McMaster Engineering’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship Winners Poised for Impact – Daily News | Jobs Vox

Robert Ngunjiri and Serena Stoddart have both felt out of place for long periods of time. Now, they are scholarship winners who have found a home and launchpad for impact at McMaster Engineering.

A native of Nairobi, Kenya, Robert Ngunjiri moved to Canada in 2013 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He had a passion for developing real-world solutions to environmental pollution, but struggled to gain a foothold in the Canadian workforce.

“I had to turn down my first job because I couldn’t find a co-op position,” he remembers. “I found it useful to translate my previous work experience to some Canadian engineers.”

He also started his degree at the age of 22, which made him feel a bit out of place with a younger group.

During his second year, things took a positive turn when he secured a co-op position with a professor who led a team in developing biopolymers to replace synthetic polymers, a major source of global pollution. Ngunjiri was immediately infatuated with the research and went on to earn a master’s degree in materials science.

He spent the next two years in industry, where he continued to work on developing biopolymers. Gradually, he began looking further up the supply chain, into the process of refining crude oil into plastics. Inspired to continue down this path, he was accepted into the PhD program at McMaster Engineering, where he joined the Nanomaterial Catalysts for Sustainable Energy Technologies Lab.

Ngunjiri’s research group focuses on carbon dioxide electroreduction, a process using electricity to convert carbon dioxide into ethylene, which is needed to make polymers, rather than obtaining it from crude oil. This innovation has the potential to prevent 828 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere every year.

“I have found a way to make a tangible contribution to fighting climate change,” says Ngunjiri. “My own parents, who are farmers, have lived with its devastating effects for a long time.”

Ngunjiri was “a bit shocked” when she learned she had received this year’s Indigenous and Black Engineering/Technology (IBET) PhD Fellowship. Outside of research, he spends much of his time exploring parks and gardens in the Hamilton area with his wife and their 20-month-old son. “This fellowship represents substantial financial support for me and my family,” he says. “And, on a more personal note, I finally feel seen and affirmed as a person after years of struggle. The fact that McMaster is making fellowship accessible to people from non-traditional backgrounds is heartwarming.

finding the right fit

Serena Stoddart spent most of her childhood in Barrie, Ontario, half a world away from where Ngunjiri was born and raised, but she experienced similar dislocation when her family moved north from Etobicoke. Barrie has become much more diverse over the years, but its black community is still a small minority. “It was culturally very different from the Toronto area, to say the least,” says Stoddart.

During his high school years, he put in countless hours to help shine a light on the prosperity of his community. During Black History Month, the Black History Society he co-led created a variety show broadcast by Rogers TV, as well as a video highlighting Black-owned businesses in Barrie.

When it came time to attend university, Stoddart was searching for a culturally diverse, welcoming home with a reputation for excellence. She also hoped to find a program that would set her on the right path to becoming a physician.

Stoddart had considered a career in medicine for as long as she could remember. Growing up, he maintained a close relationship with his grandparents and other older family members, who often depended on him to dispense medicine and assist them in any way he could. She also spent time caring for her younger sister, who has tachycardia. “I learned from a young age that I love being someone that other people can count on to be a caregiver,” she says.

McMaster Engineering’s integrated biomedical engineering program proved to be a perfect fit. “When I met this program I knew it was different than anything else I’d come across,” Stoddart says. “Instead of just studying science, I have the opportunity to do science in my classroom. What we’re learning always has real-life applications.” While she has not yet decided to pursue a career in medicine, she has enjoyed the process of working with prosthetics in her first classes at McMaster Engineering.

In and out of the classroom, Stoddart has applauded McMaster’s deliberate efforts to advance equity, diversity and inclusion. “Everywhere you look, there are opportunities to get involved, no matter what your background,” she says. From the support offered by the Black Student Success Center to classroom discussions of health equity, the inclusivity of the campus environment has helped Stoddart feel comfortable.

Stoddart was also excited to learn that applying to McMaster Engineering qualifies him for a variety of admissions awards. Soon after the nomination, she came to know that she has been selected as the MAC Entrance Award winner for the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), an initiative created during the 2020-21 academic term.

“I am thrilled to see our team work so hard to achieve its intended goal and look forward to seeing the impact it has on young aspiring Black STEM students,” says Akira Oto, Acting President of McMaster’s NSBE Chapter.

As she navigates her first year of engineering, Stoddart has experienced a boost of confidence from receiving the award. “It feels like an acknowledgment that I have something to bring to the table,” she says.

According to Heather Sheardown, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, awards such as the IBET Fellowship and NBSE Scholarship play an important role in attracting and supporting talented individuals from under-represented backgrounds.

“Students like Robert and Serena make McMaster Engineering an even better place to learn and grow,” says Dean Sheardown. “We will continue to work hard to ensure that students from diverse backgrounds receive all the support they need to maximize their potential.”

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