At Spring Convocation on June 19, 2019, U of T Engineering students mark the end of one journey and the beginning of another.
Having enriched the U of T Engineering community as undergraduate and graduate students, they will join our vibrant, global network of Skule™ Alumni,
where they will continue to address pressing challenges around the world and inspire the next generation.
This year’s 13 “Grads to Watch” embody the spirit of U of T Engineering. Selected by their home departments and institutes,
they embody the creativity, innovation and global impact that define our community. Watch their next steps!
Grads to Watch
The Cancer Crusader
Alex Baker (ChemE PhD 1T9)
Baker is grateful for the opportunities he had to collaborate with others both inside and outside his discipline.
“Talking to people will help you,” he says. “It doesn't matter if they are in a different lab or department — you will learn something from them.”
Baker’s research focused on techniques for growing breast cancer tissue outside of the human body. These lab-grown tumours can be used to screen large numbers of potential drugs and determine which ones are most likely to be effective for a particular person.
Baker used jelly-like materials known as hydrogels to mimic the tumour environment. His lab-grown tissues behaved more like real tumours than those grown individually in a petri dish, enabling more accurate drug screening and testing.
Baker earned an NSERC Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship, a Walter C. Sumner Foundation Fellowship, and a University of Toronto Chemical Engineering Student Life Catalyst Award.
He also earned recognition for turning photos of his research into art, which was featured in both the Inner Spaces exhibit at the Ontario Science Centre and the Artful Science exhibit at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
After graduation, Baker will pursue a Post-doctoral fellowship in synthetic biology. He says U of T Engineering prepared him for a career in discovery.
“I got to explore research which I found interesting and challenging, teach and supervise students, participate in professional development and learn from a rich diversity of talent,” he says.
“Special thanks to the Chemical Engineering Graduate Students' Association. Through them, I learned a lot about the city, university, student life and leadership. The group does a tremendous amount of work to ensure that all graduate students are welcome, organizes professional development sessions, and gives them opportunities to socialize outside of the classroom or laboratory.”
THE Global Engineering Leader
David Boroto (EngSci 1T8 + PEY)
Boroto is originally from South Africa and completed the Infrastructure option within Engineering Science. He says he chose U of T Engineering because it offered him a way to “combine my interests in engineering with global development.”
In his first year, Boroto joined Engineers Without Borders (EWB). By the summer of 2017 he was in Nairobi, Kenya as an EWB Junior Fellow. He worked for a Kenyan social enterprise called Kwangu Kwako, which builds market-ready, low-cost, durable concrete buildings.
“Kwangu Kwako fundamentally changed my perception of how infrastructure can be used to impact and improve the lives of low-income people in a sustainable way,” he says. Boroto served as co-president of EWB while working at IBI Group, a global engineering consulting firm that leverages technologies to design the cities of tomorrow, through the PEY Co-op program.
Boroto was also a member of Engineers in Action, a student group that builds footbridges to help reduce isolation in developing communities around the world. In 2016 he travelled to Guatemala to construct a bridge for the remote community of Patzula, and the following year oversaw the design of another bridge that was constructed in Chilcani, Bolivia.
A few days after his last exam, Boroto will fly to Uganda, again through EWB, to work as a data analyst for a mobile technology social enterprise called Viamo, which connects people and organizations to make better decisions.
“Global development is hard,” he says. “Quick, short term solutions, while necessary in some cases, are not enough. My studies have reaffirmed that my commitment to development is lifelong.”
“I am extremely grateful for the U of T chapter of Engineers Without Borders. The club has fundamentally shaped my global outlook, provided me with formative experiences and given me friendships that will last a lifetime. I would also like to mention the friends I have made in my EngSci 1T8 class: I truly would not have made it through these past five years without their love and support.”
the boundary pusher
Twinkle Choubey (ChemE 1T8 +PEY)
From cancer research to working in a chocolate factory, Choubey was eager to try everything engineering had to offer.
“I selected chemical engineering because of its versatility,” she says. “My path has not been linear: I have taken courses in biology, forestry, pharmacology, urban geography, and globalization.”
