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Stephanie Obeta (Year 4 ChemE) is one of two inaugural recipients of the CGI Scholarship for the Advancement of Black Women in Engineering. (Photo courtesy: Stephanie Obeta)

As a fourth-year student in chemical engineering, Stephanie Obeta has learned a lot about fluid flow, heat transfer and reaction rates. But she says her favourite course was about none of these — instead it had to do with the role engineers play in building a more just society.

Engineering and Social Justice, instructed by Peter Weiss and Mikhail Burke, expanded my worldview on social issues and allowed me to understand different perspectives,” she says. “I came out of that course as a more well-rounded student with a better understanding of how my role as a future engineer impacts and shapes society.”

Obeta, along with Sarah Sameh Hassaballa (Year 2 CompE), is one of the two inaugural recipients of the CGI Scholarship for the Advancement of Black Women in Engineering. The award is one of more than 50 new scholarships, bursaries, fellowships and grants established in the 2020–2021 academic year, representing an investment of more than $5.5 million.

More than 30% of the new awards support students who are Black, Indigenous or members of other communities that have historically been underrepresented in engineering. Examples include:

  • The John Richard Luke Engineering Scholarship for Women — Awarded to an undergraduate female student in Engineering with a demonstrated interest in health-care engineering, with first preference given to Black or Indigenous students.
  • Prasad Family Foundation Scholarship in Mechanical Engineering — Awarded to an undergraduate student in Mechanical Engineering with demonstrated academic merit. First preference given to female students, and additional preference given to those who identify as Indigenous or Black.

“To me, receiving this award is particularly notable because it is symbolic of CGI’s commitment to continuously support and uplift Black women in engineering,” says Obeta. “It inspires me to continue to give back to my community and support my fellow peers, and will bring me one step closer towards achieving my career and educational goals.”

“CGI is excited and honoured to be able to provide the first CGI Scholarships for the Advancement of Black Women in Engineering and we couldn’t be prouder of this year’s recipients,” says Doug Morgan, CGI’s Vice President Consulting Services and Sector Leader, Greater Toronto Area.

“We believe that diversity and inclusion bring a greater variety of ideas, perspectives and experiences to the workplace, and create a positive environment where all members have the opportunity to thrive. We wish Stephanie and Sarah much success in the rest of their education journey and are confident they will both have great careers ahead of them.”

Over the past three years, Obeta has been heavily involved with the National Society of Black Engineers, which she describes as “one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at U of T thus far.” Upon graduation next spring, she plans to pursue a Master’s degree in biomedical engineering, and begin a career in the pharmaceutical industry.

“I hope to work in research and development, with my main goal being to help treat chronic illnesses by creating new pharmaceuticals and medical devices,” she says.

In addition to the new awards, some existing awards have been expanded or reimagined. This includes the Andrew Forde Polymath Award, which is presented to an upper-year undergraduate with preference given to a student who excels in extra- or co-curricular activities and community volunteerism aimed at strengthening the Afro-Caribbean community.

Second-year civil engineering student Maya Chai-Foo is this year’s recipient of the Andrew Forde Polymath Award. As Director of Health & Wellness in the Civil Engineering Club, Chai-Foo has been working to ensure that all students feel safe and welcome on campus.

“Seeing my efforts recognized is truly flattering,” she says. “My father is Afro/Chinese Jamaican and I’m certain he and my family are proud of me. I am a second-generation Canadian as well as the first to attend post-secondary school in my father’s family. I am fortunate enough to be provided with many opportunities in my life and, knowing that, I try to capitalize on them.”

As Director of Health & Wellness in the Civil Engineering Club, Chai-Foo has been working to ensure that all students feel safe and welcome on campus, as well as free to talk about their struggles and access the needed resources.

Her favourite branches of her chosen discipline are structural engineering and building science, and she has a particular interest in green buildings and sustainability.

“We need to create more carbon-neutral structures and update outdated structures to try and protect our earth,” says Chai-Foo. “But I am also interested in research into earthquake-proof buildings and structures. In the future, I hope to get my MASC in civil engineering and perhaps start my own engineering firm.”

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