“As a Black woman in engineering, peers who look like me are few and far between.”
Emma Donnelly, MESc’20, and PhD candidate in biomedical engineering, received one of the first Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology (IBET) Momentum Fellowships to be awarded by Western Engineering.
These fellowships aim to address the very issue Donnelly refers to: the lack of diversity among engineering leaders in academia. Donnelly shares the honour with Patrick Adjei, MESc’20, and software engineering PhD candidate.
The IBET Momentum Fellowships, created in partnership with several universities across Ontario, support and increase representation of Indigenous and Black graduate students in STEM programs, two groups that are significantly underrepresented across both academia and the engineering profession. Fellowship recipients receive financial support, mentorship, training and networking opportunities as a way to foster a robust professional community for participating PhD candidates.
“It is an honour to be a recipient of the inaugural IBET Momentum Fellowship,” said Donnelly. “Being part of a program that will help improve the visibility of Black and Indigenous voices in engineering fields brings me a lot of joy and validation. I hope it will encourage and affirm others to know that they too belong in this space.”
Road to research
Growing up playing competitive soccer, Donnelly was intrigued by the mechanics that enabled her to push her body to the point of exhaustion, but then allowed her to turn around and do it all again the next day.
“I also became familiar with the world of injuries, and was bothered by the fact that devastating injuries could happen out of nowhere, or that some people were able to recover faster than others,” she said.
After completing her undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering at the University of Hartford in Connecticut, Donnelly pursued work opportunities in the medical field, where she learned two things about herself: she enjoyed utilizing her technical training and employing engineering principles, and she loved the clinical/hospital workplace environment.
“Those interests in mind, and a little serendipitous timing, led me to graduate studies,” said Donnelly. “I was first drawn to Western Engineering because of the opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations. After a great master’s experience in Dr. Ryan Willing’s [mechanical and materials engineering] lab, I was very excited to pursue a second advanced degree at Western.”
Donnelly will be conducting orthopaedic biomechanics research, focusing on characterizing the differences between total knee replacement (TKR) performed with a robotic assist, versus traditional methods. This research will be undertaken through imaging and by observing joint behaviour under simulated loads.
“I am excited by my research because, in part, it is allowing me to live out my ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ fantasies,” joked Donnelly. “I am also fascinated by the fact that, despite surgery seeming like such a precise and methodical endeavour, there are still so many elements that vary patient to patient. By comparing the accuracy of robotic-assisted TKR surgeries versus traditional methods, I hope to be part of the continued path for the best possible patient outcomes.”
Towards a greener planet
For Patrick Adjei, his draw to engineering came from the field’s vast opportunities for creativity, and the challenges it presented in exercising and expanding his mind.
“One thing to know about me is I don’t shy from exploring different things,” he said. “Whether it be food from different cultures, a book that is not from my preferred genre, an uncommon social game, or a course. Lately, I’ve started to get into philosophy, and to think of the level of wisdom some people have is mind-blowing.”
Through conversations with leading innovators in artificial intelligence (AI), Adjei was inspired to pursue a career that was more research-focused.
Adjei’s research focuses on energy forecasting in households, using Internet of Things and AI to predict household energy consumption. Through a method called “non-intrusive load monitoring energy disaggregation,” the aim is to allow electricity providers and consumers to engage and strategize about consumers’ appliance utilization, with the goal of reducing electricity wastage.
With electricity demands on the rise, Adjei hopes to influence the way consumers use their appliances, without disrupting their routines, thereby resulting in a greener planet.
“I am grateful to Western Engineering for providing me a rare opportunity for the betterment of my self-development in research, leadership and academics,” said Adjei. “This is an exciting new journey that is sure to be memorable.”
Applications are now open for the 2022 IBET Momentum Fellowships.