” Radchenko says, noting that he’s recorded 10 training logs that capture the Stafford sisters’ progression over many years.

“It took a training effect to bring out Gabriela’s full potential.”

Today, Gabriela is the fifth-fastest woman in the World Athletics Rankings over 1,500 metres and trains with the Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Ore., one of the premier running clubs in the United States and home to world champions and Olympic medal winners.

Yet, during family runs or even strolls, it was Lucia who often took the lead – especially when the two women were younger.

“If we were on a walk in the forest, Lucia would have to be the one at the front of the pack,” Gabriela recently told Canadian Running Magazine. “She’s been a chronic one-stepper since she was a toddler.”

While Lucia denies there’s a sibling rivalry, Radchenko says she’s always keen to prove herself against her older sister.

“She’s not scared of Gabriela,” he says. “When it comes to her sister, there’s no qualms about going head-to-head.”

He points to their duel in the home stretch of the 2017 Ontario University Athletics track and field championships. With about 200 metres left in the race, Lucia pushes ahead of Gabriela, staying basically neck-and-neck with her sister until the very end. After a photo finish, Lucia crumples to the floor in exhaustion. Gabriela, meanwhile, forgoes any celebration and immediately turns back to help her sister to her feet as the third-place runner crosses the line.

Running is in Lucia’s and Gabriela’s genes. Their late mother, Maria Luisa Gardner, was a teacher who coached cross-country in elementary school, while their aunt Sara Gardner, ran in the 1992 world cross-country championships. Their father Jamie Stafford, who happens to be a professor of statistical sciences at U of T and vice-dean of academic operations in Faculty of Arts & Science, represented Canada as a cross-country runner at four world championships.

Lucia Stafford and her father, Professor Jamie Stafford.

Lucia Stafford and her father Jamie Stafford, a U of T professor, are joined by Gabriela Stafford, who was training in Portland, Ore. prior to the Tokyo Games. (Photo: Johnny Guatto)

Heading into the Olympics, Lucia might find comfort in the fact that she ran a personal best of 4:05.70 this year, smashing her previous best record by five seconds. It’s the second-best indoor time in Canadian history after — who else — Gabriela.

These days, Lucia says racing against Gabriela brings a sense of comfort — no matter the location or the stakes. In fact, Lucia lists Gabriela as her favourite professional athlete on her Varsity Blues profile page.

“Whenever I’m in a race with her, I have a really good race because I think it’s just having that reminder: This is someone that I’ve run with for years and years, and here we are running together again,” she says.

“The scenery might look a bit different, but at the end of the day, we’re still just running.”

As a civil engineering student in U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, Lucia has had more than just running to think about in recent years.

The day before an important meet to book her ticket to the Olympics, she wrote an exam in geotechnical engineering from her hotel room. In Tokyo, she will spend some of her time off the track completing the requirements for her engineering degree through a summer course on multidisciplinary perspectives on the environment.

“I have to email my TA because the lectures and tutorials are mandatory, but it’s going be, like, 1 a.m. [local time] during the lecture,” she says.

Like her sister, Lucia has also had to cope with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes an overactive thyroid. The disease left Lucia feeling listless and unable to hit prescribed paces. She even once swallowed a radioactive iodine pill to shrink her thyroid gland and alleviate symptoms.

“This pill is no joke,” she told Canadian Running Magazine in 2019. “I set off the alarm in airport security one month later when I was flying to Florida.”

For Lucia, training during COVID-19 presented another challenge – particularly with her sister in Portland. Fortunately, she was able to lean on Madeleine Kelly, a U of T alumna and fellow Varsity Blues runner who writes for Canadian Running magazine (including the magazine’s July and August 2021 cover story on the Stafford sisters). The two met at U of T about six years ago and have trained together ever since. They secured Olympic qualification together and both are now in Japan, where the routine is “PCR test, run, eat, sleep — literally on repeat,” Kelly posted on Instagram.

Lucia says she and Kelly have grown especially close over the past year. “It’s kind of like having a stand-in big sister,” she says.

Since they specialize in different events, the two women didn’t have to compete with each other for a spot on the Olympic team — and were relieved when they qualified together.

“I can’t imagine doing it without her,” Kelly says. “I can’t imagine doing it with anyone else.”