Choubey worked with Professor Jinzi Zheng (IBBME) on chemical contrast agents that could be used to track tumor cells in the human body. Through the PEY Co-op program, she spent a year developing innovative packaging solutions for Mondelez International, which manufactures a variety of consumer snack foods, including chocolates.
She also co-founded the University of Toronto Chemical Vehicles team, which competes internationally. Launching the initiative to design a vehicle powered only by carefully controlled chemical reactions enhanced her technical abilities and taught her valuable lessons in leadership.
“It was rewarding to see how my role as a mentor allowed me to facilitate the transition into the engineering community for first-year students,” she says. “Some of those same students are now leading the organization I started.”
Currently, Choubey is working as an Engineering in Training at Hatch. “My undergraduate degree taught me that the biggest opportunities for growth and development lie just beyond our comfort zone,” she says. “I’ve learned how to embrace challenges, reflect on the lessons, and gear up for the next big trial.”
“I’d like to thank my professors, especially Professor Graeme Norval. You have all played a crucial role in my academic development, instilled me with a sense of pride in my profession and helped me gain confidence in my ability to contribute.”
The Carbon Converter
Phil De Luna (MSE PhD 1T9)
Phil De Luna wants to close the carbon loop.
“Imagine a world where the fuel we need for airplanes and freight liners came from the air instead of fossil fuels from the ground,” says De Luna. As a graduate student in Professor Ted Sargent’s (ECE) lab, he researched the development of new materials to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into renewable fuels.
This work led to De Luna being named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in 2018. The accolade is one of many highlights from his time at U of T Engineering.
De Luna was part of a multidisciplinary group who advanced to the finals of the Carbon XPRIZE competition, a $20 million global challenge to capture and convert the most CO2 into valuable products. He has also published 30 papers as a PhD candidate, with multiple first-author papers in notable journals such as Nature and Science.
Every summer has also been spent abroad, from a research internship at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in New York, to a visiting scholarship at UC Berkeley in California. Those experiences further enriched his learning as a graduate student at U of T Engineering.
“U of T Engineering was a truly formative chapter in my life,” says De Luna. “I learned how important communication is to science. I learned the massively daunting challenge we are facing with climate change. I learned what it would take to make a renewably-powered future a reality. Ultimately, I learned about myself and what I want to achieve.”
De Luna recently accepted a position as Program Director, Clean Energy Materials Challenge Program at the National Research Council (NRC) — making him the youngest to hold a director position at the NRC. There, he’s developing and leading a $40 million collaborative research program on CO2 conversion, hydrogen-gas production, and accelerated materials discovery.
“I would thank my supervisor Ted Sargent for believing in me, supporting me, and teaching me how to push the boundaries of life. I'd tell him how I will miss seeing ‘Tedited’ document puns in my inbox.”
The Internet Security Defender
Kristina Dzeparoska (ECE MASc 1T9, PhD candidate)
Dzeparoska’s philosophy is to always look at ‘the bigger picture’ — and it doesn’t get much bigger than the Internet.
Motivated by seeing the catastrophic impact of online security breaches, she researched under Professor Alberto Leon-Garcia (ECE) to develop novel security solutions to defend against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.
Dzeparoska developed a new type of security defense that would span across multiple Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) to ultimately cut off malicious Internet traffic at the first point-of-entry.
“I truly believe that having an additional layer of security defense overarching the Internet would make a significant impact,” she says. “That’s why I think my project will become very helpful in the years to come, especially once we have completely evolved to Internet of Things (IoT), smart cities, self-driving vehicles, 5G, etc. Internet security will become even more crucial than it is now.”
Dzeparoska is looking forward to continuing her research as a PhD student in Leon-Garcia’s lab. “I am thankful to U of T Engineering for teaching me so many valuable lessons, such as patience, collaboration and the reward that comes with working hard. As a lifelong learner, I’m excited to see where my PhD journey takes me.”
“Above all, I would like to thank my supervisor, the awe-inspiring Professor Alberto Leon-Garcia for his incredible guidance and support. A thank you to the staff and faculty at ECE, and a shout-out to the SAVI research team and Vladi. Last, a special thank you to my parents and brother for always being there for me!"
