An international election

The decisions that Canadian voters make in the forthcoming election will affect me personally, both as an international student in Toronto over the next few years, and as an Indian. The same could be said of any international student in Canada, or indeed of any citizen of any country that has economic or political, or really any kind of, relations with Canada.

Canada is of course not alone in restricting voting in federal or any other type of elections to its own citizenry. It is, after all, a concept enshrined within the structure of democracy. Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Québécois, uses the American Revolution-era slogan “no taxation without representation” as a tenet of sovereignty, but its reverse applies in this case: no electoral rights if you do not pay taxes. Since I do not (yet) pay taxes in Canada, it seems only logical that I cannot vote in its elections.
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Elections tend to be framed in relatively narrow domestic terms. Though the campaign for the May election is still in its infancy, the key issues that have been framed front and center relate to matters within Canada. The Liberals’ constant emphasis on Stephen Harper’s flouting of the principles of democracy, for example, is aimed squarely at the electorate’s trust in their Prime Minister. Similarly, Conservative attack ads have attempted to portray Michael Ignatieff as unpatriotic or as un-Canadian. Fair enough, you might say; this is a domestic election after all.

Well no, not really. So called “domestic” elections have repercussions far beyond the borders of the nation in which they take place.

In areas such as economics and foreign aid, areas vital to the ability of people all over the world to subsist, the policies of individual governments have a significant impact. Consider, for example, the decision last year by the Conservative government to freeze international aid at five billion dollars a year rather than as a set percentage of Canada’s GDP. This effectively means that the “real” value of Canada’s international aid will drop year-to-year, because though the dollar value of aid will remain constant, the price of goods and services for the countries receiving the aid will increase with inflation. Whether or not you agree with the decision, the economic impact to the beneficiaries of Canadian international aid is undeniable.

Furthermore, consider foreign military intervention. Canadian planes are currently involved in the Western coalition that is enforcing a “no-fly zone” over Libyan airspace. The ethics of intervention in Libya aside, the decision of the Harper government to commit military resources to oppose the Qaddafi regime has repercussions mainly for non-Canadians, particularly, not only Libyans. What of the civilians killed by misdirected coalition bombs, or the damage to property? These losses can be dismissed as “collateral damage”, but the fact remains that they have occurred, and crucially at the hands of governments that the Libyan people did not elect.

These examples are, of course, oversimplifications of the complex interconnected world in which we live. But the idea that elections have broader repercussions than the domestic has some precedent, most notably in the “Give Your Vote” initiative run during the British general election last year. The “Give Your Vote” campaign involved British votaries committing to vote by proxy for people in Afghanistan, Ghana, and Bangladesh, who the initiatives’ website says “are directly affected by UK policies.”

The actual electoral impact of the campaign was minute — though “thousands” participated, the number of votes cast by the proxy voters was too small to affect the outcome in any one constituency, let alone the election outcome as a whole. Symbolically though — since election results matter to people far beyond a country’s borders – ‘Give Your Vote’ was an important step.

My “leftie” opposition and distaste for the Harper Conservatives notwithstanding, I am not calling for you to vote for one party or another this May. What I am asking, though, is that when you vote, you consider someone beyond your own personal or national interests. When Canadians elect a government, they elect a Canadian government for the world.

U of T’s most artistic bathrooms

Start your journey on east side of campus with a visit to the Burwash Dining Hall handicapped men’s room. There, on the inside of the snowy-white stall door, you can find a charming marker-painting of a bird on a ledge. A surprisingly delicate and beautiful work of bathroom-art scribbling, you may still feel slightly self-conscious when the bird won’t stop looking at you.

Victoria College, it turns out, is a veritable cornucopia of charming stall etchings. Make your way to the girls’ stalls in Old Vic, where you can find a caricature of an obese man with skinny legs (rendered in the evocative medium of white-out), provocatively drawn near an old “Drop Fees” sticker.

Trinity College bathroom art is more conceptual. After you’ve worked your way through Vic, head over to the ladies’ room next to the dining hall at St. Hilda’s for a spirited, poetic back-and-forth exchange about reality. The use of artfully-placed prose against a spare stall backdrop, this work challenges us to rethink the parameters of what we would normally consider “visual art.”