Madeleine Kelly and Lucia Stafford

Madeleine Kelly (left), a U of T alumna and fellow Varsity Blues runner, trained for the Olympics with Lucia Stafford, forging a close bond in the process. (Photo: Johnny Guatto)

Making the Olympic team was a process of self-discovery for Kelly. “I think I’ve learned that I’m much tougher than I give myself credit for sometimes,” she says. “Because it was hard — but manageable, as it turns out.”

Kelly’s first race in round one of the 800-metre event takes place on July 30, while Lucia and Gabriela begin their pursuit of Olympic glory three days later.

Lucia’s and Gabriela’s father, meanwhile, plans to cheer on his daughters from back home in Toronto. He cautioned the pair to manage their expectations and avoid putting too much pressure on themselves. “Set the bar low and clear it by a mile,” Lucia recalls him saying.

And while the stats professor is well aware of the improbabilities, his dream result for Lucia and Gabriela in the 1,500 metres comes as little surprise.

“A dead heat for first.”

Originally published at U of T News. Article by Geoffrey Vendeville. July 23, 2021.

2020-2021 Award Winners from the U of T Engineering Class of 2T1

Recognition of Awards

Congratulations to the 2020–2021 award winners from the Class of 2T1 for their incredible academic achievements!

Governor General’s Silver Medal

Shengxiang Ji, Computer Engineering

Class of 3T5 Second Mile Award

Stephanie Alexis Marton, Civil Engineering

The Elsie Gregory MacGill Memorial Scholarship

Stephanie Alexis Marton, Civil Engineering

Otto Holden Scholarship

Anqi Shen, Civil Engineering
Shi Qi Wang, Civil Engineering

John Dixon Campbell Memorial Prize

Khon Seong Ong, Mechanical Engineering

John Dixon Campbell Memorial Scholarship

Yihua Lin, Mechanical Engineering

Dr. Arthur Herrmann Memorial Award

Keith Sebastian, Mechanical Engineering

W. Ross Dowkes Memorial Prize

Romeo Oscar Cabrera, Chemical Engineering

MacKay Hewer Memorial Prize

Patrick Michael Desmarais, Chemical Engineering

Ontario Professional Engineers Foundation for Education Gold Medal for Academic Achievement

Shengxiang Ji, Computer Engineering
Tianyi Xu, Computer Engineering

Adel S. Sedra Gold Medal

Shengxiang Ji, Computer Engineering
Erick Mejia Uzeda, Electrical Engineering

B. Platt Award, Toronto Section of the Society of Tribologists & Lubrication Engineers

Yuxiang Zhang, Materials Engineering

Ontario Chapter, American Concrete Institute Award

Katherine Jane Norris, Civil Engineering

Centennial Senior Project Award

Allan Dok Lun Cheung, Chemical Engineering

Maria Michial Elia Demitiry, Civil Engineering
Brenden Lavoie, Civil Engineering
Yuxin Liu, Civil Engineering

Char Erb, Mineral Engineering 
Devlen Patrick Malone, Mineral Engineering
Hugo Hernan Ona Bueno, Mineral Engineering
Julia Maxine Ovsenek, Mineral Engineering

Matthew Alexander Downing, Electrical Engineering

Arjun Mittal, Computer Engineering

Olivia Sarah Bierman-Dyk, Industrial Engineering
Clara Birch, Industrial Engineering
Jean Carlos Cedeno Bravo, Industrial Engineering
Catherine Lloyd, Industrial Engineering

Jungho Justin Kim, Mechanical Engineering
Khon Seong Ong, Mechanical Engineering
Jianfei Pan, Mechanical Engineering
Qiwei Zhao, Mechanical Engineering

Axel Francisco Del Castillo Valenzuela, Materials Engineering
Rowan O’Brien Vredenburg, Materials Engineering
Shengyu Sun, Materials Engineering
Ungku Zoe Anysa Ungku Fa’iz, Arts & Science*

Spencer Zhao / Engineering Science Engineering (Consent)

Society of Chemical Industry Merit Award

Joel Lau, Chemical Engineering

W.S. Wilson Medal

Patrick Michael Desmarais, Chemical Engineering
Kailyn Ting Henderson, Industrial Engineering
Jue Liu, Computer Engineering
Erick Mejia Uzeda, Electrical Engineering
Julia Maxine Ovsenek, Mineral Engineering
Wenyi Peng, Mechanical Engineering
Shi Qi Wang, Civil Engineering
Dian Yu, Materials Engineering
Yifan Zhai, Engineering Science