Melissa Fung (MechE 1T8 + PEY)
After four years as a member of U of T’s Carbon Cutting Racers and one year on the Blue Sky Solar Racing team, Fung is used to crossing the finish line. In June, when she receives her degree at Convocation Hall, she gets to cross yet another one.
Since Year 1, Fung’s goal was to make the most of her time at the University. That’s why, in addition to being team captain of the Carbon Cutting Racers — formerly U of T Supermileage — and helping design the ninth-generation Blue Sky Solar Racing vehicle, she also played on U of T’s tri-campus women’s soccer team.
“If I could describe my four years here in one word, it would be ‘challenging,’ because being a team captain of an intensive design team and juggling a full course load is a difficult task. It’s like having two full-time jobs,” says Fung. “But I’ve always welcomed challenges. Juggling course work and team responsibilities has helped increase my productivity and time management.”
After gaining more than a year’s worth of experience working in mechanical design at Thornhill Medical through her PEY Co-op, Fung will be moving to the U.K in the fall to join the landing gear department at Airbus. “I hope to help ‘design the future of flight and help make it fly’ there,” she says.
Even though she’s moving overseas, she will maintain close ties to U of T Engineering. “I plan to mentor the incoming Carbon Cutting Racers team leads. I also hope to be involved in future initiatives with the Faculty to inspire and motivate young women to pursue careers in STEM.”
“I would like to thank all my Carbon Cutting Racers and Supermileage teammates for making the past four years an adventure. Thank you for all the incredible memories. Especially Kristine Confalone and Mengqi Wang for all their guidance and support.”
Frank Gu (ElecE 1T9)
Looking back at his journey at U of T Engineering, Gu can think of milestones for all four years.
As a first-year student, Gu landed a coveted internship with Nanoleaf, a global lighting startup founded by U of T Engineering alumni.
In second year, he was part of the Blue Sky Solar Racing team that finished third at the 2016 American Solar Challenge. “Our success fuelled the fire to push each other even harder towards the World Solar Challenge,” he says.
The following year at the World Solar Challenge, not everything went as planned. On the second day of the race, “We encountered a large thunderstorm described by the locals as happening only ‘once every 30 years,’” says Gu.
The team pushed through the muddy terrain and severe flooding, eventually finishing without trailering their solar car. “We received the Safety Award in recognition of our team’s discipline and composure in the face of various problems and emergency situations along the race. I’m really proud of that.”
In his final year at U of T Engineering, Gu says completing ECE’s capstone project was an encapsulation of everything he’s learned and experienced inside and outside of the classroom. His team, despite challenges with delays in parts shipments to build their prototype on time, ended up winning the top design award.
Gu envisions starting his own autonomous drone company. “I have an ambitious goal: do no harm to this planet. You’ll most likely find me and my friends working together on some automation-related project that will improve everyone’s quality of life,” he says.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank Professor Olivier Trescases for his unwavering support of my endeavours. He is the Faculty Advisor supervising the Blue Sky Solar Racing team, and he has helped us through various hurdles in administration and technology. I am grateful for all his help to me personally, and his pivotal role in the Blue Sky Solar Racing team.”
The Transportation Decision-maker
Md Sami Hasnine (CivMin PhD 1T9)
Hasnine’s research is at the intersection of transportation engineering, economics, data science and psychology.
During his graduate studies, he developed behavioural models to research travel-related decisions people make on a day-to-day basis — when to leave and return home, their mode of transportation, their travel destination and the amount of time it takes to get there.
“This modelling has immense importance for the management of transportation demand in a city,” says Hasnine, who has been recognized by peers and institutions throughout his research career at U of T Engineering. He was the president of the U of T chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers for two years, and is the recipient of several scholarships from the University and NSERC, as well as the Transportation Association of Canada, Canadian Institute of Transportation Engineers, and the Canadian Transportation Research Forum.
Hasnine says the one word he would use to describe his experience at the Faculty would be “Diversity.”
“I learned that diversity is a strength,” says Hasnine, who is currently working at U of T Engineering as a post-doctoral fellow. “U of T welcomes great researchers from all over the world, which is truly mind-blowing, and the success of the institution is built on this strength.”