Looking for a (wash)room with a view? The venerable Hart House second floor ladies’ room offers a picturesque survey of the building’s outdoor quad. Scope out frisbee locations, admire the hedge-cutting guy, or simply contemplate the infinite beauty of the good old sunshine, all whilst relieving oneself.

When you go to the bathroom, are you ever in the mood for a feeling of Kafkaesque disorentation? The restrooms in the Munk Centre Basement offer vivid, black-and-white chequered floors that will make you feel like you’re playing an existential chess game. Set against the white-tile walls, the bathroom appears at once both tastefully minimalist and garishly challenging.

Finally, at the corner of Hoskin and St. George, why not visit “your Catholic home on campus” (Newman Centre, for those heathens not in-the-know) and consider the infinite grace of the good Lord’s artistic and architecural skills? The gorgeous, old-fashioned wood-panneled bathroom comes decked with a classy faux-marble sink, gorgeous mirror with roccoco frame, and, best of all, a glass window of a ship on a beautiful aqua-blue ocean. As with the best Catholic Rennaisance art, the Newman Centre’s bathroom confirms the long-lost eleventh commandment, “More shalt be more!”

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Burwash men’s

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Munk Centre

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Old Vic men’s

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Old Vic basement

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Pratt Library

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Pratt Library

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Newman Centre

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Newman Centre

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Hart House

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The Varsity office. The door doesn’t lock, so we hold it shut with empty water jugs.


Women’s Field Hockey

CIS Champions
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Kyesia O’Neale, Angela Jennings, Justine Branco, Heather Haughn, Kaelan Watson , Emily Roy, Kelley Lusk, Siobhan Gordon, Hannah Tighe, Lauren Mansfield, Katherine McNeill, Alex Thicke, Frankie Vondrejs, Gabriella Permell, Yvonne Langen, Alexandra Evanyshyn, Natalie Provenzano, Britt Siu, Jessica Aun, Samantha Lyzun, and Kathryn Williams. Photo by Jamie MacDonald/Varsity Blues Media Centre

Men’s Swimming

OUA Champions
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Taylor Bond, Zack Chetrat, Frank Despond, David Dorian, Luke Hall, Steven Hibberd, Jeremie Holdom, Emil Horvath, Steven Kalaba, Andrew Kennedy, Peter Kruzyk, James Le, Troy MacDonald, Joel Rombough, Curtis Samuel, Mike Smerek, George Soules, Zach Summerhayes, Andy Townsend, Pavel Tselichtchev, Marty Tzolov, and Eric Vanderbeek. Photo courtesy Guelph Athletics

Women’s Fencing

OUA Champions

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Julia Barette, Kiah Bransch, Emma Burns, Kelly Doyle, Kristina Han, Fidelia Ho, Miranda Jarvis, Katherine Magyarody, Jodi Marr, Natalie Melton, Nicole See-Too, Jessica Taylor, and Mengqi Wang. Photo by Hannah Liu/Varsity Blues Media Centre

Men’s Water Polo

OUA Champions
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Trevor Robinson, Ian Weir, Daniel Pyette, Brook Ruffo, Marko Brasic, Julian Filice, Luke Spooner, Tanner Regan, Milos Radojcic, Alan Chung, Paulo Ruiz, Michael Chapman, Aleksandar Kuzmanovic, and Tyler Robinson. Photo by Tyler Ball/Varsity Blues Media Centre

Men’s Soccer

OUA Champions
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Russell Moore, John Smits, Brian Mittag, Neil D’Silva, Darragh McGee, Yuriy Czoli, Yannis Gianniotis, Ryan Sciacchitano, Nordo Gooden, Mario Kovacevic, Alexander Raphael, Michael Brathwaite, Nicolas Girard, Scott Nesbitt, Geoffrey Borgmann, Dylan Bams, Federico Vaccaro, Ezequiel Lubocki, Ryan Tawil, Jesse Assing, Jean Giroux, and Lawrence Buchan. Photo by Michael P. Hall/Varsity Blues Media Centre

Why going to school is bad for you

Everyone knows that feeling. After leaving a building, happy to be outside in the fresh air, your joy is suddenly thwarted by the smelly exhaust of a TTC bus driving by. You grimace and hold your breath for a few seconds before continuing on your way, trying not to think about what you just inhaled.

