TrackOne program lets first-year U of T engineering students keep their options open

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When Selina Tong was in high school, she didn’t know what she wanted to study in college. Her strongest subjects were math and science, so she debated between business, architecture, and engineering.

While she was exposed to the latter field from an early age – her father is an electrical engineer and her sister went into computer engineering – she says she still didn’t know what people were doing in the profession. .

To keep as many doors open as possible, Tong eventually decided to enroll in the TrackOne program offered by the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto. The undeclared freshman program allows students to explore the many engineering fields offered at the U of T before choosing a disciplinary major at the end of the winter term.

“I was uncertain about my future, but I knew getting an engineering degree would open up more career prospects,” says Tong, who is now a fourth-year industrial engineering student.

“The skills you can learn are so broad that you have plenty of options if you decide you don’t want to be a professional engineer.”

TrackOne students take courses that prepare them to join any Core 8 program – chemical, civil, computer, electrical, industrial, materials, mechanical or mineral engineering – during the remaining three years of their BASc degree and benefit from the support from a dedicated TrackOne advisor.

“These aren’t students who can’t make up their minds. They know they are interested in engineering, but want to keep their options open to make an informed decision,” says Susan McCahanProfessor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering who currently serves as Vice Provost Academic Programs and Vice Provost Innovations in Undergraduate Education at the U of T.

“We found that a number of students came in thinking they were going to do a program and ended up heading into a different area, an area they may not even have known when they were there. in high school. »

McCahan, who served as freshman president when U of T Engineering admitted the first group of TrackOne students in 2007, witnessed an immediate sense of community within the group as they chose their own class representative of the engineering society and organized social and networking events – just like the students of the Core 8 programs.

“The first cohort of students decided that the magic eight ball was going to be their symbol because when you ask someone a question and return it, they sometimes say, ‘Ask again later,'” she says. “And eight, because at the end of their first year, they choose one of the Core 8 programs.”

University of Toronto engineering fourth-year Selina Tong leads a Frosh Week group in September 2019 (photo courtesy of Selina Tong)

Samantha Butta third-year mechanical and industrial engineering student, says she has always enjoyed taking on academic challenges, which drew her to the idea of ​​studying engineering.

“I didn’t know anyone who could tell me about the profession and what it could be,” she says. “I knew engineers solved problems, and I consider problem solving one of my greatest strengths.”

After being accepted into U of T Engineering, she attended an event for female high school students called Girls Leadership in Engineering Experience (GLEE).

“I saw with my own eyes how strong the engineering community at the University of Toronto is and that I would be among the women who were also passionate about STEM,” she says. “I really felt like I belonged in this community.”

Butt applied to TrackOne to give himself more flexibility and spend his freshman year of college finding out which engineering discipline best suited his interests.

When she took the Introduction to Engineering course (APS 191H1), she discovered how versatile each of the Core 8 programs could be. And even if she had first thought of choosing to study computer engineering, she was conquered by the mechatronics branch of mechanical engineering.

“I heard about a fourth-year course called Mechatronics Principles (MIE 444), where you have to build a robot that works its way through a maze,” she says. “I remember being so mesmerized that I could have all the skills and knowledge to build something like this once I hit fourth grade.”

This summer, Butt begins his Professional Experience Year Co-op (PEY Co-op) program at Safran Landing Systems, an aerospace equipment manufacturing company that produces landing gear, avionics and navigation.

“Mechanical engineering offers many PEY Co-op opportunities in aerospace – and I haven’t yet been exposed to the aerospace industry in any of my classes,” she says.

“I’m really excited to see how I can apply what I learned in my degree and how I can learn even more from this opportunity.”

Albert Huynh speaks at TrackOne’s 10th anniversary in 2017 (photo by Alan Yusheng Wu)

Former student Albert Huynh he said signed up for TrackOne because he likes to gather feedback and information before making big decisions.

“Having the option to put off choosing a program while I learned more about the discipline was very much in line with my personality style,” says Huynh, who ended up pursuing a degree in chemical engineering.

During that first year, Huynh was struck by engineering’s emphasis on designing and applying knowledge of math, science, and technology to solve global problems. His interest in sustainable energy led him to choose chemical engineering at the end of his freshman year, but extracurricular opportunities within the faculty would eventually ignite his passion for engineering education.

After graduation, Huynh spent six years working at the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead) at U of T Engineering. And last July, he started a new role as North American Head of Learning Experience Design at Shopify.

“There are so many ways to approach problems and design solutions,” says Huynh. “I’ve learned that the specific discipline you choose doesn’t really matter in terms of where you end up, but rather determines the approach you take.”

As for Tong, she chose to study industrial engineering for its emphasis on human-centered design and because it pairs well with a minor in business. She completed her PEY co-op internship as a commercial floor technology consultant at Scotiabank last spring and is completing an internship as a technical program manager at Braze in New York this summer.

“I was very attracted by the diversity of diplomas,” she says. “I was able to tailor my course selection to my interests, whether it was design, human factors, or artificial intelligence.”

“As students choose an engineering field to study at the end of their TrackOne year, what we really want them to know is that the field they choose will not necessarily dictate their career path” , says McCahan.

“There are a diversity of career paths open to them no matter what engineering field they choose.”


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