• Engineered Confidence with EWB

    stephenpic

    Coming to U of T, I wanted to make a difference and joined Engineers Without Borders (EWB), a well-known non-governmental organization that tackles poverty in Africa. After all, it sounds like Doctors Without Borders[1]. Over the year, I met many admirable leaders through the network. I learned how to think and to think about ‘the how’. It wasn’t until March, after all these bliss moments, that I realized I was not satisfied.

    I felt that EWB’s brand promised me a chance to make a visible impact, to get my hands dirty and see the positive changes ripple into the real world. In contrast, for the past 3+ years, the chapter focused on outreach, awareness, and fundraising. Immediately, I thought of changing this. But I’m a 1st year; I still have trouble finding the Haultain building. I did not have the bravery to question the organization. I kept quiet.

    A few days later, my friend quit EWB; she was not making the impact she expected. Through a short discussion, we realized that we shared sentiments. With her support, I became motivated and reached out to others.

    As we chatted with past and current members, these feelings showed up again and again. We soon concluded that the sentiment was the root cause of the chapter’s member retention disease. Even as our goals became more ambitious, our confidence continued to grow, knowing that others felt the same need for change.

    Some were not supportive. They pointed out that the impact we sought was not practical. For example, we couldn’t all go to Africa. In response, we ‘re-scoped’ the desired impact to be local. We would train members with transferable skills, empowering them to later enact change in Africa. Other critiques were not so easily solved. But in the least, these allowed us to be more aware of our limitations.

    By working with others, our once distant ideas evolved into a tangible solution. As we built our ideas, we built our confidence. Today, we narrowed down a list of 49 local not-for-profits to four ongoing discussions with community organizations involved with sustainable urban planning, equitable housing and prosperity.

    Real confidence doesn’t come purely from yourself. By collaborating with others, you gain their perspectives and create lasting confidence. Real confidence is not a look, but comes from hard work and practice. The successes and failures endured let you better understand your strengths, and improve on your weakness.

    Every time you pitch your start-up idea to professors or you practice asking a girl out with friends and they burst out laughing, keep your chin up. Because with each iteration of your design, you have one more reason to be a bit more confident than before.

    Stephen Xu is a first-year Engineering Science student. He is the Vice-President at the U of T EWB Chapter as the Global Engineering Portfolio lead. Comments? Questions? Email Stephen at Stephen.xu@mail.toronto.ca.

    [1] The two NGOs are actually very different.

  • Engineered Confidence

    confidence

    If you Google ‘how to be confident’, the first result, WikiHow, will tell you to “look the part”. But sometimes ‘faking it till you make it’ does not give you enough real confidence. So, how can we “be the part” as well?

    Coming to U of T, I wanted to make a difference and joined Engineers Without Borders (EWB), a well-known non-governmental organization that tackles poverty in Africa. After all, it sounds like Doctors Without Borders[1]. Over the year, I met many admirable leaders through the network. I learned how to think and to think about ‘the how’. It wasn’t until March, after all these bliss moments, that I realized I was not satisfied.

    I felt that EWB’s brand promised me a chance to make a visible impact, to get my hands dirty and see the positive changes ripple into the real world. In contrast, for the past 3+ years, the chapter focused on outreach, awareness, and fundraising. Immediately, I thought of changing this. But I’m a 1st year; I still have trouble finding the Haultain building. I did not have the bravery to question the organization. I kept quiet.

    A few days later, my friend quit EWB; she was not making the impact she expected. Through a short discussion, we realized that we shared sentiments. With her support, I became motivated and reached out to others.

    As we chatted with past and current members, these feelings showed up again and again. We soon concluded that the sentiment was the root cause of the chapter’s member retention disease. Even as our goals became more ambitious, our confidence continued to grow, knowing that others felt the same need for change.

    Some were not supportive. They pointed out that the impact we sought was not practical. For example, we couldn’t all go to Africa. In response, we re-scoped the desired impact to be local. We would train members with transferable skills, empowering them to later enact change in Africa. Other critiques were not so easily solved. But in the least, these allowed us to be more aware of our limitations.

    By working with others, our once distant ideas evolved into a tangible solution. As we built our ideas, we built our confidence. Today, we narrowed down a list of 49 local not-for-profits to four ongoing discussions with community organizations involved with sustainable urban planning, equitable housing and prosperity.

