Waterloo IBET Fellows announced

Monday, November 15, 2021

Three doctoral candidates began research work at Waterloo Engineering this fall as its first Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology (IBET) Momentum Fellows.

UPDATED May 3rd, 2022 - There are now four Waterloo IBET Fellows, with Iris Samputu in Chemical Engineering.

Part of the new IBET PhD Project at universities across Canada, the fellowship program provides recipients with $30,000 a year for four years, plus support from mentors in industry and academia, while they pursue doctoral degrees and specialized research in engineering, design and technology.

IBET Momentum Fellowship logoThe initiative was launched to increase diversity in both academia and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industries by supporting Indigenous and Black graduate students, two groups that are significantly underrepresented.

The original partnership included the engineering and math faculties at the University of Waterloo, and the engineering faculties at McMaster University, the University of Ottawa, the University of Toronto, Queen’s University and Western University. Joining the project are the University of Alberta, the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary, McGill University, Ryerson University, the University of Windsor, and the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University. There are now 16 IBET Fellows at 12 universities across Canada. 

More details of how Canadian universities are working together to increase diversity in engineering and technology.

The three new fellows at Waterloo - Biniyam Deressa, Debela Tesfaye and Stephen Robinson-Enebeli – were asked about their work, the fellowship and their personal experiences:

Biniyam Deressa IBET WaterlooBiniyam Deressa IBET Momentum Fellow Waterloo, PhD student in electrical and computer engineering

Biniyam Deressa received his BSc degree in electrical and computer engineering from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia in 2013 and his MEng in computer networks from Ryerson University in 2020. He worked as a network engineer in a wide range of industries. He was awarded an IBET fellowship for 2021 and is in his first year of a PhD in electrical and computer engineering at Waterloo.

What is your research work and how did you get involved?

Computer security is a major concern these days. During my graduate studies, I had the opportunity to collaborate and work with a cybersecurity engineer, and data security was always a hot issue we dealt with. My graduate program inspired me as there is a blend of several modern subjects such as cryptography, cloud computing, etcetera. This research work enriched my experience and skills and gave me a passion for being up-to-date with current challenges. With the advancement of new technologies such as quantum computers, we must ensure that our current security is reliable and secure. I would like to conduct extensive research in the security field.

How did you discover that engineering was for you?

I wasn’t sure until I started my bachelor's degree. Since then, I have developed an interest in reverse-engineering things, and solving problems. I have developed the ability to think logically and creatively. Seeing myself solving problems in imaginative and innovative ways helped me realize that engineering was the path for me.

What does the IBET Momentum Fellowship mean to you?

I had always wanted to further my education, but due to various obstacles I was unable to do so. But when I discovered the IBET program, it was as if my dream had come true. I am so grateful to those who initiated this program for giving me the opportunity to collaborate and work with world-class researchers and learn from them. I hope that by taking advantage of this huge opportunity, I will be able to contribute to the research community.

Have you personally seen or experienced the need for more Black professors in engineering and computer science fields?

Personally, I believe that diversity is essential for a country's or institution's growth. As a member of the Black community, I believe there are many brilliant minds out there, but studies show that due to socioeconomic barriers, the number of Black students pursuing PhDs in engineering is low. In addition, I believe that having a representative or role model in this field of research would be motivating for a minority group. And I hope that this program will help to break down those barriers and foster beautiful diversity in our universities.

Debela Tesfaye IBET WaterlooDebela Tesfaye IBET Momentum Fellow Waterloo, PhD student in chemical engineering

Debela Tesfaye is an IBET fellow in chemical engineering at Waterloo. He received his bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering in Ethiopia in 2013 and his master of applied science in environmental engineering from the University of Guelph in 2019.

How did you discover that engineering was for you?

During elementary school I wanted to be a teacher and during high school I got hooked on the idea of using different materials to create something completely different. I was encouraged to study engineering but didn’t know what engineering was, and there were no engineers in my immediate or extended family. In my country of birth, during my freshman first semester, I had the opportunity to take all common engineering courses. I went on to study chemical engineering.

What is your research work?

My research mainly focuses on bio-based polymer surface modification, design, and optimization for industrial applications.  

What does the IBET Momentum Fellowship mean to you?

I have dreamt of this moment for a year, and I feel so humbled to be one of the first to be an IBET fellow at the University of Waterloo. I am the first in my family to attend graduate school as a PhD student. This fellowship fulfills my passion for learning within the STEM community and sharing work that will benefit people of all backgrounds. It's my firm belief that this IBET fellowship helps many of us to grow individually and as a community. I want to thank those of you who believe in us and are ready to mentor us.

Have you personally seen or experienced the need for more Black professors in engineering and computer science fields?

It is key that when young Black and Canadian Indigenous students look around their classrooms that they see professors and fellow students who look like them. Exposure is key to engaging future researchers and engineers. It is important for institutions of higher education to encourage and support a more diverse group of people in science and technology, and to engage and inspire that next generation.

Stephen Robinson-Enebeli IBET WaterlooStephen Robinson-Enebeli IBET Momentum Fellow Waterloo, PhD student in mechanical and mechatronics engineering (nanotechnology) program

Stephen Robinson-Enebeli is a PhD student in the mechanical and mechatronics engineering (nanotechnology) program. He completed a BSc degree in 2015 at Saint Mary’s University and a BEng degree in 2018 at Dalhousie University. He completed his master’s degree in 2020 at Waterloo, where his research focused on inferring size distributions and properties of aerosolized nickel nanoparticles using a three-colour detection system.

What is your research work and how did you get involved?

My research involves the in-situ characterization of aerosolized metal nanoparticles using laser-induced incandescence, with a particular focus on laser interactions with nanoparticles through their optical properties. This research is conducted at the Waterloo Laboratory for Inverse Analysis and Thermal Sciences (WatLIT) under the supervision of Kyle Daun. My current research is a continuation of the efforts from my MASc project. I was inspired by papers published by my current lab group. The project had a combination of optical engineering and heat transfer, two of my favourite subjects during my undergraduate degree and internship experiences.

What does the IBET Momentum Fellowship mean to you?

During my undergraduate experience in Canada, I did not come across a lot of professors in engineering who looked like me. Although I loved science and engineering, it almost seemed like such careers were just not meant for me or people who looked like me, at the very least. I thought it might just be harder for me to be in such a career.

I have a big family and lots of friends in the Black community and I realized that the Black community was not represented in academia, particularly in STEM. To me, the IBET Momentum Fellowship demonstrates that society has also come to the realization of representation mismatch. Learning institutions are now taking tangible actions to remove barriers that deter individuals, not just in the Black community but in the Indigenous community as well, from becoming leaders in STEM and academia. Our populations need to be fully represented alongside our colleagues of other ethnicities.

This effort will create a chain reaction by encouraging and helping more minority individuals pursue such careers, which will eventually reconstruct the face of academia and STEM to look more Canadian.

Have you seen or experienced the need for more Canadian Black professors in engineering and computer science fields?

Throughout my academic experience I have always felt the need for Black professors in STEM, partly to assure me that I can do this, but to also give the same assurance to many others who look like me, so they know they can do this too. STEM academia should fully represent the Canadian population. If not, it makes one believe that it is meant for some ethnicities and not for all.

PhD Momentum Fellowships valued at $25,000 per year (plus an additional $5,000 from the supervisor) will be awarded to eligible incoming Black and Indigenous graduate students registered full-time in a Faculty of Engineering PhD program at the University of Waterloo. Learn more about how to apply.

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