How Blueprint opens doors for Black undergraduate students
For Stephen Laditi, year one student at University of Toronto (U of T), engineering is all about change.
“The jobs that engineers do are always for the betterment of society,” he says. “Whether it’s about making roads safer or designing sustainable buildings, engineering touches almost everything around us. This is something that I want to be part of.”
Despite Laditi’s certainty about what he wanted to do, as a Grade 11 student, he was a little less sure about how to make it happen. That’s where Blueprint came in. The U of T Engineering programme, which was launched last summer, engages Black students in Grades 9 to 11 who have a love of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
“Blueprint let me see what the engineering world would look like through projects such as programming robots and optimising a gardening space,” says Laditi. “But on top of that, it helped me show the admissions evaluators that I know how to work collaboratively to solve problems, which is a vital skill both in university and in any engineering workplace.”
“There is a real need in this country to ensure that Black high school students know that they are not only welcome, but wanted and needed – at universities, and in engineering in particular,” says Dawn Britton, associate director of Engineering Outreach.
“For too many years, we’ve watched the number of Black students entering STEM studies stay at very low numbers. Blueprint was developed to specifically and intentionally work to change that.”
Engineering Outreach Coordinator Cassandra Abraham was one of Blueprint’s key architects. She says that it was clear from the beginning that the programme would extend beyond the end of summer, offering mentorship for participants throughout the school year, especially for those completing their critical Grade 12 year and applying to university programmes.
“In one of our sessions, we asked students if they felt like they were getting the support they needed to successfully complete their university applications,” she says. “Most said they were not, so we created My Academic Planning Sessions, or MAPS.”
These sessions helped students write a statement of interest, build a résumé, and obtain recommendation letters, as well as to identify their personal learning styles. Blueprint students met with current engineering undergraduates, recruitment officers, and learning strategists to develop all the components of a successful university application.
This fall, five graduates of the inaugural Blueprint programme - four in engineering and one in life sciences - are beginning undergraduate studies at U of T.
Laditi is one of them as is Favour Nwanna, who is entering TrackOne, a general first-year programme that leads to a Bachelor’s in any one of eight engineering disciplines.
“Blueprint played a huge role in my being accepted into U of T Engineering,” says Nwanna. “I met with other students currently enrolled in engineering programmes who could provide advice, and I got my questions answered by the people involved in the admissions process. It really helped me be mentally prepared for what was to come.”
Nwanna says she’s currently most interested in computer engineering, with an eye to a possible career in the tech industry, but that she’s keeping her options open.
“Before Blueprint, I had a stereotypical view of what engineers were and what they do,” she says. “This programme helped open my eyes to the many sectors of engineering. I think that TrackOne will allow me to explore many fields while developing a solid foundation so that I will be able to make a well-informed decision once the time comes.”
In addition to those accepted into U of T, many other Blueprint participants have joined STEM programmes at other institutions. Others have got their first jobs as a result of the programme’s job preparedness and résumé-building workshops.
MORE THAN DOUBLE APPLICANTS
This summer, Blueprint received more than 190 applications from high-achieving Black students from across Canada, more than double last year’s total.
“I know that this is just the beginning, and I hope that this number grows every year,” says Abraham. “My wish is that these students, after their first year, become mentors for our Blueprint programme. There’s a whole network of Black people behind the scenes making sure that we try to touch every Black student interested in STEM.”
Outside of U of T, Abraham is a member of Black Youth in Technology, Engineering and Science (BYTES), a network of organisations supporting Black youth in STEM in Toronto and other municipalities.
“We all can do our part to make sure that Black students are being reached,” she says. “My most memorable moment is when a parent called my cell phone to personally thank me for the work I was doing. After that call, I was flooded with tears because of her kind words and encouragement. I realised that we had created a space where students felt truly supported and loved.”
For Laditi, what matters most is the coming semester. He is excited about the return to in-person learning and the new connections he will be able to form.
“Being here at U of T Engineering will open many doors for me, enabling me to choose my own path,” he says. “My current plan for after graduation is to either pursue a Master’s degree or start my own civil engineering firm. But in all honesty, I can see this degree taking me anywhere I want to go.”
– Article courtesy University of Toronto, written by Tyler Irving.