Building Stronger communities
Valerie Ajayi (MechE 2T1 + PEY)
Between working part time and commuting two hours each way from just outside of Brampton, Ajayi found it difficult in her first year to participate in Skule™ life, especially on weekends. But she did not let that challenge stand in her way for long.
“There are so many opportunities across a campus as large as St. George and a community as passionate as Skule™,” she says. “I wanted to take advantage of it as best as I could.”
Ajayi eventually found a place closer to campus and joined the Skule™ Orientation committee, becoming its vice chair, finance. She placed first in her categories in both the CUBE Biomedical Engineering Competition as well as the U of T Engineering Kompetitions (UTEK). Her experience representing Skule™ at the Ontario Engineering Competition inspired her to lead UTEK the following year as its director. She currently serves as vice-president, finance of the U of T Engineering Society.
“It’s been great to have the chance to work with so many incredible students as we navigate what has been an uncertain and challenging time for all,” she says. “I’m very proud of the projects we were able to advance this year.”
Thanks to the PEY Co-op program, Ajayi is graduating with work experience at Bombardier and Comtek Advanced Structures under her belt. She plans to pursue an MASc degree focused on the solid mechanics of new materials, with applications in safety and sustainable production of composites for automotive and aerospace components.
“I have learned so much about leadership, discipline and passion through my extracurricular involvements,” says Ajayi. “I am certain that these will help me succeed in my future endeavours.”
“I'd like to thank all the people I have had the opportunity to work with, both academically and through EngSoc, including my Orientation co-chairs, co-officers in EngSoc, UTEK leads, U of T Engineering Business Manager Rhonda Meek, teammates on projects and supervising professors. I am incredibly grateful for all they have shared with me, and I hope I have given them something in return."
Developing leadership skills
Brohath Amrithraj (ChemE 2T2)
Amrithraj says that his academic journey has been a time of tremendous growth.
“If I met myself from five years ago, neither of us would recognize each other,” he says. “I was proud of who I was then, but all of the experiences I have had and the many people I met have made me even more proud of who I am today.”
One of Amrithraj’s proudest achievements is founding Skule™ International Transition, which helps international students find their footing at U of T Engineering. The program is now a permanent part of the U of T Engineering Society, where Amrithraj served as Vice President, Communications. He was also president of U of T Toastmasters.
Amrithraj is graduating with engineering minors in both nanotechnology and sustainable energy, two fields in which he has long-standing interest. In September, he will begin a direct-entry PhD in chemical engineering with Professor Gisele Azimi (ChemE, MSE), researching the potential of aluminum-ion batteries to provide a more sustainable alternative to today’s lithium-ion technology. His long-term goal is to become a professor.
Asked for the key skills that he will take with him into the future, Amrithraj lists three: understanding people, time management and making quick decisions.
“These are not things you can learn from technical courses alone,” he says. “Taking on roles outside of class and working with a lot of different people elevated those particular skills. I think they will act as a foundation for me to get closer to reaching my goals.”
"I could write a whole book about the numerous people who have supported me through the years — my classmates, friends, professors, people I have worked with and everyone who gave me a chance and support to showcase my potential. That said, if I had to choose someone then I would pick my mom: she is the only constant in all of my achievements."
Making metals more sustainable
John Anawati (ChemE PhD 2T2)
For his PhD thesis, Anawati developed new metallurgical processes for the recovery of materials that are key to sustainable technologies, such as electric vehicles, wind turbines and fuel-efficient lightweight aircrafts.
“I developed a process to extract scandium, iron and aluminum from bauxite residue, which is the main waste product of aluminum mining,” he says. “I also worked on a process for recovering rare earth elements from naturally forming ionic clays. This new process has a reduced environmental impact compared to what’s used in industry today.”
One of Anawati’s biggest highlights was collaborating with an industrial partner to manage the research and development for a brand-new mining project.
“I got the chance to apply all the technical skills that I learned in a real-world industrial setting,” he says.
Anawati also worked hard to improve life for his fellow graduate students by piloting the Chemical Engineering Graduate Mentorship Program. Designed to combat isolation and strengthen the ChemE community, the program paired incoming students with mentors outside their research groups to help navigate life as a grad student.
