A unique partnership between the U of T Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering is providing new opportunities for black youth to experience engineering.
ENGage is a week-long day camp for students in grades seven and eight that provides participants with hands-on activities that demonstrate engineering principles and practices. The students have the chance to explore sustainable energy sources such as solar and wind power, build hydraulic arms and even dissect a perch.
The program is part of an effort to address the under-representation of students from African and Caribbean backgrounds in engineering programs.
“It’s very important that we not only show what engineering actually is – because it’s not very well understood by young people – but also provide role models who are doing it,” explains Dimpho Radebe (IndE 1T4), one of the program’s coordinators and an instructor. She has helped to develop the program alongside Oti Agbeyegbe (IndE 1T3).
For soon-to-be seventh grader John Sekijoba, the camp offers a the chance to learn more about engineering as well as “something to do this summer.”
“I like engineering – a lot more now that I get to do it,” he says.
He’s currently trying to decide between a career as an accountant or as an electrical engineer because they both involve the subject he enjoys most: math.
For Kwame Mathebula, who will also enter grade seven this September, his interest in engineering is based on his desire to make new products.
“I want to be an engineer because I get to make stuff,” Mathebula says, though he is also considering a possible career as a lawyer.
The learning this summer isn’t limited to participants alone. Instructor Andrew Brown (MechE 1T3) has found that working at ENGage has not only provided him with the chance to introduce engineering to young students who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to the profession, but has also offered him a learning opportunity.
“There aren’t a lot of opportunities in the course of the year to apply what you are learning in classes,” Brown says. “This has provided me with the chance to stop and break down big principles into something that our students can understand,” he adds.
Participants for the program were recruited through community partners based in Regent Park and Parkdale. However, word of mouth has also spread news of the program far and wide.
The program is a true student initiative. It was conceived by Mikhail Burke (MSE 1T2) and Ayokanmi Falade (MechE 1T1 + PEY) in 2009-10 when they were President and Vice President, respectively, of U of T's NSBE chapter. While the 2010 camp lasted only one week, this year’s edition of ENGage offered two, one-week sessions. Plans are underway to offer a similar program that will run on Saturday’s during the academic year.
“We hope to see [the students] continue to participate in our outreach events. The experience of one week in elementary school isn’t going to transform students into engineers. However, hopefully we can encourage student interest in [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] in high school that will translate into studying engineering later on,” says Radebe.
Dawn Britton, Associate Director of the Engineering Student Outreach Office, heralds the partnership between NSBE and U of T Engineering.
“Exciting youth about science and inspiring them to consider engineering as both a future career and area of study is important work. I am so pleased that our student chapter of NSBE has spent their summer doing this important work, these young leaders are helping to shape the next generation of engineers,” Britton states.
More information about ENGage is available on its website.