In December 2012 a violent ice storm struck the city of Toronto, downing trees and power lines and causing widespread blackouts. Chris Upfold, deputy CEO and chief customer officer for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), had a decision to make: send one of his primary maintenance crews to Scarborough to clear the Rapid Transit line, or keep the crew downtown to protect the core against further disruption?

“In a leadership role, not making a decision is a decision,” Upfold said. “You gather everybody’s opinion, and you attempt to forge a consensus, but ultimately that decision needs to be made.” In the end, he kept the maintenance crew downtown.

Upfold shared his lessons in leadership with more than 30 U of T Engineering students participating in the Faculty-wide Summer Program: Engineer Your Future, from the Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead). The group visited the TTC’s Hillcrest Complex last Thursday, where they also toured the main Transit Control Centre and the massive D. W. Harvey Workshop where hundreds of buses and streetcars are repaired each year.

Students toured the D. W. Harvey Workshop, where TTC buses and streetcars are repaired. (Photo: Alan Yusheng Wu)

Students toured the D. W. Harvey Workshop, where TTC buses and streetcars are repaired. (Photo: Alan Yusheng Wu, EngSci 1T5)

“Field trips like this one provide opportunities for students to get off campus and see engineering in action,” said Annie Simpson, ILead’s assistant director. “These experiences also allow students to connect what they’ve learned about themselves through our program to what they perceive as their future career.”

The new eight-week summer leadership program, launched in 2016, serves students who are spending the summer conducting research or taking courses at U of T Engineering. It includes seminars designed to help students understand their personal values and strengths, team-building exercises from Outward Bound, and a workshop on “communicating with confidence” held by improvisational theatre teachers. Later this month, students will travel to Toronto City Hall to meet with city manager Peter Wallace and learn more about how major infrastructure decisions are made. The program has seen strong uptake, with nearly 50 students from across the Faculty participating in the events.

“I joined to help figure out what I want to do with my career, and what I need academically to get there,” said Julia Lobo (Year 3 ChemE). “There are a lot of different industries that seem interesting, and the program gave me a lot of exposure to things I wouldn’t normally get to see.”

For Joshua Ilse (Year 2 MSE) the benefit was more personal. “It really helps identify specific aspects of your personality, and realize things about yourself,” he said. “I came to this program on a whim, but I’m really glad I signed up.”

Learn more about Faculty-wide Weekly Summer Program: Engineer Your Future