This goes on all over the city. With millions of cars and buses constantly spewing out toxic fumes, how do our lungs survive? How does this affect our health? And should we avoid outdoor activities like jogging and (gasp!) shopping, that expose us to diesel engine exhaust?

There are no easy answers. Scientists are only beginning to learn how our lungs deal with air pollution. It’s not surprising that preliminary studies have found that pollution negatively affects our overall health, causing higher rates of cardiovascular disease and respiratory problems. But more research is needed, and Toronto is a hot spot for studies of air pollution.

One Toronto expert is Dr. Chung-Wai Chow, an assistant professor of respirology at U of T’s Faculty of Medicine, and a leading researcher in the Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research, or SOCAAR. Recently, Chow gave a public lecture to describe her current research which measures environmental pollutants, where they’re most abundant, and how they affect lung function. Ultimately, her research will identify the most polluted areas of the city, and identify medical treatments to counteract the negative effects of pollution.

Chow began her lecture by reviewing the well-established effects of air pollution on health. For example, people who live in more polluted areas of Los Angeles are more likely to have a faster progression of heart disease than those that live in less polluted areas. Lower levels of air pollution are associated with increased life expectancy in many cities throughout the world. What’s more, the number of immune cells present in the lungs is higher in people living closer to roads, indicating that their immune systems are trying to fight off the harmful pollution.
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Taken together, these and other observations indicate that air pollution is likely to affect our health in ways that are harmful enough to be detected. But should we all run screaming for the countryside? Not necessarily. Rural areas are not without their own potent sources of air pollution. Small engines on tractors and chainsaws, as well as the beloved Zamboni, all offer a powerful punch of air pollution.

Although it isn’t entirely clear how these pollutants affect our lungs, or whether our lungs are able to recover, it is known that pollution increases the amount of inflammation in them. This inflammation is harmful because it causes damage to the lung tissue, ultimately reducing lung function. Such inflammation is even worse for people with pre-existing lung problems such as asthma or cystic fibrosis.

Chow is currently researching the inflammation issue further, using mouse models in her work in order to determine exactly how lungs are most affected by pollutants, and to identify drug targets to reduce inflammation in the lungs. Her laboratory is making great progress, having already identified syk, a protein whose presence is associated with higher levels of lung inflammation. The goal now is to identify chemical inhibitors of syk to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution-induced lung inflammation. Eventually these mouse studies will pave the way for the development of human treatments. But what can we do to protect ourselves in the meantime?

Although air pollution is a health concern, it is important to keep several things in mind. Pollutant levels change over time, even within the same day. Typically, these levels correlate with the amount of diesel fuel being used in the area.

Chow discussed recent research by the SOCAAR group that measured pollutant levels at varying distances from major roads. They found that pollution levels were higher downwind of major roads when compared to the same distance upwind. Similarly, air pollution near highway 404 was highest near the road, and tapered off about 200 meters away.

People on TTC buses and subway platforms have higher pollution exposures than those who are on subway cars or are walking. Areas that have a constantly high level of traffic are unlikely to see much fluctuation, whereas areas that have fluctuations in traffic levels would also have fluctuations in pollutant levels.

Despite these findings, Chow stressed that the health costs of air pollution are unlikely to outweigh the obvious health benefits of being active outside. So don’t be scared to cycle around Toronto, go jogging outside on a nice day, or bask in the sun on a patio!

Voting abstinence

“We are part of history with this election,” we are told, “this is the first time in Canadian history that a prime minister has been found in contempt of parliament.” What we are not told is that the election in 2008 was also a historic one, because it had the lowest voter turnout in Canadian history: only 58.8 per cent according to Elections Canada. What’s more, as university students, we are constantly told that young Canadians don’t turn out to vote. In 2008, the voter turnout of 18-to-24-year-olds was only 37.4 per cent.

I wasn’t eligible to vote in 2008. I turned 18 little over a month after the polls closed. At the time I desperately wanted to vote Stéphane Dion into the Prime Minister’s Office and send Harper’s Conservatives to the opposition bench. Now that I have the vote and am told I need to take part in this historic election, I don’t want to.