“I'm glad to say that the program is still going strong and encouraging the formation of new friendships even during the challenges of COVID-19,” says Anawati.
Earlier this year, Anawati joined the engineering consulting firm Hatch. Working in the hydrometallurgy department, he applies what he has learned to develop and improve metallurgical processes for clients. He also has some advice for current students:
“Your experience at Skule™ is 100% what you make of it, so stay curious, always be open to trying new things, and try to have some fun every once in a while!”
“I'd like to give a shout out to everyone at Wallberg, I hope to see you all soon!"
Improving operational efficiencies
Kwesi Apponsah (UTIAS PhD 2T2)
Apponsah feels prepared and ready for the next chapter of his life after completing his PhD studies at UTIAS.
“I have been lucky enough to learn from world-class faculty, and I have also made some great friends along the way,” he says.
Apponsah’s research focused on improving aircraft performance when the underlying flow is unsteady, by developing an aerodynamic shape optimization framework to determine efficient wing shapes.
“My work can help design aircraft that generate less noise and produce less drag to minimize fuel burn and greenhouse gas emissions,” he says.
Highlights of Apponsah’s studies include internships at Bombardier Aerospace in 2018 and 2021, where he worked in the aeroacoustics and advanced aerodynamics groups.
“At Bombardier, I performed computational aeroacoustics simulations and developed computational tools to study inlet distortions for turbofan engines.”
He is also proud to have received the 2016 Dr. Lorne Heuckroth Scholarship, which provided financial support for international students from developing countries, and the Emerging Academic Award at the inaugural University of Toronto African Scholars Awards in 2017.
Apponsah has already secured a position as a Senior Consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada. There, he draws on his background in computational science to develop machine learning and advanced analytics tools to help improve the operational efficiency of his clients.
“My time at U of T taught me to remain curious, be persistent and use failure as fuel for success, and I will carry those lessons into the future.”
“I want to thank my supervisor, Professor David W. Zingg (UTIAS), for being a great advisor, teacher and mentor. I would also like to thank my doctoral committee members, Professors Prasanth Nair and Philippe Lavoie (both UTIAS), for their invaluable contributions to my work, and my brilliant colleagues at the computational fluid dynamics lab for enriching my experience at U of T."
Catching neurodegeneration faster
Sayeh Bayat (BME PhD 2T2)
In her thesis, Bayat aimed to develop “digital biomarkers” that can predict or explain neurodegeneration. For example, in one study she gathered mobility data from smartphones or other wearable devices to compare how older people with or without dementia moved about their communities, either by transit, bicycle, walking or by car accompanied family members.
“Using machine learning, we showed that there may be very subtle changes in driving behaviours that can be indicative of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease,” she says.
Outside of her research, Bayat served as a student leader. As president of the TRI-KITE Executive Trainee Committee, she launched a Three-minute Thesis competition, created a peer mentorship program and supported her fellow students in topics such as job applications and financial literacy. She also served as the co-chairs of both the 2021 Toronto Biomedical Engineering Conference and of ILead: Grad, an organization within the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering.
“One of my proudest contributions is when we started to use our platform in ILead: Grad to host bi-weekly graduate conversation circles, which we called Caffeinated Grad Talks,” she says. “We wanted to offer students a safe and confidential space where they can talk about the stressors in graduate school and life.”
Bayat’s contribution to neurodegeneration research has already landed her a faculty position at the University of Calgary, where she is continuing the development of models and algorithms that leverage embedded technologies to monitor brain-related behaviours.
“I think this is where the future is headed,” she says. “My time at U of T has taught me the importance of working collectively and collaboratively; that in order to push the boundaries of science and innovation, we must engage end-users and stakeholders, share knowledge and achieve impact.”
"I am deeply grateful to my supervisor, Professor Alex Mihailidis (BME), for inspiring me and for guiding me through my graduate studies. I would also like to thank my committee members and mentors, Dr. Gary Naglie (Public Health), Dr. Michael Widener (Geography), and Dr. Babak Taati (Computer Science, BME), who have shared their insights, wisdom and knowledge with me. They inspired me to be a better researcher and educator. Finally, I would like to thank my family for always believing in me."