“I would like to thank my supervisor, Professor Khandker Nurul Habib. Professor Habib introduced me to the basics of travel-demand modelling. He also truly cares about his students. He always pushed me to learn more and become a better human being. Graduate studies last for a short period of time, but I will continue to carry the lessons about research and ethics that I learned from Professor Habib with me for my entire life.”
The Surgical Safety Pioneer
Amanda Khan (IBBME PhD 1T9, Faculty of Medicine MD 2T0)
Khan is pursuing a unique degree program which combines an MD and a PhD, and says she has learned a lot more than medical science.
“The biggest lessons involved dealing with uncertainty, troubleshooting, being your own advocate and persevering despite setbacks,” she says. “All of these abilities will serve me well in the future as I navigate the often uncharted career of a clinician-scientist.”
Khan’s research focused on laparoscopic surgery — also known as “keyhole surgery” — and in particular the force exerted on delicate gastrointestinal tissues by laparoscopic graspers. Her work showed that the range of grasp forces currently in use has the potential to disrupt the outer lining of the intestine and cause complications.
“By highlighting the need to transition to ‘smart tools’ that can quantify grasp pressure intraoperatively, I hope to make this type of surgery safer,” she says.
Khan received a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, a Student Award for Innovation/Leadership from the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, and a Perioperative Services Innovation Grant from Sick Kids Hospital. She will spend the next year completing the MD portion of her degree program, before becoming a clinician-scientist specializing in radiotherapy.
"I would like to thank Matthew MacDonald (UofT MEng MIE 1T0), who was absolutely instrumental in my PhD work. Without his mechanical and electrical engineering help, I wouldn't have been able to design and fabricate the two devices that I created for my PhD. What I thought were unsolvable problems, he made solvable and his ability to break down very complex issues into manageable solutions was extremely impressive!"
The outer space explorer
Andreas Marquis (UTIAS MASc 1T9)
At U of T Engineering, Marquis found the perfect place to pursue his passion for building devices that help humanity explore outer space.
“The incredible people, experiences, opportunities and connections I found exceeded the high expectations I had,” he says. “Not only did I gain a rigorous technical background, but I got invaluable, practical exposure to the multidisciplinary systems involved in satellite and rocket engineering.”
For his master’s project in the Space Flight Laboratory at UTIAS, Marquis helped develop VEGA, an asteroid prospecting instrument for space mining. He also worked on a trio of microsatellites that can fly in formation and collect data together, which were launched to orbit in the fall of 2018.
Outside of his studies, Marquis served as the director of the University of Toronto Aerospace Team’s Rocketry Division. The team is creating a hybrid sounding rocket — Defiance — which is designed to break the Canadian amateur rocketry altitude record.
After completing his thesis, Marquis has accepted a position at Space Ryde, a local startup that uses balloon-assisted rockets to improve the logistics of launching small satellites.
“By carrying rockets above the denser parts of the atmosphere prior to ignition, we provide a smoother, lower-cost ride for small satellites,” he says. “I love a challenge, I love to help, and I love space.”
“I want to thank all of my amazing mentors and colleagues at the Space Flight Laboratory, whose guidance and friendship has made me a better engineer and person. Thanks as well to everyone at UTAT. I couldn’t be more proud or thankful for everything we’ve accomplished together.”
The AI Activist
Deb Raji (EngSci 1T8 + PEY)
Five years ago, Raji says she had “no clue what coding was about.” Today she is a mentee at Google AI, and the author of a study that has attracted international media attention.
“It was a completely unexpected ride,” says Raji. “Within engineering, I felt like I was being exposed to many different things all the time. It allowed me to dream big.”
In collaboration with researchers at MIT, Raji showed that commercial facial recognition algorithms contain racial and gender bias. She hopes to continue this research in the future.
“I want to completely upend the way we think about artificial intelligence model development and evaluation,” she says.
In addition to her research, Raji spent a year working for AI startup Clarifai, and founded Project Include, an organization that teaches computer programming to students in low income communities.
“Since we started, we've reached almost 1,000 students overall,” says Raji. “We now have more than 30 active volunteers, and we’ve done an international mission to Ecuador. I’m amazed how much the project has grown.”
