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Black History Month: U of T Engineering community reflects on representation and shares advice

Stephanie Obeta, who is studying chemical engineering, was among the U of T students who shared thoughts on representation in STEM for Black History Month (photo by Daria Perevezentsev)

To mark Black History Month, students and alumni from the University of Toronto’s engineering community shared their thoughts on challenges they faced and the need for representation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). 

The project was a collaboration between U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, the U of T chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and Mikhail Burke, the dean of U of T Engineering’s adviser on Black inclusivity initiatives and student inclusion and transition mentor. 

Have you experienced obstacles with being a Black person in engineering or engineering educational spaces? How have you overcome them?


Keziah Nongo, civil engineering

Kezia Nongo

(photo by Daria Perevezentsev)

“Although there has been tangible change throughout the years, there is still significant underrepresentation of Black people in STEM, especially engineering. With the numbers as they are, a sense of isolation and imposter phenomenon come with the territory. What has helped me is learning to recognize and validate these experiences, using faculty and peer support to shape my own space in the U of T community.”


Stephanie Obeta, chemical engineering

Stephanie Obeta

(Photo by Daria Perevezentsev)

“In engineering spaces, I'm usually one of the only Black people in the room. I find it very challenging to overcome imposter phenomenon and believe that I belong, especially when there aren't many people who look like me that I can look up to. I've overcome these obstacles by trying to connect with the few other Black students within our faculty through the U of T Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and build a sense of community.”


Within the context of engineering, what does Black History Month mean to you?


David Boroto, engineering science, class of 2018

portrait of david boroto

(photo by Roberta Baker)

"Representation in STEM is essential – it gives young aspiring scientists and engineers a vision of where they could be and what they can achieve. Black History Month provides a great opportunity to highlight and celebrate Black people in STEM, and motivate talented Black youth to pursue meaningful and impactful careers in STEM fields."


What advice would you give to current U of T Engineering students, staff and faculty who may not feel like they belong?


Deborah Raji, engineering science, class of 2019

Portrait of Deb Raji

(photo by Roberta Baker)

"If it's been challenging to feel comfortable with who happens to be around you in your classes, don't be afraid to move beyond the confines of your direct environment in order to find a community that works for you. There's so many incredible people out there, on and off campus, that are completely ready to support you."


Toni Thompson, computer engineering

Toni Thompson

(Photo by Daria Perevezentsev)

"There is no need to feel out of place with people who do not accept you for who you are. The absence of conformity is individualism and authenticity. It’s OK to not belong. It’s OK to not be liked. It’s OK to be yourself. That sounds like a lot more fun."


What advice would you give to young students undecided about pursuing STEM?


Idilo Abdalla, electrical engineering

Idilo Abdalla

(Photo by Daria Perevezentsev)

"Pursue your interests. I always had a passion for programming and learning new languages, and I would always look for opportunities to learn more. Whether it be joining clubs, or volunteering. It is really important to take the initiative to explore your interests. It might be scary at first, but I guarantee that it is worth it."