Wallace G. Chalmers Engineering Design Scholarships

Eshan Sameer Gokhale, Mechanical Engineering
Abdullah Gulab, Mechanical Engineering
David Joseph Rolko, Mechanical Engineering
Thomas Christopher Rolko, Mechanical Engineering

John W. Senders Award for Imaginative Design

Adam David Koa, Mechanical Engineering
Jacob Vincent Sinopoli, Mechanical Engineering
Sarah Toukan, Mechanical Engineering
Danylo Varshavsky, Mechanical Engineering

Gordon R. Slemon Capstone Design Award in Electrical & Computer Engineering

Dylan K. Lamont, Electrical Engineering
Seif Sarofim, Electrical Engineering
Michelle Tessy, Electrical Engineering

John H. Weber Scholarship in Mechanical Engineering

Shantanu Arya, Mechanical Engineering
Stephanie Marie McDonald, Mechanical Engineering*
Shivam Maharaj, Mechanical Engineering
Chloe Nicolette Oriotis, Mechanical Engineering

Peri Family Industrial Engineering Design Award

Olivia Sarah Bierman-Dyk, Industrial Engineering
Clara Birch, Industrial Engineering
Jean Carlos Cedeno Bravo, Industrial Engineering
Catherine Lloyd, Industrial Engineering

Loumankis Family Engineering Scholarship

Muskan Sethi, Chemical Engineering
Hanna Jiamei Zhang, Engineering Science


*Undergraduate students who are not graduating yet, but were part of a winning capstone or design team.

Building Indigenous cultural competency: U of T Engineering launches toolkit

A dancer spins at a pow wow held at the University of Toronto

A dancer spins at a pow wow held at the University of Toronto on March 11, 2017. (Credit: Hannah James)

A new program aims to equip U of T Engineering staff and faculty with the tools to build their understanding of the history, truths and culture of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Development of the Indigenous Cultural Competency Toolkit began in February 2021 and was led by Sienna Gagner (ChemE 2T0+PEY), Equity & Inclusion Programs Coordinator in U of T Engineering’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion & Professionalism. Gagner consulted with Professor Jason Bazylak (MIE & ISTEP), the Dean’s Advisor on Indigenous Initiatives, and leadership at U of T’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives.

“Everyone is at a different point along the journey toward truth, reconciliation and relationship building,” says Bazylak. “This toolkit is designed to build foundational knowledge first — to provide concrete opportunities for students, staff and faculty to begin this learning, or expand their understanding of the rich history and diverse cultures of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Establishing this groundwork is where we have to start.”

Gagner received the Hatch Engineering Aboriginal Scholarship when she began her undergraduate studies in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry in 2016. She chose to pursue the toolkit project to explore her Indigenous identity, connected with the Muskrat French Métis culture in Wallaceburg, Pain Court, and Grande Pointe, Ont., and to create pathways for members of the U of T Engineering community to raise their knowledge of Indigenous culture.

The toolkit comprises three modules. The first includes a two-part virtual session called “Speaking Our Truths: The Journey Toward Reconciliation,” facilitated by John Croutch, a cultural competency training officer in U of T’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives. Participants will also join the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, to be offered virtually this summer. Modules 2 and 3 encourage participants to experience Indigenous culture and expand their own learning through recommended books, papers, films and additional resources. This includes encouraging virtual attendance at the U of T Indigenous Studies Student Union’s Honouring Our Students Pow Wow on June 19, 2021.

The toolkit will also be accessible to students working, researching and teaching in U of T Engineering over Summer 2021. Students who complete all three modules will have their participation reflected on their co-curricular record. All participants will receive a certificate of completion.

The program acts on two recommendations from the 2018 Blueprint for Action report created by the Eagles’ Longhouse Engineering Indigenous Initiatives Steering Committee: to implement ongoing cultural competency training for all staff and faculty, and to run regular Blanket Exercise events for students, staff and faculty. The Eagles’ Longhouse was tasked with identifying how U of T Engineering could respond to the 34 calls to action identified by U of T’s Truth & Reconciliation Steering Committee.

The education-focused framework is one step in improving Indigenous inclusivity in the Faculty, says Marisa Sterling, P.Eng., Assistant Dean and Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Professionalism.