In the Commons, Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals have backed Harper on many issues. The greatest area of difference, I can think of, was the vote to end the gun registry, an issue that, in the grand scheme of things, is relatively minor. The same seems to be the case on the campaign trail with Ignatieff and Harper not offering substantially different visions of Canada. This is not surprising as, once in government, both Liberals and Conservatives govern from the centre. The NDP, on the other hand, offer a program of government intervention that is less than appealing to me. The only major party that remains is the Bloc, which I cannot vote for because I am not a resident of Quebec.

Is that it? Is the reason I and so many other young Canadians don’t vote simply a lack of inspiring policies? While that may be a legitimate criticism, I don’t think it is the main cause. I think there’s something much more fundamental about the world we live in and the government that tries to run it that causes so many of us to stay at home on election day.

We live in a digital age; it’s cliché to say that, I know, but it is true. Our system of government was developed when borders mattered and most people rarely saw those who lived 200 kilometres away, let alone 2,000. Now we interact on a regular basis with people from all corners of the world. Whether it is with Skype, Twitter or Facebook, we can talk to people we never would have known existed a generation ago. We can buy and sell goods via eBay, Amazon, and other online retailers.

When disasters strike in Haiti or Japan, charitable organizations gather hundreds of millions of dollars in days while governments fumble to organize. Social media has helped orchestrate popular revolutions against unpopular dictators, while Western governments pour billions into quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan. Organizations such as Wikileaks have smashed established state secrecy with a few hackers in basements around the world. That it is cliché to marvel at this is a testament to how amazing our lives are.

The world has changed fundamentally, but government has not. Government is a system of control and whether or not you agree with its actions, its fundamental nature remains unchanged. We now live in a world where control is impossible. We spend a huge portion of our time on the Internet, the content of which is unregulated. We spend most of our time in anarchy and Wikipedia looks a whole lot different than Mad Max. We see everyday what spontaneous order creates, the huge amounts of entertainment and knowledge that are amassed in that series of tubes.

Governments, however, still use the same tactics they always have to solve problems: a bomb here, an embargo there, a subsidy or a ban to fix one problem or another. These things don’t work anymore.

In all honesty, I don’t know what the proper role of government is. I could take a stab at it, but I feel like I would be applying old world answers to new world problems. I don’t know what the solutions should be and I’m very wary of anyone who claims to know exactly what is needed to solve all of the world’s ills. And that’s why I’m not voting: I refuse to hand over my authority to someone with the audacity to claim they know how the whole world should work. The world is too complicated for Harper, Ignatieff, or Layton to fix.

We shouldn’t chalk non-voting up to apathy or ignorance on the part of the non-voter. Instead, we should accept that it is a responsible reaction when one understands that in an Internet world, solutions don’t come from the top down, and we shouldn’t try and make them.

Get to know your Republican candidates

With the US presidential election only a year and a half away, which is no time in the US political sphere, there is no doubt that President Obama will be the Democratic Party’s nominee. The Republicans however have a whole slew of potential candidates. With no clear frontrunner and American politics as volatile as ever, the Republican primary season promises to be like March Madness for political junkies. The biggest factor affecting a candidate’s electability will be how they are able to navigate and win the arch-conservative Republican base while still being able to shift to the mainstream for the national election. Obama has it comparatively easy: with no real competition he can sit back and watch the Republicans destroy themselves and pounce whenever he wants, appealing to the centrists from day one. How a Republican candidate will be able to make the big shift and draw in Tea Partiers and moderates alike will be the defining factor in their electability.

