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IBET PhD Project to represent Waterloo in federal competition | Waterloo News – The Iron Warrior

Project aimed at rapidly increasing presence of Indigenous and Black academics in engineering and computer science
An innovative new program that provides financial support, mentorship and networking to Black and Indigenous PhD students has been chosen to represent the University of Waterloo in a federal competition for bold and potentially game-changing projects to address persistent systemic barriers in the research ecosystem and academia.
The Indigenous Black Engineering Technology (IBET) PhD Project, led by Tizazu Mekonnen, associate professor of chemical engineering, is aimed at rapidly increasing the presence of Indigenous and Black academics in engineering and computer science across Canada. Launched only 18 months ago, the program has expanded to 15 universities across Canada with 28 Momentum Fellows in the 2021 and 2022 cohorts.
Along with $120,000 over four years to support the costs of PhD studies, IBET fellows are matched with mentors of their choice from industry or academia. IBET fellows are also able to pursue an internship with an industry partner through an attractive MITACS partnership that incentivizes industry partners.
IBET was chosen as the University’s nomination for the inaugural Robbins-Ollivier Excellence in Equity Award following an online vote for Waterloo employees and students in May and an internal selection committee deliberation. Two other applications, Becoming Coalition and Structured Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), were also part of the online campus vote.
If the IBET project is awarded the $100,000 Excellence in Equity award, Professor Mekonnen would like to focus on increasing the number of Indigenous PhDs in the program. Currently only two of the 28 Fellows are Indigenous.
Tizazu Mekonnen
Tizazu Mekonnen, associate professor of chemical engineering, is leading the Indigenous Black Engineering Technology (IBET) PhD Project, aimed at rapidly increasing the presence of Indigenous and Black academics in engineering and computer science.
“Right now, we’re very successful in terms of attracting Black students but on the Indigenous front we’re struggling a little bit,” he says. “My hope is we are going to continue to attract more successful students and a key success is to see the students finish the program, get employment and become role models for future engineers.”
Professor Mekonnen would like to see more than 100 fellows at the peak of the program to increase the overall number of Black and Indigenous people trained at the PhD level. When the IBET program started, there were less than 15 Black professors out of more than a thousand in Ontario and he says he was the only Black professor out of nearly 350 faculty in Waterloo Engineering. In Canadian society, about four per cent of people are Black and five per cent are Indigenous.
For IBET fellows the mentorship experience goes beyond core studies and work and extends to social and cultural experiences.
“Fellows want someone who can support their cultural growth and safety in this new environment,” says Mary Robinson, associate dean for Outreach, Equity and Diversity in the Faculty of Engineering.
The IBET PhD program is also educational for the PhD advisors and IBET mentors in understanding student needs.
“The advisors and mentors may not have experienced life as a Black person or an Indigenous person so there’s a lot of education going on while supporting these students. This type of work starts a cultural shift so that the University is more prepared, and more aware of how to create a more inclusive welcoming environment while making changes to the whole system to make it more inclusive,” says Robinson.
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The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is centralized within our Office of Indigenous Relations.


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