“This summer, we’re starting with truths, acknowledgement and understanding,” says Sterling. “Future work will build on this foundation. This Fall, my office will support the administration of talking circles within departments, divisions, institutes and staff groups to reflect on their personal learning journeys and experiences. Everyone is called upon to set actions to (re)build a positive relationship between U of T Engineering and Indigenous People. I look forward to supporting programming, collaborations and explorations of Indigenous ways of knowing in a way that is meaningful to Indigenous voices in an engineering context.”

Register to participate in Indigenous Cultural Competency Toolkit programming.


Originally published on June 18, 2021, at U of T Engineering News. Article by Engineering Strategic Communications.

U of T Engineering student leader receives inaugural Troost ILead Difference Maker Award

Morris Huang

Fourth-year student Morris Huang has been recognized with the Difference Maker Award for his leadership through the student-run non-profit, Global Spark. (Photo courtesy Morris Huang)


Morris Huang (Year 4 MSE) has been named the first recipient of the Troost ILead Difference Maker Award.

The award was established in 2020 by the Bodhi Tree Fund, a private giving foundation. Sanjay Malaviya, a long-serving member of the Troost ILead Board of Advisors, launched the $50,000 award to accelerate the career of a graduating student with a vision to make a positive difference in their communities and beyond. Candidates are evaluated on their leadership experience, the strength of their vision, and their character.

Learning about the award came on an especially significant day for Huang — his iron ring arrived in the mail only 15 minutes after receiving the phone call with news of his win.

Over the last year, Huang has helped lead Global Spark, a student-run education non-profit. Launched at the University of Toronto as Global Engineering Week, Global Spark seeks to bridge theory and practice within global development education by helping students connect what they learn in the classroom with on-the-ground work in areas such as climate change, renewable energy and, most recently, vaccine distribution.

“We don’t just want to teach students, we want them to mobilize in tackling some of these big problems by engaging them through course curriculum, implementing new course content, assignments, activities and tutorials,” says Huang.

Huang says that Global Spark’s material is taught in more than 100 courses at eight universities, including the National University of Singapore, the University of Central Asia and the Chinese University of Hong Kong – Shenzhen, and has reached more than 10,000 students to date.

Outside of the classroom Global Spark organizes design competitions, student fairs and Canada’s largest social impact hackathon, Hack the Globe, to help students explore the application of their own global development solutions. Working with partners such as Google, Boston Consulting Group, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund, this year’s Hackathon and speaker panel each drew more than 1,000 registrants from 40 countries.

Huang participated in the Troost ILead Summer Fellowship, an experience that he says gave him key “invisible” ingredients to grow Global Spark from a team of two to 70. He says the Fellowship gave him the opportunity to be challenged by his peers, and other student club leaders, and to ask hard questions about Global Spark’s purpose, culture, and his own assumptions about their work.

“I had to step back and ask, ‘Do I really understand what it is that we do? And, after I understand it, how can we improve on it?’ Learning how culture is shaped and how to build culture was the big thing that I learned [in the Fellowship], and continue to think about as we build Global Spark.”

“Having empathy is a key factor in what makes successful student leaders, and leaders in general,” adds Huang.

Asked how he mobilizes empathy in his own leadership practice Huang explains, “Being a leader means being able to connect with my team members. This is one of the most important things. I’m always open to feedback because what I’m ultimately trying to do is figure out how I as a leader can create the best experience for you when you’re on my team.”

Next year, Huang will bring his passion for education innovation to the Delft University of Technology where he has been accepted into the master’s in Engineering and Policy and Analysis (EPA) program. His vision is to increase access to quality education for K-12 and post-secondary students around the globe whose households may not have the means to access educational opportunities.

“I’m excited to see how models and simulations and data analytics and the policy-making process merge to create the impact that we envision,” says Huang. But he won’t be giving up his work at Global Spark which he calls his most challenging and rewarding experience to date.

On what the Difference Maker award means to Huang: “In the same sense that you don’t have to be given a position or a title to be a leader, or experience leadership, you also don’t need to be given a title or position to be a difference maker. Making a difference can be a long process, and very iterative. Tackle, get feedback, come back and work together, and work again.”


Article by Natalia Noël Smith originally published on April 21, 2021, on U of T Engineering Student News.