The frontrunner in this election appears to be Mitt Romney. He is handsome, wealthy, and has previous executive experience as the former governor of Massachusetts. Romney is a veteran campaigner who tried his hand in 2008 and looks poised for a second attempt. Where things sour for him is on his conservative credentials. Romney was a driving force behind Massachusetts’ health care law (which is disturbingly similar to Obama’s) and this will be toxic in more conservative states. However, he has the ability to make the necessary big shift from the primary to national campaign. This makes him easily one of the most electable Republicans in the field. Any discussion of Romney also inevitably hits on his Mormon faith which will have a negative impact on distrustful evangelicals who make up a sizable portion of the Republican base.
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Mike Huckabee is another name from the 2008 primary being floating around. The former governor from Arkansas is a devout Christian and has that “everyman” appeal that can be so successful during a hard-fought campaign. Huckabee will lose points on his conservative credentials (he has pardoned more death row inmates than any other governor) and for his recent support for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign. Rounding out the 2008 candidates is Ron Paul. He won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll for the second year in a row and has a passionate grass roots movement behind him. Paul is an ardent libertarian and is against anything the federal government does that is not specifically authorized by the Constitution. He stands no chance of winning a national election and may just be too “out there” to challenge for the Republican nomination.

Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann are both similar in their respective candidacies. Both have emerged at the forefront of the Tea Party movement, both challenge the conception of the Republican Party being male dominated, and both have no serious chance of winning a national election. Palin has more name recognition then Bachmann and could probably raise more money, but this also means she has more public scrutiny. Palin is unlikely to leave her lucrative job at Fox News and her book-speaking tours, especially with her poll numbers so low. Bachmann on the other hand has nothing to lose; this once obscure Minnesota Congresswoman is on the national radar and can only see her stock go up even with an unsuccessful campaign.

Newt Gingrinch is also likely to make a bid but it is unlikely he will get very far. Gingrinch may possess some political genius for his orchestration of the Republican Revolution in 1994 but he has neither the moral character nor the likability necessary to win in the socially conservative South. He is twice divorced, thrice married, and has a track record of marital infidelity. Lack of personal appeal will also relegate Mississippi governor Hailey Barbour to being a non-factor. He is a charmless version of Mike Huckabee and recently came under scrutiny for trying to recast his role in the Civil Rights Movement despite his privileged and mostly segregated upbringing. Gingrinch and Barbour, if they choose to run, will see their fortunes quickly sour.

Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, John Thune, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman all have to deal with their lack of name recognition. This is not necessarily a death sentence: Carter in 1976 and Clinton in 1992 began as little-known outsiders and used their status to their advantage. Pawlenty and Daniels each have experience as governors of Minnesota and Indiana respectively; and Santorum and Thune as senators. Traditionally, governors have fared better at playing the outsider card but no one in this election is a bigger outsider than Jon Huntsman, currently America’s ambassador to China. He has the advantage of speaking Mandarin fluently and perhaps a better understanding of America’s vast overseas debts. It would be unwise to forget about this former Utah governor.

Finally there is Donald Trump. He certainly won’t have to worry about the name recognition (especially when it’s in fifty feet tall gold encrusted letters) or the money, seeing how he has already pledged to spend 700 million on his campaign. Trump might be everybody’s favorite candidate to watch but most will not take him seriously and this will be well justified.

With more than a year of twists, scandals, gaffes, and blunders to come the Republican Party nomination truly has no front runner. What will be the defining feature for who grabs it will not be how they defeat the others but how they will be able to make that sharp transition from appealing to the base to winning over the moderates. There will be no rest for whoever emerges from this heap, when the carnival atmosphere of the Republican National Convention ends; they will have to face Obama and his billion dollar election machine. Defeating him will be the real challenge.

Tragedy on campus

Karthiha Guruparan was only a few weeks from graduating from UTSC when a speeding van ended her life on March 24.

A fourth year management student, Kartha, as family and friends know her, was determined to become an accountant like her father but strived even harder to bring her family together.

“Family was always first in her life, she was always the one who brings us closer,” said Sherrin Arul, Guruparan’s younger cousin and a fellow U of T student.

A long-time friend, Madison*, recalls how much Guruparan has affected her life.

“Kartha […] encouraged everyone to do their best in school, and often checked up on me to see how my assignments and midterms were going,” Madison said, recalling how Guruparan was like a “mother” to her and her friends.

“She was a person that we all looked up to, and as such, it was a huge shock when we heard what happened,” added Madison.

Guruparan was on her way home from studying late at UTSC and was crossing at the intersection of Sheppard Avenue and Murison Boulevard, east of Neilson Road, when she was struck by a speeding Dodge Caravan. She was immediately rushed to Sunnybrook where she died.