Leading technological change
Laura Berneaga (Mech MASc 2T2, Mech 1T9 + PEY)
Laura Berneaga works on problems at the intersection of engineering and humanity.
Her thesis revolves around the manufacturing of ventilators, one of the earliest healthcare bottlenecks exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We focused on the controller since it is the most complex component, responsible for all the major decisions the ventilator makes,” she says.
“Today, the code for the controller is highly dependent on the specific hardware components. We created a framework for an open-source design, one that could be adopted by manufacturers anywhere in the world, helping them quickly scale up in a crisis.”
An experienced student leader, Berneaga served as the president of the U of T Engineering Society during her undergraduate degree and as president of the Graduate Engineering Council of Students during her master’s degree.
“Both roles presented me with opportunities to advocate for better experiences for the students, and it was extremely rewarding to see initiatives I pushed for come to life,” she says.
“But I equally valued my involvement in projects such as Fr!osh Week and Skule™ Nite. I’ve always believed that you shouldn’t have to choose between the technical aspects of engineering and the more artistic and creative parts of your personality.”
This summer, Berneaga moved to Germany to take up an internship at the Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin. She is designing and implementing improvements to a highly sensitive X-ray spectroscopy machine, a piece of analytical equipment used across a wide range of disciplines.
Berneaga says that two big lessons she took from U of T Engineering were to never be afraid to follow your passion, and to take initiative for the things you want to achieve.
“It’s easy to go with the flow, but it’s so much more rewarding to take charge and pursue the things you want, the way you want them.”
"I would like to give a huge shoutout to Rhonda, our business manager in EngSoc, as well as my officer team — Alex, Najah, Zahir, and Zach, and my Vice-Chair Daire— for making EngSoc and GECoS such fun yet rewarding experiences, and for keeping me sane even in the most insane moments!"
Building better batteries
Julia Bincik (MSE 2T1 + PEY)
Bincik’s passion is environmental sustainability, and she is graduating with a feeling of confidence in her ability to have an impact in her chosen field.
“I feel well-equipped to make a positive difference,” she says.
Bincik credits the TrackOne program, which she did in the first year of her undergraduate studies, for sparking her interest in materials science engineering as a way to explore green technologies.
A highlight from her academic career was co-authoring an article on microplastics for the Society of Plastics Engineers Newsletter, which won first place for the University of Toronto Engineers Without Borders Green Plastics Article Competition.
Outside of class, Bincik volunteered as a counsellor for U of T’s Da Vinci Engineering Enrichment Program as well as the U of T Engineering Academy, UTEA. She also participated in ecological conservation research in Honduras with U.K. biodiversity and climate research organization Operation Wallacea.
“There have been numerous times where I felt pushed to my limits with the demands of school and life,” says Bincik. “But I am glad this journey hasn’t been easy. I view challenges as opportunities, and I have tried to use difficult situations to build my resilience and better understand the importance of taking care of myself, looking out for others, and showing kindness and gratitude no matter what the circumstances.”
After graduation, Bincik will be working as a Junior R&D Scientist at e-Zinc, a Toronto-based corporation that has developed electrochemical technology for storing energy in zinc metal. The company is one of the 2022 Global Cleantech 100.
“I am excited to return to the e-Zinc team, where I completed my PEY Co-op, to continue work on the development of the air cathode component of the zinc-air battery.”
“I will always be grateful to the professors I have had and people behind the scenes who have shown commitment and support to us students. In particular, I would like to thank Professor Keryn Lian (MSE) for all that she has taught me. Her confidence in me has had significant impact and started my journey in electrochemistry research."
Enhancing mining stability
Marie-Eve Caron (CivMin MASc 2T2)
Caron describes her two years as a Civil & Mineral Engineering MASc student as a roller-coaster ride.
“It had its highs and lows,” she says. “But I am grateful for the support I had from those around me, including my thesis supervisor and members of the department.”
While many of her classes and projects were completed remotely, Caron was still able to immerse herself in the social life of her department through the CivMin Graduate Students Association (CivMinGSA), where she served as vice-president, social.
