Posted June 13th, 2017 by Jessica MacInnis

Sandro Young named U of T’s top student

  • Sandro Young is awarded one of three Governor General’s Silver Medals in recognition of high academic achievement by Farid Najm, chair of The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. (Photo: Laura Brown)

Sandro Young (CompE 1T6+PEY) always knew he was interested in computers, circuits and electronics. What started as a middle-school passion — Young was an active participant in science fairs in Grades 7 and 8 — eventually led him to study in The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) where today, he graduates as U of T’s top student with a cumulative GPA of 4.0.

“I never set out to be the top graduating student,” says Young. “But I’ve pretty much always been interested in science, math and technology — especially programming, software and computer architecture, so ECE was a great fit for me, and I enjoyed all of the courses and projects along the way.”

Young graduates with a number of scholarships, awards and medals in recognition of his academic achievements, including one of three Governor General’s Silver Medals bestowed to U of T’s most academically outstanding undergraduate students graduating this spring. He is also the recipient of the John Black Aird Scholarship, given to the top student at U of T.

Top marks weren’t Young’s only focus during his undergraduate experience: he was a member of several clubs, including the SPARK Design Club where he was co-president. “The Spark club builds interactive electro-mechanical displays three or four times a year and puts them around campus for people to play with and interact with,” says Young. “What was really great was that students across all disciplines would work on these projects so everyone was learning from each other — it’s a very high-energy and collaborative environment.”

Listen to an interview with Sandro Young on CBC Toronto’s Metro Morning

Young followed his academic interests as he chose his courses in upper years: “I took a computer architecture course, a computer vision course and courses on machine learning and natural language understanding,” says Young. “There were a lot of great options and you got to choose exactly what you want to study in third and fourth year — the professors were great too.” Open-ended design projects completed throughout his courses were challenging, but were some of his favourite aspects of his undergraduate experience. “The capstone project in fourth year and the final project in the second-year digital logic course were a lot of fun,” says Young. “One of the things I really love about engineering is the fact that there is a lot of creativity involved; getting to take some of the concepts we learned and applying them to open ended problems was one of my favourite things about studying here.”

In addition to the Governor General’s Silver Medal and the John Black Aird Scholarship, Young receives the W.S. Wilson Medal, the Ontario Professional Engineers Foundation for Education Gold Medal, the Henry G. Acres Medal and the Adel S. Sedra Gold Medal. “The awards and scholarships Sandro has received represent not only his academic ability, but his perseverance, commitment and enthusiasm,” says Professor Farid Najm, chair of ECE. “These qualities will serve him well as he embarks on the next stage of his engineering career — and I look forward to following his continued success.”

He’ll be joining Google at its Mountain View, Calif. headquarters in September, where he spent two summers working on their Machine Perception and Ads Quality teams. “I’m really interested in machine learning because I think it has the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with technology and the role technologies plays in our daily lives and in society,” says Young. “I’m still going through the team matching process at Google, but I’d love to land on a team doing work in that area.”

As for advice to current and future students, Young’s outlook is both philosophical and practical: “I think it’s helpful to keep an open mind about all of the courses you are taking; even if it’s not your favourite subject, if you find ways to make it relevant to you, you can be more engaged,” says Young. “And if you go to class regularly, then you are forced to think about the subject for at least a few hours a week — I mostly took my own advice on that!”