Female students from Danforth CTI attend UofT’s WISE Design Challenge

On October 22nd, 2016, a group of female high school students from Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute attended a Design Challenge (also known as WISE High School Design Hackathon) hosted by Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) at the University of Toronto St.George Campus from 1-5 pm. This was a great chance for students to enhance their problem-solving abilities, getting to know current undergraduate students that are pursuing science or engineering and also meeting other high school students with similar interests. Students who are interested  in the sciences and engineering disciplines were put in teams where they were able to get involved in exercising their creative thoughts and ingenuity towards proposing the optimal solution for a real world problem that had been analytically assigned by the female undergraduates. Although this event was run by Women in Science and Engineering, this event was still opened to all genders.  

There was also an open house that day, hence there were swarms of high school students around the St. George campus.
Ruthie guiding me to the Galbraith Building, where the challenge took place.
UofT students came around each table and introduced themselves to a group of aspired young female scientists/engineers. (From left to right: Ruthie, Tajrian, Hannah, Rabaya, and Sawda)
As you can see by their very bright smile, these fellow Danforth CTI students were definitely excited for their design challenge. (From left to right: Nikkita and Ishrat)

As scientists and engineers, you often need to research, brainstorm and think of cost and time-effect solutions that are practical for the general public. Depending on the case, students had the choice of presenting their solution in the form of a diagram, layout, blueprint, process, model, etc. Students didn’t have to focus on the technical, programming, or computer aspects of the problem, but rather the design and the practicality of their solution, which had been explained and justified during their presentation period.img_0027

UofT students gave a presentation on the problem scenarios.

With permission from the undergraduate students, I was able to take a picture of the ‘General Instructions for Students’ sheet in which it had a general set of steps students were able to follow to organize their ideas with their teammates:

  1. Identify key components of the problem you plan to address- What are the societal implications? What do those involved in the problem need? What is missing in existing solutions?
  2. Brainstorm ideas for a solution (on rough) paper. You may consider combining ideas.
  3. Pick a final design and evaluate the practicality and usability of your solution.
  4. Plan out the solution in the form of a diagram, layout, blueprint, process, model, etc. Make sure that your design is organised and can be explained thoroughly.
  5. Draw the final design on the Bristol board for presentation. Include details if possible.
  6. Give your solution a name.
  7. Wait your turn to present your work! Make your argument convincing. The goal is to convince the judges to implement your design. Prove that it is the optimal solution to the problem and be prepared to answer a question about your solution proposal.
Great minds that discuss ideas together, eat together (because nothing is more influential than leaving behind a great ‘food for thought’…sorry, I had to).
Brainstorming session

I also had the permission to take a picture of the ‘Design Challenges’ sheet.You may be questioning if I had taken the pictures, why haven’t I posted the pictures instead of having to struggle and painfully type all of it out. Well, it’s because the camera on the phone was out of focus and so it would be very difficult to read the questions. The following were the problem scenarios:

Transit System

The existing Toronto transit system has had insufficient ridership this past year, which resulted in a $25 million deficit in their budget. Service improvements need to be made without entirely replacing their current transit system. In 2015 alone, there were 35 line closures due to subway breakdowns. Buses and subways remain crowded during rush hour, making rides unfavourable in the summer months. There have been complaints about the inefficient use of seating space, the lack of handrails for passengers, and the overall cleanliness of subways. The all- door boarding at downtown streetcars have also become a problem as passengers can easily avoid paying the fare, rendering the system unfair for paying passengers.

Design the layout of a cost-effective TTC subway space and/or propose adjustments to the current system to improve customer satisfaction and optimize the services offered.

Smartphone for the Elderly

While technology has integrated itself in the culture of younger generations, the older generation grows increasingly disconnected with the latest technological developments. With children growing up with tablets and smartphones, they are accustomed to the use of touchscreen devices. However, it is difficult for the elderly to come to grips with the interfaces that assume users understand the basic nature of a touch- screen device. For example, older smartphone users tend to touch the screen with more force than necessary because the nerves in their fingers are much less sensitive. For elders who have a tremor in their hands, smartphones may register their taps as swipes. Such reasons should not hinder elders from using a device that is considered  the primary, most convenient means of communication for many.

Design a new model for a smartphone as well as the interface for the associated messenger app. Cater the design towards older customers and ensure that it encompasses the same functions as a typical smartphone.

Disaster Relief Service

Developing countries have immense difficulty recovering from natural disasters- the underlying reason being poverty and the lack of resources. The magnitude of damage dramatically exceeds disasters that occur in industrialized countries because they do not have the supplies to create buildings that can withstand floods, earthquakes, etc. In these situations, it is vital for humanitarian aid services to mobilize people and emergency supplies immediately. During the aftermath of a disaster, women and children are the most vulnerable; they become the primary victims of exploitation and trafficking and require safe spaces. Disaster relief services primarily work to restore communities in the physical sense by rebuilding and strengthening infrastructure as well as provide emotional and/or medical care for people in the community.

Design an effective disaster relief service that will ultimately help recover a community from scratch and provide immediate and long-term care for its inhabitants. This should be presented as a process with specific steps.

Ishrat’s group chose to present their idea based on smartphone for the elderly. You can view their presentation in the video below.

Each group had to choose one of three real world problems to solve within two hours. At the end of the two hours, they had to present their ideas to a panel of three UofT WISE judges within five minutes (however some students were such intelligent rebels that they presented beyond five minutes, elaborating their intriguing ideas).

Hannah, Sawda, Nikkita, and two other high school students explained their idea concerning the TTC system.

My group featured two Danforth CTI students- Rabaya (grade 12) and Emma (grade 9 MaST)-three other high school students, as well as a UofT student who is doing her third year in Psychology. We chose to present our idea based on the TTC System. We talked about seating space, new and improved handrails, having a strict policy for opening and closing doors, cleanliness, as well as cost efficient TTC fares. Below is a 47 seconds time-lapse showing this brainstorming session:


My role was to talk about cleanliness. I began off by discussing the irritation some passengers feel when they find newspapers taking up a seat or lying around in certain areas of the train. To prevent this, I thought of the idea of having a longitudinal recycling bin attached to the metallic wall beside each entrance doors of the subway. This way passengers can easily dispose their newspaper before exiting or entering the transit system. Not only is this concept Eco- friendly but also cost efficient because thousands of money can be saved if these used newspapers were recycled instead of having them laying around inside the subway. To dispose any other extra wastes, a garbage bin should also be placed beside the recycling bins. I have also thought of the idea of having touch-free hand sanitizers placed beside the disposable bins because we all know that the railings are invaded with germs and bacteria. If passengers can squirt a bit of this antiseptic compound into their hands before exiting or entering the train, it’ll almost decrease the number of microorganisms that reside on the hand railings. Therefore, this will keep the train clean and decrease the likelihood of having Torontonians encounter mild sickness. Although my group did not win, I still believe they have done a good job in communicating and presenting their ideas.

Here is a lovely picture of all the female Danforth CTI students who have attended the Design Challenge. Everyone left with a participation certificate. Congratulations to Abida and her team for winning first prize!

The main goal of this event was to get every high school student to have a great time at the WISE Design Challenge as well as get a glimpse of what scientists and engineers do to collaborate and solve problems in society. 

(All pictures and videos were taken by me using my phone, Canon camera, and iPad. I also have the permission to post these on social media)