“I'd like to thank Dawn Britton for her early support and encouragement and Afifa Saleem and Ipsita Hedwig Bhargava for growing Project Include into what it is today. My thesis supervisor Ashton Anderson and research mentor Marzyeh Ghassemi have been really helpful in exposing me to what research looks like, and Lisa Romkey was the professor that really introduced me to the idea of thinking more broadly about the impact of technology on society. From other places, I'd like to thank Joy Buolamwini, Meg Mitchell and Timnit Gebru for being amazing research collaborators, and irreplaceable mentors.”
The Outreach Activist
Samantha Stuart (MSE 1T8 + PEY)
Throughout her undergraduate studies, Stuart made it a priority to inspire pre-university students to follow suit.
“In high school I benefitted hugely from participating in STEM outreach events such as the Canada Wide Science Fair, so while in university, I wanted to pay it forward,” she says.
In her first year, she was the Ontario conference logistics manager for the student-run non-profit, Science Expo Youth Empowerment Group. She also wanted to be a voice for her fellow students at U of T Engineering, becoming a first-year MSE class rep.
Her active involvement led to winning an Engineering Ambassador Scholarship from the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation (CEMF) in her second year — she was one of only five women from across Canada to receive the award.
“I also really loved being a part of the Engineering Society on campus,” says Stuart. “My proudest moments from EngSoc were creating new outreach events that are still running annually, like the Mentorship Coffeehouse, and developing an online platform for mid-course feedback, SpeakUp.”
She’s also channeled her engineering outreach through public speaking. In 2017, she gave a TEDx talk designed to help the general public understand the critical role engineers play in society. She later spoke at the Canada 2067 Youth Summit in Toronto, encouraging high school students to try their hand at independent research. Recently, Stuart was the alumni ambassador at the 2019 Canada-Wide Science Fair.
Upon graduation, Stuart hopes to continue inspiring young students, as well as fostering her academic passions. After she returns from work and travel on her gap year, she plans to pursue graduate studies.
“In my research career, I aim to work with developing technologies in the innovative materials and product design space, with a lens on bioengineering,” says Stuart. Samantha has recently published a paper on the design and simulation of soft contact lenses with the University of Liverpool.
Asked to describe her U of T Engineering experience in one word, Stuart says “door-opening.” “Studying here has connected me to incredible opportunities, such as my research exchange to the University of Liverpool and PEY Co-op at Synaptive Medical,” she says.
“I would definitely like to shout out the University of Toronto Engineering Society, for all that they do to make the student experience better in engineering, and for helping me find my place in school.”
the Heartbeat Hero
Christopher Sun (EngSci 1T4, IndE Phd 1T9)
Sun grew up in Toronto and completed a degree in U of T’s Engineering Science program before bridging into a PhD program under professor Timothy Chan. “The University of Toronto, and also the City of Toronto, have shaped who I am today,” says Sun.
In his research, he aims to raise the odds of surviving cardiac arrest by analyzing and optimizing the placement of automated external defibrillators (AEDs), devices that can re-start a stopped heart by means of electrical stimulation.
Two years ago, Sun and Chan published a list of the best places to position AEDs to ensure maximum cardiac arrest coverage both spatially and temporally. Coffee shops and ATMs topped the list, due to their ubiquity and long opening hours.
Sun received a Vanier Scholarship and had the opportunity to collaborate with clinical experts at St. Michaels Hospital in Toronto, as well as at Gentofte Hospital and Copenhagen EMS in Copenhagen, Denmark.
After graduation, Sun will take up a position as a Postdoctoral Associate at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He plans to work in collaboration with Massachusetts General hospital to optimize and improve patient management and care.
“U of T prepared me to continue to make contributions towards improving healthcare in the future,” he says.
“I would like to thank Professor Timothy Chan; I cannot express how grateful I am for his incredible mentorship and support. I would also like to thank Dr. Laurie Morrison and Professor Michael Carter for their invaluable support. To my friends in EngSci, Skule Nite, Skule Volleyball, and at the Applied Optimization Lab, thank you for being there every step of the way. Finally, to my mom, dad, and brother, thank you for everything!”