This fall, D’Andre Wilson-Ihejirika (ChemE/ISTEP PhD candidate) will take up one of the first Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology (IBET) Momentum Fellowships to be awarded by U of T Engineering. She shares the honour with Mai Ali (ECE PhD candidate).
The IBET Momentum Fellowships aim to provide support and build a network for Indigenous and Black graduate students, two groups that are significantly underrepresented across both academia and the engineering profession. Fellowship recipients receive financial support, mentorship, training and networking opportunities to foster a robust professional community for participating PhD candidates.
Writer Tyler Irving spoke with Wilson-Ihejirika about her career path so far and how it has influenced her thesis topic.
How did you discover that engineering was for you?
I grew up in Nassau, Bahamas. I always loved math and science, but I didn’t really know anything about engineering in high school. When I stumbled on the idea of chemical engineering, it seemed like a good fit, so I enrolled at McGill University for my bachelor’s degree. During my undergrad, I really thrived in an engineering environment of applied problem-solving.
I came to U of T for my master’s degree, and I really enjoyed the experience of using the skills I learned in chemical engineering for a slightly different application, which was financial engineering and entrepreneurship. My master’s thesis supervisor, Professor Joseph Paradi (ChemE), is just one of the most amazing people I know. I also got to take a course on engineering education with Professor Susan McCahan (MIE), which really changed my thinking. Professor McCahan is going to be my PhD supervisor, along with Professor Greg Evans (ChemE, ISTEP).
Can you tell me about the research you’re planning to do here?
My thesis will focus on engineering education. I will be using data analytics to map career pathways for underrepresented groups, attempting to define what ‘success’ is in various career pathways, as well as classifying the skills needed for success in those various career pathways, now and in the future.
The purpose of this is to use data to help understand how we can better re-frame and re-design the educational experience to better align with the skills that graduates will need to be successful in their careers, especially those graduates that are from underrepresented groups.
What does the IBET Momentum Fellowship mean to you?
The IBET Momentum Fellowship is an amazing initiative because it shows that universities are taking steps to increase representation in academia.
During both my undergraduate and master’s degree programs, I did not have a single professor that looked like me, and I have only met a handful of engineering professors anywhere that identify as Indigenous or Black. I have never met a Black woman who is a professor of engineering in Canada.
I have started and been involved with various initiatives to help increase representation in STEM, such as BrainSTEM Alliance and Elevate Talent, but the IBET Fellowship is the first that I have been a part of with a specific focus on academia. I am really hopeful for the change that this fellowship will bring.