Posted in Uncategorized

‘Assemble it like IKEA furniture:’ U of T Engineering TA creates build-at-home machine to enable hands-on remote learning

Lab kit

Materials Science & Engineering (MSE) teaching assistant Crystal Liu designed, sourced and mailed 50 lab kits for students to build a mini mechanical tester from home. (Photo courtesy Crystal Liu)

In February, U of T Engineering students in MSE398: Materials Manufacturing and Design Laboratory received a package in the mail. Inside was a lab kit, with components — mechanical parts, electrical components, a printed circuit board (PCB), and tools — to build an at-home mini mechanical tester machine for their labs.

“You assemble the pieces like IKEA furniture,” says teaching assistant Crystal Liu (MIE 1T8 + PEY, MSE MASc candidate).

To keep remote learning engaging and hands-on during the pandemic, U of T Engineering instructors have gotten creative to adapt their teaching and lab exercises. For Liu and course instructor Professor Scott Ramsay (MSE) it was paramount that third-year materials science engineering students still had an opportunity to gain experience performing hands-on work.

“Last spring, Professor Ramsay and I talked about the term ahead — we knew the pandemic was far from being over in a year’s time. We both agreed that we couldn’t have students doing just simulations, it’s just not the same as a hands-on experience,” says Liu. “So, we decided to send them something.”

Liu began designing a lab kit for the course and decided to make the design freely available online to benefit others. Through the summer, she sourced materials and components. For custom designed parts, she worked with staff at the Myhal Centre’s Fabrication Facility to 3D print and laser cut them.

By the Fall Term Liu had the materials to package 50 lab kits, and by the Winter term, she had mailed them to students as far away as Dubai, China and Turkey. For those in Toronto, Liu safely delivered them to students’ homes or arranged for them to be picked up.

The course’s first assignment is to build it. Once fully assembled, the mechanical tester is the size of a shoe box. It comes complete with a custom-designed PCB, user interface, and all firmware, as well as safety features such as a shield that must be installed for the machine to run, and a large emergency-stop button.

For their second assignment, students were provided with a bag of material samples to analyze. “These include 3D printed samples, ranging from very brittle to very stretchy, and items you can find in daily life, like tapes and plastic bags,” explains Liu.

Once students insert the sample, the machine stretches it, measuring the force being applied, as well as the displacement, or how far the sample has been stretched. The user interface shows the force-versus-displacement curve while the data is saved in real time. Students then use this to study the material’s properties and how the data is generated.

The students’ final assignment required them to find an adhesive seam to peel, such as the ones at the top of a bag of chips, to conduct their own peel-force test using the machine.

“They go from learning how to perform a tensile test that is already designed for them, to then having to apply what they learned in order to conduct their own experiment procedure from scratch,” says Liu. “What they’re learning and how they go about it, is as close as you can get to what it would be like if they were operating equipment on campus.”

Liu and Ramsay have received positive feedback from students. “They like how hands-on it has been and really appreciated the amount of time and effort we put into the course,” she says.

Liu’s experience designing the lab kit is helping to inform her master’s project on designing and implementing open-source hardware in engineering research. The kits were partially funded by Ramsay’s Hart Teaching Innovation Professorship.

“Crystal has worked exceptionally hard on this project and it is impressive that she was able to put this together for our students,” says Ramsay. “The hands-on experience is one of the most important aspects of this course — I’m so pleased that we’ve been able to give the students some of that experience in the remote environment.”

After the term wraps up in a few weeks, Liu plans to turn her research, including two mechanical testers, into a startup with the support of U of T Engineering’s Entrepreneurship Hatchery.

“I believe students learn better by building and playing, so this type of device could be beneficial to students at other universities, they could even be used in high school science labs,” says Liu. “However, not everyone can go from freely available design plans to components and to a product. So, through a startup, I’m hoping to make these designs even more accessible to others.”

Article by Liz Do originally published April 6, 2021, at U of T Engineering News.

Posted in Uncategorized

Black History Month: Presidents reflect on the impact of National Society of Black Engineers at U of T

NSBE Presidents

Past and present NSBE U of T presidents reflect on the legacies they’ve left behind and the impact the chapter has had in improving Black inclusion at U of T Engineering. (From top left, clockwise: Iyiope Jibodu, Akira Neckles, Alana Bailey, Dimpho Radebe, Mikhail Burke and Kelly-Marie Melville.)


