Grads to Watch 2018: Meet two U of T biomedical engineering students graduating this spring

On June 19, 20 master’s and PhD students from the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) will be officially graduating at Spring Convocation.

Meet two IBBME graduates who are taking unique next steps in their careers.

Mikhail Burke, IBBME PhD 1T8

Championing Black inclusivity in engineering

“It should be the case that once someone is here at the University of Toronto, they should feel like they are part of a community and feel safe within that community,” said Burke, who was appointed earlier this year as the U of T Engineering’s dean’s advisor on Black inclusivity initiatives and student inclusion and transition mentor.

Burke completed his PhD defence this spring under the supervision of Professor Cari Whyne (Surgery / IBBME) in the Orthopaedics Biomechanics Laboratory at the Sunnybrook Research Institute. His research looked at ways in which cancer affected the material structure and integrity of vertebral bone tissue.

Burke had also been involved with inclusion initiatives long before his doctoral studies, such as co-founding the ENGage outreach program, a collaborative effort between the U of T chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Engineering Outreach Office.

“There is sometimes a perception out there that U of T is not conducive to the Black experience and it speaks to the need for creating a more inclusive environment,” said Burke. “I plan to be involved with various working groups to assess barriers and create recommendations, whether it’s in terms of scholarships, enhancement to recruitment, co-curricular programming, or student experiences.”

Shout out: “I want to thank Professor Cari Whyne, everyone else at the Orthopaedics Biomechanics Laboratory and IBBME’s [graduate programs administrator] Rhonda Marley for their support throughout my graduate school life and helping the experience be about more than producing my thesis.”

Amanda Fleury, IBBME PhD 1T8

Giving a voice to people who can’t speak

Fleury’s research, supervised by Professor Tom Chau at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, focused on textile-based sensors that can be used for rehabilitation. She developed a wearable headband that detects when a person blinks, and software that can distinguish between intentional versus involuntary blinks. These tools can provide a means of communication for people who otherwise have none.

“During my PhD I learned a lot about collaboration,” said Fleury. “I worked directly with a Toronto-based company, Myant Inc., to design and build the textile electrode headband that I tested with end users. I got to see firsthand what technology development looks like at a relatively young company and create a prototype that I’m really proud of.”

Fleury also spent part of her PhD in Ethiopia teaching biomedical engineering at Jimma University through an internship opportunity with the American International Health Alliance (AIHA) and Rice University. A student team she supervised designed a medical record-keeping system for their local hospital, which won a university-wide design competition.

Currently, Fleury is spending four months on an Endeavour Research Fellowship at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, working on projects related to wearable sensing. “The next step for me is to find a position doing research and technology development, preferably at a company in the wearable technology space,” she said. “I’d like to work at a company that values creativity, and that allows me to keep learning every day.”

Shout out: “I feel really privileged to have had Professor Tom Chau as a supervisor and mentor. His commitment to his students and his focus on the real impact of the technologies we build is a motivation and an inspiration.”

Part of this story was originally published on U of T Engineering News: 15 Grads to Watch for 2018