    Real confidence doesn’t come purely from yourself. By collaborating with others, you gain their perspectives and create lasting confidence. Real confidence is not a look, but comes from hard work and practice. The successes and failures endured let you better understand your strengths, and improve on your weakness.

    Every time you pitch your start-up idea to professors or you practice asking a girl out with friends and they burst out laughing, keep your chin up. Because with each iteration of your design, you have one more reason to be a bit more confident than before.

    Stephen Xu is a first-year Engineering Science student. He is the Vice-President at the U of T EWB Chapter as the Global Engineering Portfolio lead. Comments? Questions? Email Stephen at stephen.xu@mail.toronto.ca

    [1] The two NGOs are actually very different.

  • How Eating Crab is a Lot Like Being an Engineering Student: An Essay Written in the Throes of Midterms

    Mr. KrabbySteaming bowls of rice, some green vegetable or another lay on the platter in front of me. Chicken legs were in the oven, but I had my eyes on the prize: seven steamed crabs lay there, begging to be eaten. After half a week of frantic cramming for a midterm, this dinner was a welcome treat.

    As I was ripping off the claws and breaking open the shell to nibble on the precious, delicious white crab meat, I came to the sudden realization that eating crab is a lot like being an engineering student. Here I was, working my butt off for a sliver of meat no bigger than an eighth of my pinky finger. You have to crack the shell with that metal contraption, or even risk your teeth. You have to deal with sharp exoskeletons and messy innards.

    But that’s just step one. You also have to separate the infinitesimally small pieces of shell from within the meat, and when you finally put it in your mouth, there are always random bits of crab that you absolutely do not want to eat.

    It’s the same in engineering. You work your butt off on those problem sets, and it’s completely fruitless. You may get brief little respites and victories and triumphant moments, but most of the time you’re thinking “Oh God, what could I have possibly done in a past life to deserve such punishment?” and cursing math and physics and Newton, and crying.

    When you’re eating crab, it’s mostly thinking “Why did I decide that eating crab would be a good idea?” Sure, the meat is delicious, but you don’t even get one mouthful after six crabs. Is it really worth it to work for an hour trying to get the meat out when you could have just eaten a chicken leg? And sure, the chicken leg may not have been as delicious. But it’s still good, and you could have had six times the meat in a third of the time. You’re always thinking to yourself, “I could just eat the chicken. I could give up the crab and eat the chicken.”

    And in engineering, you’re thinking, “Maybe I should just transfer into accounting. Or art history. Or linguistics. Or chemistry. Or physics. Or computer science. It’s not nearly as much work, with much more payoff, grades-wise.”

    But then you think to yourself, “But crab meat is just so much more delicious. It’s definitely not worth giving up. Engineering is so much better. I get to make a difference.”

    But is it? IS IT REALLY?

    Maybe you only think crab is delicious because everybody else says it is. They go on about how good it is, and how absolutely wonderful it is, and how eating crab is special and rare, and you find yourself believing that status quo. You fool yourself into thinking, “Yes, I must eat crab, because it is much more delicious than chicken,” when in reality, there’s hardly a difference, if there’s one at all.

    And when you’re eating crab, you’re so preoccupied with the crab that you forget about the other things you have for dinner, like the steaming bowls of rice and the crisp green vegetables, in the same way that as an engineering student, you don’t have time for reading books or long walks or random deep thoughts. All you’re doing is studying or trying to destress, and by the time you finish the crab, the people who ate the chicken are not only done, but also had a balanced and wholesome dinner. They had the rice while it was still hot and the vegetables while they were still crisp, and it was easy to clean and easy to finish.

    You, on the other hand; well, you’re left with random crab bits stuck between your teeth, sticky, pruny fingertips, a mess of shells and crabs, cold rice, and soggy vegetables.

    But in the light of the new day, the dinner you had last night didn’t seem as fruitless nor as wasteful as you once thought. In hindsight, it wasn’t that much of a struggle to get a mouthful of crab, and if you manage your time well enough (not fixating on just crab meat), you can eat your rice while it’s still hot and your vegetables while they’re still crisp. And if you struggle with cracking your crab open, people will help you out. They’ll jokingly tease you for being too weak to split it open, but you’ll get the meat eventually. Who’s ever heard of somebody helping you rip chicken meat off a drumstick?

    Eating crab is a rarity, usually meant as a treat. And I can say with certainty: I’d much rather have crab than chicken, given the choice.

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