Kelly-Marie Melville (ChemE 1T2 + PEY) was in her dorm room, just two weeks into her studies at U of T Engineering, when a fellow student Korede Owolabi (CompE 1T5 + PEY) and member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) U of T chapter came knocking on her door.

“He gave me a full rundown about NSBE, and I didn’t fully understand the gravity of it at the time,” says Melville. “But once I started my classes, I got it.”

Melville remembers sitting in Convocation Hall, where all first-year engineering students traditionally gather for their first class together.

“It was intimidating for someone who just moved here from Trinidad and for someone who is just starting engineering. I remember thinking, ‘oh my goodness, there is no one here who looks like me.’”

NSBE, founded in 1975 at Purdue University, aims to promote, support and increase the number of Black engineers who excel academically and professionally. Each year, the NSBE National Convention brings thousands of members together for networking and professional development opportunities. The organization’s goal is to graduate 10,000 Black engineers annually by 2025.

The U of T chapter, founded in 1999, is the largest in Toronto. And for more than 20 years, NSBE U of T has played an important role in increasing Black inclusion at U of T, and in fostering a safe space among Black engineering students, who continue to be underrepresented among the student body.

Three years after that knock on the door, Melville was NSBE president (2009 to 2010), and found herself using the same recruitment strategy. “Sometimes I was even chasing students down in the hallways to talk to them [about NSBE],” she says.

One of the students she introduced NSBE to was Akira Neckles (ChemE 1T7 + PEY), who would also eventually become president (2016 to 2017). During her studies, Neckles remembers seeing only five Black students within her year.

“That can really make you feel like you don’t belong,” she says. “With NSBE, it felt like it brought us together. Within a program, we’re less, but within a group, we’re more.”

Over the years, each NSBE U of T president would bring a unique vision and leave their own legacy of impact.

During Melville’s term, she worked to significantly increase NSBE U of T memberships. For Neckles, her focus was on professional development, inviting organizations to U of T so that members were informed of career pathways, even before looking ahead at their Professional Experience Year (PEY) Co-op.

During Dimpho Radebe’s (IndE 1T4 + PEY, ChemE PhD candidate in EngEd ) presidency (2014 to 2015), she was challenged with keeping NSBE U of T afloat, as memberships began to dwindle.

“I think the biggest challenge for NSBE is that, although it is an organization created to support Black students, we’ve always said, we’re open to everyone and not exclusively to Black students,” explains Radebe. “But many students don’t realize that, and it makes our potential pool that much smaller.”

Radebe says one of her greatest achievements during her leadership was sending 10 students to the NSBE National Convention in Anaheim, Calif.

“That experience really inspired students to join because they can see the full power of NSBE versus when you don’t see many of us around at school,” she says. “Many of them ended up running for leadership positions after that.”

For Iyiope Jibodu (ChemE 0T8 + PEY), it was about “NSBE family and NSBE love.” As president from 2008 to 2009, he was instrumental in launching D-Battle, a student dance competition that would attract large crowds to the Sandford Fleming atrium. D-Battle started as an idea by Owolabi to increase membership — it would become a staple NSBE event for years to come.

“NSBE had a reputation as a professional student group, but we took the risk to host D-Battle, which turned out to be a fantastic platform to increase awareness on campus,” says Jibodu. “By having a fun event with mass appeal, we brought the entire Faculty together and showcased our strong and vibrant community.”

During Mikhail Burke’s (MSE 1T2, IBBME PhD 1T8) presidency (2010 to 2011), he would play a pivotal role in founding ENGage, an outreach program for Black students in Grades 3 to 8 that sparks passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). ENGage has been running for more than a decade out of the U of T Engineering Outreach Office, and would pave the way for Blueprint, a new program designed for Black high school students interested in STEM.

Alana Bailey (Year 3 CivMin) is NSBE U of T’s current president and has had a term like no other — having to lead from home during the pandemic. Despite this challenge, Bailey has set out ambitious goals.

Her mission when she took office in May was to have each executive member recruit at least five students — this led to a growth of more than 60 members by September 2020. Under her leadership, NSBE U of T has been more involved in Faculty recruitment events, as well as leading their own high school outreach efforts.

This year, NSBE U of T has also brought in more external sponsors to support initiatives — most recently, NSBEHacks garnered a wide range of sponsorships with leading companies such as Google, NVIDIA and Shopify, just to name a few.

