New University of Waterloo PhD project looking to change the landscape of engineering

A new University of Waterloo-led program will provide funding and mentorship to eligible doctoral students in engineering and math. 

The Indigenous and Black Engineering Technology (IBET) PhD Project will provide financial support of up to $30,000 per year for four years, for Black and Indigenous recipients pursuing PhDs in engineering and math.

Tizazu Mekonnen, chemical engineering professor at UW, said that the PhD Project comes out of a need for representation in engineering. 

“What we noticed, actually, is the fact that these engineering faculties across Ontario and throughout Canada [have] a huge underrepresentation.”

“To just give you an idea, we don’t have solid data, but we figured out that there are less than 15 [engineering] professors that are Indigenous or Black across Ontario—that’s out of more than 1000 professors,” he said. “15 is a very small number, so you can see that is not motivating for students to come to our engineering program, because they don’t see somebody that looks like them.”

$25,000 of the funding support will come from the faculty, and the other $5,000 will come from a faculty supervisor. 

Alongside the funding aspect of the project, recipients will also be provided with networking and mentorship opportunities. 

“It will provide them peer support with their mentors in their journey to become professors and industry professionals,” Mekonnen said.

Alongside the University of Waterloo, five other schools have also signed onto the project: McMaster University, Queen’s University, Western University, the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa. 

“Right now, we plan to expand it across Canada actually…it’s not finalized but we already received three requests from other universities within Ontario as well as outside Ontario,” Mekonnen said.  

By mentoring these PhD students, Mekonnen said they hope to change the landscape of engineering within the next five to 10 years. 

“Another critical reason we need to recruit and support Indigenous and Black researchers is because Canada’s facing a dramatic shortage of engineers. According to a study by Engineers Canada, they estimated that by 2025—which is four years from now—we’ll have a shortfall of as many as 100,000 engineers in the country,” Mekonnen said. 

Each school’s engineering faculty plans to accept two students for the upcoming school year, while the University of Waterloo will accept four altogether: two in engineering and math, respectively.  

Applications for the IBET PhD Project are open for the fall 2021 semester. 

“This is now the time to educate and mentor engineers and in this we need to include Indigenous and Black engineering students and researchers, so we need to attract more students that are from a diverse background. We really think that the timing is absolutely perfect and students should use this opportunity,” Mekonnen said.

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