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August 13, 2009

Reprinted from Skulematters 2009 

As relations between countries increase in our global landscape, the world’s largest issues expand in visibility and prevalence. Fragilities in the global economy are pushing developed nations into conditions not seen since the 1920s. Petroleum, which has powered modern society for almost 100 years, may very well be reaching a permanent peak in oil production. And this is just the tip of the iceberg…

In the past 50 years, the human population has nearly tripled while industrial pollution, unsustainable agriculture, and poor civic planning have drastically decreased water and food supplies. Furthermore, as debates continue to thrive around the causes of climate change, global warming is an observed fact.

These problems, however, should not defeat us. They should instead be treated as opportunities to stand up and lead. 

Skule™ students and alumni are passionate about the world and embrace their responsibility to it by immersing themselves with knowledge, sharing that knowledge, and building a better tomorrow through innovations and inspiration. 

“Being a global engineer starts with belief that the future can be radically different from the present, and that our actions can lead to substantial change… A global engineer values equality…and looks beyond individual events to see their connections and relationships,” says Mike Klassen (EngSci 1T0) who was recently recognized with the Leaders of the Future Award by the Professional Engineers of Ontario Foundation for Education and Engineers Without Borders. 

Klassen is one of many Skule™ students devoted to sustainability. The culture within Skule™ supports each of their meaningful ambitions. Programs such as Engineers Without Borders,  Engineering Leaders of Tomorrow, and the Professional Experience Year Internship program give Engineering students a crucial understanding of the world and the skills they require to become change agents.

Engineers Without Borders (EWB)

For the 800 million people who go hungry each day and the one billion people who lack access to clean water, poverty is caused by an absence of opportunity. EWB responds to this need, helping people in developing communities gain access to technologies that improve lives. 

The EWB — U of T Chapter has grown steadily since its 2001 inception. In November 2008, the Chapter ran seminars for three weeks on “Appropriate Technology” during the First Year Engineering Strategies and Practice course for Core 8 and TrackOne, which reached more than 200 students. Led by Sabrina Tang (MIE 1T1) andShankar Manoharan (MIE 1T1), Chapter members designed the seminar content and managed the training sessions. Each seminar was led by one student and one member of the Toronto Professional Chapter of EWB — including current Professional Chapter President and Skule™ Alumna Nadia Berger (MIE 0T5). 

The seminars focused on understanding the root causes of poverty and the challenges of implementing appropriate technology — particularly with respect to clean water. In a post-event survey 90% of students said they would like to help reduce world poverty in some way, and 70% said sustainability is an important factor in designing appropriate technology. After the seminars, EWB witnessed a spike in First Year participation and was invited to submit problems to students enrolled in the second semester’s Engineering Strategies and Practice course. 

At the 2009 National EWB Conference, U of T sent 36 delegates — more than any other university in attendance — and was honoured with the Award for Best Success in Attract-Engage-Retain. During the conference, five of our faculty members were also heavily involved in discussions surrounding the increased promotion of EWB’s integration in Engineering education.

Engineering Leaders of Tomorrow (LOT)

LOT is a comprehensive Engineering leadership program that provides a life-long foundation for transformational leaders and outstanding citizens. The belief of the program is that engineers have a distinct and important role to play in society. To energize global leaders, LOT offers a Fourth Year and a graduate leadership course, a certificate program with a focus on team skills, leadership lectures, and promotes student and community ties through Faculty and Department working groups led by students. 

During the fall semester of 2008, LOT hosted 72 events and training workshops that reached 3,997 students. A revolutionary concept, the program has become an invaluable Faculty asset. 

“I can honestly say that Leaders of Tomorrow changed my life — and all the changes haven’t even taken place yet! After four workshops, I have become aware of aspects of my character that I certainly didn’t give much attention to before,” says Stephen Pinto (ChemE 1T1) who is eager to start implementing his newfound knowledge.