“We not only had good times during our events, but we were able to connect and share in the unique challenges of graduate studies,” she says.
She credits her CivMinGSA experiences, along with her studies, for allowing her communications skills to flourish and helping boost her self-confidence.
In the spring, Caron began her professional career at Agnico Eagle’s LaRonde Mine in Quebec, where she previously had worked during her thesis project. As a ground control engineer in training, she is responsible for following up daily on the stability of underground excavations.
“High-stress conditions and seismicity are among the challenges we deal with,” she says. “My master’s degree under the supervision of Professor John Hadjigeorgiou (CivMin) has prepared me for this role.”
Caron’s thesis focused on data collection for rockburst investigations. It involved collecting all available design, implementation, monitoring and performance data to construct a timeline for each rockburst, which are a sudden rupture or collapse of highly stressed rock in a mine.
“I have learned a lot in my field of study, and I now feel confident that I have established strong basis to strive in my career,” she says. “But I still have much to learn, and I am enthusiastic about it!”
“I would like to thank everyone who participated in CivMinGSA, whether it was by attending our in-person and online events or taking the time to help organize everything. Our time together was a highlight of my U of T experience, and I am happy for the memories we created! I would also like to thank Colleen Kelly, Phill Snel and Nelly Pietropaolo from the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering. Their collaboration and positive attitude were always appreciated."
Growing greener cities
Salim Hourieh (CivE 2T2)
Growing up in Syria, Hourieh frequently found himself comparing the built infrastructure in his own country to that of cities in the West.
“Rapid urbanization was benefitting the general economy, but it was also leading to widening socioeconomic disparity,” he says. “I recognized that this was a planning issue and sought to provide myself with the education needed to address urban growth sustainably.”
With the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Hourieh realized that pursuing his dream of studying civil engineering would mean leaving home. He began his schooling at the American University of Beirut, then transferred to U of T Engineering, where he found mentors who helped him combine his interests in economic progress, sustainability and engineering.
These included Professor Shoshanna Saxe (CivMin), with whom he developed a data set on construction material flow in North America. This data set will help researchers investigate how building design affects material use, as well as ways to reduce construction material consumption. Hourieh says that the project helped him realize how impactful his engineering skill set can be and how the incorporation of sustainable practices varies widely within regions across North America.
Another way Hourieh made an impact was by joining World University Services of Canada (WUSC), an organization that sponsors students from refugee camps to study in Canada. Serving as vice-president of his local committee, Hourieh and his team were able to directly sponsor two students to study at U of T. He later shared the team’s experience with 73 local committees from across Canada at the WUSC national conference.
“The social cause of sponsoring refugees resonates deeply with me after witnessing first-hand the displacement of thousands of Syrian families,” he says.
After graduation, Hourieh will take up a position as a consultant at IBM. His long-term goal is to lead sustainable urban development in under recognized areas through the implementation of multidisciplinary approaches in planning.
“I believe that my experiences and engineering background will allow me to facilitate empathetic dialogue that will empower us to address the global challenge of meeting urban needs sustainably,” he says.
"I am grateful to everyone who guided me throughout my undergraduate studies, especially Professors Shoshanna Saxe, Sarah Haines and Daniel Posen (all CivMin), and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Gursans Guven. I'd also like to thank Trinity College for being my home, and the Engineering community for supporting me. My heartfelt gratitude goes to my supportive family, who have been there for me every step of the journey, and to WUSC, an excellent organization that influences many students around the world."
Advancing sustainable Aviation
Saanjali Maharaj (EngSci 2T1 + PEY)
“My experience at U of T has been a time of discovery,” says Maharaj. “I learned so much about engineering design, innovations in the industry and working as part of a team.”
This time was also a period of self-discovery as her various internships, courses and research experiences helped her find out what she is passionate about, charting the course of her career.
In 2019, Maharaj had “the amazing opportunity” to be an intern at the NASA Ames Research Center’s Department of Rotorcraft Aeromechanics.
“I was the thermal lead in developing a drone to help mitigate the prevalent California wildfires,” she says. “Following that experience, I was a thermal-mechanical engineering intern at Intel Corporation.”
