The recipient of the 2023 Troost ILead Difference Maker Award, Adriana Diaz Lozano Patino (Year 4 EngSci) is familiar with the disparity that can exist between the “haves and have-nots” in society. Growing up in Mexico City, she had a daily visual reminder of just how broad that gap can be.
“When you are driving in Mexico City, there’s this bridge,” she explains. “It’s called the Poet’s Bridge and it takes you from where I live to a really fancy part of town. It’s the second financial district. On one side of the bridge, you have these massive and super expensive condominiums. On the other side, you have this area we call the ‘Lost Cities.’
“These are places that migrants from other states came to and built on irregular land. They have no infrastructure. They don’t have water. Sometimes they don’t have electricity.
“So how do you have that? These neighbourhoods separated in so many ways by just one bridge. It just didn’t compute in my head how that was ok.”
Inspired by the belief in the power of engineers to lead, the Difference Maker Award simultaneously celebrates and empowers engineering students who are chasing their dreams, taking on big challenges, and making a positive impact in service to others. The $50,000 award will help fund young leaders in the pursuit of their goals. Diaz Lozano Patino’s goal setting began with lessons first learned at home.
Her grandmother – a steady influence throughout youth for Diaz Lozano Patino and her brother (a University of Toronto Engineering alumnus) – was an early mentor.
“Up until time took her away, my grandmother lived by three beliefs: that history holds immense power, that life will have you teach yourself how to walk more than once, and that happiness is built out of small acts of kindness,” says Diaz Lozano Patino. “Weaving these beliefs into stories and encouragement, she made sure to pass them onto me.”
Following the death of her grandmother (just two weeks before receiving acceptance to U of T), Diaz Lozano Patino left Mexico for a much different environment in Toronto. She found early days at U of T to be overwhelming. Leaving Mexico with an intention of gaining education and returning home, Diaz Lozano Patino initially found herself lacking direction.
“I thought I could ‘outsource’ myself and then bring knowledge back,” she says. “And then I came to U of T and I was really struggling. I got kind of lost.
“But there’s a real diversity of people here and I really like the opportunities. A female engineering student can work in research and meet industry professionals or academic professionals; it’s so much easier to do these things [in Canada] than back home.”
Involving herself in the Hi-Skule Outreach program, Diaz Lozano Patino soon found that leading others could help her regain a sense of self and purpose.
“Hi-Skule is a STEM outreach club for the Engineering society,” she says. “I would interact with younger students and they would have so much life and hope.”
“I was reinvigorated, in a way. You get to talk to all these students and sometimes they’re so afraid. They come to you and say things like, ‘physics is really tough and in my house they don’t think girls can do it.’
“And [I would] say – ‘No, no, you can. I struggled too, but I did it. And so I know you can do it too. There’s going to be support here for you.’”
It wasn’t long before Diaz Lozano Patino made an impression on her own mentors. Professor Amy Bilton, Director of the Water and Energy Research Lab (WERL), recognized an uncommon talent within her classroom.
“[Adriana] led a team in a practical analysis of a coupled UV-RO system for Bangladesh,” wrote Bilton, in a testimonial letter for Diaz Lozano Patino’s Difference Maker Award submission.
“In her ‘spare’ time as well, she was also supporting some data analysis for a PhD student working on sanitation in peri-urban areas of Mexico City, where she grew up. She did a tremendous job, and covered a lot of new ground, really a testament to her motivation, leadership and problem-solving abilities.”
Diaz Lozano Patino aspires to continue her studies with a Masters of Applied Science, focusing on global development and continuing to seek out opportunities that involve STEM outreach. But with her winnings from the Difference Maker Award, Diaz Lozano Patino has set her sights on a specific project – returning home to utilize a refined sense of vision.
“When my brother went back to Mexico City after he had finished his undergrad, all he could see were certain things about how buildings were built. Now a similar thing has happened to me,” she says.
“You can imagine the amount of wastewater that a city of 30 million people produces. It all goes to the valley of Mezquital and an Indigenous community that’s lived there for so many years, the Otomies people. They’ve pretty much been forced to make their livelihood out of using wastewater for agriculture.
“How can I help them have a sustainable solution to use this wastewater as an economic resource but then prevent them from having such a high incidence of disease?”
“[The Difference Maker Award] will enable me to go to the field and talk to them, spend time and understand how they live,” she says.
“Then I can return to my research, create surveys and have qualitative and quantitative data of the reality. I need to decide on a framework or solution that needs to be developed, what will actually work with them and test it a couple times.
“Ultimately I want to create something that’s sustainable. Not only environmentally sustainable, but sustainable for the community to perform in the long term.”