Professional Experience Year Internship Program (PEY)

The PEY Internship program is Canada’s largest internship program, and has been part of Engineering since 1979. In its commitment to provide 12- to 16-month paid internships through paraprofessional opportunities, the PEY program allows students to apply their knowledge in a project-based professional environment, crucial to their ongoing career development. By focusing on the individual development of each student, the PEY team prepares students for local and global internship opportunities. 

More than 55% of current Third Year Engineering students are on 2008-2009 PEY internships. These students are interning at over 250 government offices, corporations, and small-size employers. In addition, 8% of 2008-2009 PEY students are on international internships in the following locations: Bangladesh, Botswana, Belgium, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.S. In previous years, PEY students have also participated in internships in: Chile, Czech Republic, Qatar, Romania, India, Indonesia, and Taiwan.

Alumni Gone Global

Many of us know Jeffrey Skoll (ECE 8T7, Hon. Doc. 0T3) as co-founder of eBay and producer of Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. What most of us probably do not know about him is he leads a very important association, the Skoll Foundation. 

In 1999, Skoll created the Foundation to pursue his vision of a world where all people, regardless of geography, background or economic status, have the right to enjoy and employ the full range of their talents and abilities. 

“I like the idea that philanthropy can be innovative, using the latest advancements to bring results to many people, ideally on a global basis,” says Skoll who believes systemic change in the world can be achieved by investing in, connecting, and celebrating social entrepreneurs. 

Grants through the Foundation will assist the American Council on Renewable Energy derive 25% of U.S. electricity and fuels from renewable sources by 2025; has helped train 16,000 teachers at the Afghan Institute of Learning while preparing 165 students for careers as community leaders; and so much more. 

After completing his degree, Steve Dennis (CivE 9T9) worked in Toronto as a civil engineer. A curiosity to dig deeper into the troubles and complexities of the world led this grad to look further than the newspapers for answers. 

In 2002 Dennis left his domestic life and started work with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), as a logistician in northern Sri Lanka. Over the last six years, Dennis has worked with MSF in different roles supporting health care programs in Sri Lanka, South Sudan, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Chad, and Kenya. 

“Engineering gives tools for people to solve problems. Through my work with MSF I have found that the complexity of problems throughout the world requires engineers to take broader and more compassionate views towards a solution,” explains Dennis who is presently working on a book describing a different perspective of the developing world and the reasoning behind why aid workers do what they do. 

Paul Cadario (CivE 7T3) is an engineer who through his integrity and tenacity has shaped a successful 33-year career dedicated to fighting poverty and improving the living standards of people in the developing world. 

Upon completing his studies at Oxford, Cadario joined the World Bank in 1975 as a young transport economist in West Africa. In this role, he helped eliminate barriers in distributing funds for poverty reduction. Since then he has worked in China on country strategy and capacity development; managed strategy, finance, and logistics for the Bank’s emerging program in the former USSR; 
and led change management for the Bank’s emerging worldwide information systems renewal and roll-out of SAP. 

In 2001, Cadario was appointed senior manager, trust fund quality assurance and compliance. His mandate for this position is simple: make the Bank’s $27 billion trust fund portfolio achieve results for the poor. 

Philip Yeo (MIE 7T0, Hon. Doc. 9T7) is a visionary who takes on large international projects and produces even larger results. 

In 2008, Yeo was recognized with U of T’s Engineering Alumni Medal, the highest honour awarded by the Engineering Alumni Association (EAA). 

Sustainable Education

Although natural resources, time, and world finances are scarce, our imaginations are not. 

“It is not education that will save us, but education of a certain kind,” declares David Orr — author of The Sustainable Revolution. 

Engineers are key in transforming the world. According to the Government of Canada, our country is rapidly moving towards a knowledge-based economy built on innovation and technology. The  Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto ensures every Skule™ student understands society includes more than just the present one — it includes the future. We accomplish this by preparing our students and graduates with technical skills needed to be globally competitive and valuable.

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Fahad Pinto
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