A significant achievement from her PEY Co-op at Intel was leading the research for a novel cooling technology that resulted in the submission of a patent application.
Maharaj has held leadership positions in co-curricular activities, including as rocketry division aerodynamics lead on the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT), and marketing director for the University of Toronto West Indian Students’ Association (WISA).
This summer, Maharaj is working on an asteroid mining project in collaboration with MDA. She is also looking forward to starting her MASc this fall at the U of T Institute for Aerospace Studies, where she will be supervised by Professor Prasanth Nair.
Ultimately, she hopes to make a positive contribution to the advancement of sustainable aviation.
“Sustainability is a passion of mine due in part to my Caribbean Island origins,” she says. “Trinidad and Tobago’s dependence on the aviation industry to maintain international connections fuels my desire to mitigate the industry’s environmental impact.”
"I would like to thank the EngSci community for making my time at U of T such a positive experience. I will always remember the days of both commiseration and celebration with my peers, and the tremendous support from the faculty members and upper years. Special shoutout to Professor Peter Grant (UTIAS), my undergraduate thesis supervisor, for his guidance, which will prepare me for the rest of my academic career."
Customizing biochemical constructs
Michael McLean (EngSci 2T1 + PEY)
McLean always knew that he wanted to major in Engineering Physics or Machine Intelligence as an Engineering Science student — but he was so overwhelmed by a fear of failure that he left EngSci for TrackOne on the very first day of classes.
"I let fear control me when I made that decision, but I realized throughout first year that I wanted to learn more physics than would be possible in any other engineering stream,” he says. “So, I chose to let my curiosity and passion lead instead and transferred back.”
Through his classes and work experience, he was able to immerse himself in his passions: biophysics, machine learning and scientific computing.
A highlight of his undergraduate experience was his PEY Co-op at Structura Biotechnology, a startup working on software for cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM). As a scientific developer, he worked on developing statistical inference algorithms for the 3D reconstruction of protein molecules and implementing these algorithms in Structura’s flagship software product, cryoSPARC.
“By the end of my work term, the helical reconstruction project I worked on was deployed in cryoSPARC, which is used by scientists worldwide in over 600 institutions across 40 countries,” he says.
McLean is returning to Structura after graduation — this time as a computational research engineer, working to advance cryo-EM methodology.
“The opportunity to work in such a high-impact area, with tangible benefits to structural biology and drug discovery, is a privilege I could never have foreseen,” he says.
“I now know where my true limits lie, and that I can handle more than I thought. And this knowledge can’t be taken away.”
“I want to express my overwhelming gratitude towards Ali Punjani (CEO and co-founder of Structura Biotechnology) for his guidance and mentorship throughout my PEY Co-op term. I also want to thank the rest of the team at Structura for fostering an incredibly inclusive and supportive working environment. Finally, I would like to thank Professor David Fleet (Computer Science) for his valuable guidance and support throughout my undergraduate thesis."
Catalyzing electrification strategies
Kok Long Ng (MSE PhD 2T2)
When Ng reflects on his time as a PhD student at U of T Engineering, one word comes to mind: “electrifying!”
“I am a battery guy,” he says. “But at the same time, I have felt so much great emotion and excitement that I often feel electrified by my work.”
For his thesis, Ng worked on the development of rechargeable aluminum batteries, which are environmentally sustainable and economical, as a member of the Laboratory for Strategic Materials, working under Professor Gisele Azimi (ChemE, MSE).
“Electrification plays an indispensable role to mitigate our reliance on fossil fuels,” he says. “Existing lithium-ion batteries are decent, but they face multiple challenges in terms of supply chain and long-term sustainability. With the knowledge I acquired, I hope to catalyze alternatives that offer improved performance and provide truly sustainable energy storage solutions.”
Ng also excelled at teaching, winning the MSE IMPACT Student Choice Awards for Teaching Assistant of the Year 2020, as well as the 2021 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering Teaching Assistant Award.
In addition to the essential technical knowledge he has gained during his studies, Ng has learned to incorporate a human dimension of caring into his work.