The 33-year-old male driver remained at the scene but no charges have been laid as the police are still investigating who had the right of way and whether Guruparan walked on a red light.

But Arul believed that Guruparan would have only crossed the road if it was on a green light.

“Kartha was honestly the most cautious person I know and personally, from what I know about the situation, I really don’t believe that she crossed the red light,” said Arul.

Despite her sudden death, Guruparan’s memories live on in the minds of her family and friends.
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Hajithaa Manoharan met Guruparan in a UTSC accounting class in 2008 and the two had been good friends ever since.

“Kartha helped me get through the toughest times in school, and she was my inspiration to do my best. […] My memories of her will last forever,” said Manoharan.

When asked about what they will remember most about Guruparan, Arul and Manoharan agreed that it is her smile and her ability to light up a room.

While Madison said that she will never forget Guruparan’s thoughtfulness.

“Even if she was a guest at a party, she would help serve food and clean up after everyone had left. She was thoughtful like that, and had an amazing heart.”

UTSC presented Guruparan with a posthumous degree last Saturday and is planning a special memorial in her honour.


*Update (April 19, 2015, 11:21 am): Name has been omitted upon student’s request.

Dean awarded by YWCA

University of Toronto’s Dr. Cristina Amon, dean of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, has been announced as one of the 2011 YWCA Women of Distinction Award recipients. Amon is being recognized for her efforts at breaking gender boundaries and shattering glass ceilings in the field of engineering at home and abroad.

Professor Amon will be one of seven women to receive an award at the 31st Annual YWCA Women of Distinction Awards dinner on May 18. The event will raise funds to support YWCA programmes in the GTA.

In 2006, Amon became the first female dean of Canada’s largest engineering school. During her tenure, she has drastically increased faculty’s female presence; the female faculty has jumped from 21 to 38 members, and the number of women assistant professors grew to 41.5 per cent of the faculty complement in 2008.

Amon says that her career as an engineer is the result of a lifelong spirit of curiosity and inventiveness. “Since I was a child, I’ve always enjoyed trying to figure out and explain how things work,” she said.

Much to her parents’ chagrin, Amon would continually disassemble household items. She recalled taking apart her family’s radio when she was just five years old with hopes of finding little people playing music inside. “It was my first engineering disappointment,” she joked.

At one point, Amon thought that she would pursue a career in the sciences, but switched to engineering because of its practical application. “What really drove me to engineering was […] doing things that would have an impact on peoples’ lives in the close future.”

Amon agrees with the Albert Einstein’s famous statement, that “a scientist studies what is, [and] an engineer studies what never was.” Every day, she is motivated by the opportunity to create things that did not exist before. “No profession releases the spirit of innovation like engineering,” she said.

Dr. Amon, who was born and raised in Uruguay, took undergraduate studies in Venezuela and did her doctoral degree in the United States. As an engineering student in South America, Amon did not find a noticeable difference between the fields’ treatment of males versus females. In fact, she said that there were more women than men studying to be engineers. “The assumption that engineering is not a career for women is a complete misconception,” she said.

As a professional, she found that engineering was severely underrepresented by women. Amon has seen a slow improvement in the perception of women in the field, and says that a large part of the problem is that many people do not fully understand what engineering is all about.

“I think that improving the public understanding of engineering […] will help bring more women into the progression,” she said. She noted the impact that TV shows like CSI have had on the portrayal of certain careers as exciting and rewarding. “The applications for programmes in forensic sciences have increased significantly, and there is a close correlation with [popular] shows.”

Amon thinks that it is important to increase awareness of the contributions women can make in an engineering position. Her outreach plans include the continued development of mentorship programmes like “Skule Sisters,” which pairs U of T female engineering students to high school girls interested in the field. “I think it is so important that young women see [the possibility of] themselves being in positions of leadership in the progression,” she said.

Amon says that the “thrill of looking for innovative solutions to problems” gives her the enthusiasm and energy she needs to overcome any gender barriers that she faces.

After receiving the award, Amon hopes that her success will inspire others to realize their own potential. “I feel a little bit more responsible,��� she said, “to set a good example as a woman in engineering.”