Bailey hopes this effort builds toward retaining sponsorships year-round, providing funds for members pursuing professional development endeavours.

“If students need help to go to a conference or to enrol in an expensive course, our hope is to have the supports to actively help them achieve that,” says Bailey.

Bailey has three months left in her term, before she takes up her PEY Co-op position next fall. She plans to stay in close contact with NSBE, and she isn’t alone in wanting to stay in touch — many former presidents and members continue to advise, mentor and participate in NSBE U of T events.

That includes Burke, who is now the Dean’s Advisor on Black Inclusivity Initiatives and Student Inclusion & Transition Advisor at U of T Engineering. Over the last decade, he has seen and participated in many efforts by U of T Engineering to address Black underrepresentation — and NSBE has always played a role.

“There’s been a shift in what the Faculty feels empowered to do and it’s a good start, but there’s always room to do more. We have to continue to lean into the discomfort of talking about the lack of Black representation and about anti-Black racism on campus,” he says. “Organizations like NSBE are key advocates in driving the Faculty to engage in that change.”


Article by Liz Do originally published at U of T Engineering News on February 19, 2021.

ChemE student earns prestigious Schwarzman Scholarship — a U of T Engineering first

Fletcher Han

Fletcher Han (Year 4 ChemE + PEY Co-op) has been selected to join the Class of 2022 Schwarzman Scholars, making him the first U of T Engineering student to receive the scholarship and the fifth U of T student to be selected.

The prestigious graduate fellowship is awarded annually by Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Scholars are selected based on their exemplary leadership qualities and ability to bridge and understand political and cultural differences.

One week after his interview, Han received the call informing him he was selected as one of 154 successful applicants. “As soon as I heard the words, ‘Congratulations, you have been selected as a Schwarzman Scholar’, I was left speechless,” says Han. “After letting the news sink in, I was ecstatic and eager to share my achievement with my friends and family, while also nervous for the new possibilities my future may now hold.”

Han’s experiences as a chemical engineering student and as an international volunteer played a key role in his decision to apply for the fellowship.

“Both the Department and the Centre for Global Engineering (CGEN) gave me a platform to pursue an interdisciplinary capstone project in water insecurity and an undergraduate thesis in malnutrition — two topics rooted in global engineering,” says Han. “These opportunities have helped guide my future aspirations while also providing me with the skills necessary to thrive in the Schwarzman Scholars program and beyond.”

Through his experiences, Han developed the skills needed to understand some of the world’s most pressing challenges through a scientific and mathematical lens, and sees the Schwarzman Scholarship as an opportunity to further expand his world view.

“Through the program, I hope to explore how global relations, diplomacy and political policy can be intertwined with engineering design to effectively promote international development in an interconnected world,” says Han. “I now realize that the global implementation of a solution is only a success if global affairs is incorporated into every aspect of the final design.”

Han’s determination to make a difference is evident throughout his academic career. Since joining U of T Engineering in 2016, Han has held several leadership roles and executive positions including mentorship director of the Chemical Engineering Student Council (Chem Club), chair of the Association of Leadership in Chemical Engineering (ALChemE) and vice-chair of the University of Toronto chapter of the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering (CSChE), to name a few.

“These experiences have been essential to my development as both an individual and a leader,” says Han. “I was able to hone areas of strength and broaden my understanding of leadership, recognizing courage, humility and integrity as key ingredients, which I will bring with me when I begin my journey as a Schwarzman Scholar.”

Han is looking forward to exploring his academic and professional interests through the program — he’s also hoping to learn a little bit more about himself along the way, too. Having lived abroad his entire life, Han says he’s “thrilled to start uncovering my Chinese ancestry. I’m also excited to learn about China’s complexities and their future role in tackling some of our world’s most intractable issues.”

“To be the first U of T Engineering student named a Schwarzman Scholar is a tremendous recognition of Fletcher’s ability and potential as a leader,” says Professor Grant Allen, Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry. “I look forward to what Fletcher will accomplish with this incredible opportunity. My congratulations to Fletcher on this exceptional achievement.”

Beginning August 2021, Han will complete a one-year Master’s degree in Global Affairs and live in Beijing for an intensive year of study and cultural immersion. The program is now in its sixth year.


Article originally published on U of T Engineering News. Article by Amanda Hacio. Posted December 16 2020.

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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.

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.

Posted in Uncategorized

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