“I am aware that the journey towards acquiring a doctorate often demands a strong sense of independence and critical thinking,” he says. “But as a team member, showing compassion and care for people around you is especially crucial.”
“The pandemic and recent conflict in Ukraine have taught me the importance of incorporating more human-dimension factors into my work. I believe an emotionally relatable team is the key to success.”
“I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my supervisor, Professor Gisele Azimi for her unceasing support throughout my PhD studies. Academically, she has been a great mentor who has provided me with great freedom and the necessary guidance to explore my research. In private, she has been a caring person who is always willing to lend a helping hand. I am glad that we met in Tokyo. I would also like to shout out the annual UT2 workshop for providing the opportunity."
Gerard O'Leary (ECE PhD 2T2)
O’Leary credits his co-supervisors, Professors Roman Genov (ECE) and Taufik Valiante (Neurosurgery, BME, ECE) for creating the research environment that made it possible to explore without fearing failure.
“I've learned that just because you're not an expert in a problem, it doesn't mean you shouldn't try something. You'll either find a solution or learn more about it,” he says.
O’Leary’s thesis focused on designing and building neural interface technology, including the development of the neural interface processor (NURIP), a silicon chip that can be placed in the brains of people with uncontrolled epilepsy to detect and stop seizures before they happen. This technology aims to bridge the gap between the nervous system and the digital world, enabling breakthroughs in the treatment of diseases such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.
His academic achievements also include running a pilot study in patients with epilepsy at Toronto Western Hospital.
During his PhD studies, O’Leary was also able to face a long-time fear through his discovery of triathlon — an endurance multisport that consists of swimming, cycling and running.
“After a traumatic childhood experience, I was terrified of water. But I overcame my fear of swimming through the support of the University of Toronto Triathlon Club,” he says. “The sport became an integral part of my physical and mental health.”
After graduation, O’Leary will continue his work on deploying neural interfaces.
“I've co-founded NerveX Neurotechnologies to continue this journey,” he says. “As a starting point, we're tackling the challenge of preventing seizures in people with epilepsy, but our technology has the potential to treat many other disorders and augment the human experience.”
“We're entering an incredible era in which the physical and digital worlds seem to be rapidly converging. My hope is that NerveX will be at the forefront of this emerging neurotechnology revolution.”
"I would like to thank Professor Roman Genov and the Intelligent Sensory Microsystems Lab, Dr. Taufik Valiante and the Neuron to Brain Lab, and the Innovations and Partnerships Office for all their support. Thank you to everyone who has worked with me on so many exciting projects over the years, and a special thanks to everyone who was there for me during all the inevitable failures!"
Securing the digital world
Joshua Pius (CompE 2T1 + PEY)
Pius is graduating with the confidence that through research and analysis, he can tackle most challenges.
“I have grown both in my intellectual capacity and my understanding of the moral responsibilities of an engineer,” he says.
During his time as an ECE student, Pius was involved in the U of T Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, where he rose to the role of president. He was part of the team that started NSBEHacks — the first-ever Black student-run hackathon in the Greater Toronto Area.
He was also elected ECE Class Representative First Year, held many F!rosh Week leadership positions and was a residence don. Pius will be valedictorian of his graduating class, elected by his peers in the Engineering Society (EngSoc).
During his PEY Co-op, which was completed remotely due to pandemic restrictions, he worked at Bloomberg New York as a software engineer, followed by positions at Amazon Toronto, Intel and Google in Sunnyvale, Calif.
After graduation, Pius will be moving to New York City to work for Google Cloud as a software engineer. “I am hoping to make a mark within Google, specifically in their security department, as I recognize the importance of improved system security in this digital age,” he says.
He also plans to get involved with Google Campus events and stay active in the Black STEM community. “I will feel rewarded if the next BIPOC person to follow me through the door has a clearer path to get to where I am.”
“I would like to thank my parents; the EngSoc Orientation committee’s matriculation, finance and executive teams; NSBE community; ECE students and department; my SkuleNite family and all the supportive friends and faculty members who believed in me. I have had many moments where I doubted myself but persevered thanks to the encouragement from others."