MIE 2020 Grads to Watch

Each year the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering highlights “Grads to Watch” as selected by their home departments and institutes. These students embody the spirit of U of T Engineering. Their stories illustrate the creativity, innovation and global impact that define our community. Watch their next steps!

The profiles of MIE students featured this year are below – be sure to read the full article to learn about the other outstanding students in our faculty!

Shekhar Kumar (IndE 2T0)

Being a part of Skule has taught me the importance of taking an active role in the communities that I belong to,” says Kumar. Over the years, those communities have included everyone from student entrepreneurs to the citizens of rural Maharashtra, India’s second-most populous state. 

In his third year, Kumar spent a semester abroad at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. As part of the Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas (CTARA), he helped organize a field exercise for exchange students to learn about “Pani Panchayat, a voluntary activity led by farmers to collectively manage the collection and distribution of groundwater. 

“From this study, I realized the necessity of selfless cooperation when facing a scarcity of resources,” he says. 

Kumar was deeply involved in the Creative Destruction Lab and the Entrepreneurship Hatchery, two startup accelerators at U of T. As a Hatchery Ambassador, he catalyzed relationships between venture capital firms and student startups, including Knowtworthy, which placed second at Hatchery Demo Day. He also led efforts to attract funding for the Cansbridge Fellowship, which will support student internship experiences in Asia. 

After graduation, Kumar will relocate to New York City to take up a position as an analyst at McKinsey & Company 

“I am a staunch proponent of inclusive technology, and will be spending this fall travelling to the Dominican Republic and Peru, to learn from entrepreneurs working on bringing the benefits of accessible financial services to emerging markets,” says Kumar. 

Asked to sum up his U of T Engineering experience in one word, Kumar chooses the Sanskrit expression anitya, which roughly translates to “impermanence.” 

“From the changes I’ve personally undergone, to the physical changes visible on our campus, my time at U of T has been anything but static,” he says. 

I would like to thank Professor BirsenDonmez for being an inspiring mentor with an extraordinary ability to help students realize their academic potential and Jen Fabro for her unwavering and compassionate support in my first year.”

Onaizah Onaizah (MIE PhD 2T0)

For her PhD thesis, Onaizah designed a tiny pair of robotic scissors that can be controlled by external magnetic fields using a joystick — no cables, wires or other attachments.

See a video of the robotic scissors in action

“This project was done in collaboration with neurosurgeons from SickKids,” says Onaizah, who was supervised by professor Eric Diller. “This is a promising start for developing completely untethered tools for remote surgical applications in the brain.”

The prototype device is only about one centimetre long, but Onaizah says that the eventual goal is to reduce it to only half this length. It could be used to make minimally invasive surgery, also known as ‘keyhole surgery’, even less invasive.

Onaizah’s research was supported by several prestigious awards, including the Queen Elizabeth II Scholarship and the Barbara and Frank Milligan Fellowship. She was strongly involved in student government, serving on the Graduate Student Council and the Association of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Graduate Students (AMIGAS), where she cofounded a student seminar series and organized a research symposium.

“I think it’s really important to give students a chance to hone their presentation skills and develop connections, both within and beyond our department,” she says. “Getting involved introduced me to ideas and people that I would otherwise never have come across.”

Following her thesis defense, Onaizah took up a postdoctoral fellowship in surgical robotics at the University of Leeds. She is working with Professor Pietro Valdastri, a leading researcher in the field of medical robotics.

“Having spent nearly a decade at U of T, it was hard to imagine leaving,” she says. “It was not always easy as a woman in STEM, which can be isolating, but I had plenty of role models guiding my way and paving a path for me.”

My supervisor, Professor Eric Diller, was always around to offer support, have meetings and listen to all my experimental struggles. I couldn’t have done it without him. I would also like to thank AMIGAS for all the excellent work it does for the students in our community, and my lab members for creating such a fun and inviting space, and for becoming some of my closest friends.”

Tobi Sogbesan (MechE 1T9 + PEY)

Sogbesan says that his experience at U of T Engineering was not always easy, but that the challenges were connected with personal growth.

“I remember that in my first semester, I struggled to adapt,” he says. “But every year after that, I grew, not only academically but also in the way I think and approach problems in my everyday life.”

After his third year, Sogbesan spent 16 months working at the Molson Coors Brewing Company through the PEY Co-op Program, where he recommended process improvements that led to energy savings of around $100,000 annually. As part of his fourth-year capstone project, he took a trip to Corn Island, Nicaragua to help protect a local freshwater spring from saltwater incursions.

Sogbesan was active in the U of T Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers throughout his undergraduate degree. Most recently, he served as the sponsorship lead for NSBEHacks, securing funding from partners such as Google, Shopify, IBM and Bloomberg.

After graduation, Sogbesan plans to continue working in the energy sector and dreams of one day starting his own company. He believes his education has been as much about ethics as it was about technical knowledge.

“One of the main things I’ve learned is that I have a responsibility to fulfill my duty to the best of my ability without jeopardizing my moral and ethical values,” he says.

“I want to use this opportunity to shout out the National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE) and my fellow colleagues for making my university experience better both academically and also socially.”

Janice Zhou (MechE 1T9 + PEY)

Throughout her time at U of T Engineering, Janice Zhou never forgot how to play.

As co-president of the Spark Design Club, she leveraged the design and fabrication skills of her interdisciplinary team to create fun, interactive displays all over campus. She also worked in product development engineering at the toy company Spin Master as part of the Professional Experience Year Co-op Program.

Zhou completed two research terms. With Professor Alison Olechowski (MIE), she analyzed the emotional experience of designers during CAD activities using AI-informed tools. With Professor Fae Azhari (CivMin), she worked on preventing bridge scour, a phenomenon by which fast-flowing water damages bridge foundations by removing sediments. She helped develop innovative sensing and monitoring systems to catch and correct bridge scour before it’s too late.

“The connections I made through all these experiences helped me grow and develop, both personally and professionally,” she says. “I learned that engineering is not just about math and physics, but also problem solving and working with others, and that I can combine my interests and find my own unique way to contribute.”

Following graduation, Zhou is headed to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she will complete a Master’s program in robotics, focusing on robot control and learning. Through her studies and research, she hopes to contribute to the development of autonomous vehicles and assistive robots.

“I am fascinated by the endless possibilities robots provide for improving the quality of people’s lives,” she says.

I want to thank many of my professors at U of T for their amazing guidance and support, especially Professor Alison Olechowski. Thank you for believing in me, patiently guiding me through many important milestones in my undergrad journey, and always challenging us intellectually while helping us generously.”

These profiles extracted from the article originally published on the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering News Site on June 2, 2020 by Liz Do & Tyler Irving.

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