Free U of T summer program helps incoming engineering students catch up on lost learning

A free summer program at the University of Toronto is helping incoming first-year students catch up after falling behind due to the pandemic.

Support for new students is critical after pandemic, dean of engineering says

Christopher Yip, dean of the applied science and engineering faculty at the University of Toronto, instituted a free, non-strenuous way for students to catch up on core courses they might have fallen behind on due to the pandemic. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

A free summer program at the University of Toronto is helping incoming first-year students catch up after more than a year of lost learning due to the pandemic.

The program, dubbed the U of T Engineering Academy (UTEA), was initiated by the school's engineering faculty last summer as they anticipated first-year undergraduate students would be behind in some critical areas.

"We recognized that we really need to ensure that we can bring the curriculum to a level that we're comfortable with in terms of what we expect for the fall," said Christopher Yip, the dean of the applied science and engineering faculty.

Caroline Choi, a recent graduate of the Toronto French School, says she needs the extra help after more than a year of flip-flopping between in-person and online learning, changes to course structures and heavy workloads.

"It would have been terrifying" to go from Grade 12 straight into U of T's engineering program in the fall without this program, Choi said. 

"There are ... little bits that were cut out of the curriculum just because of the time we lost that hopefully I'll cover here," she continued.

"I kind of wanted to make sure I've covered all the different fundamentals and I'm at the same level as everyone else."

No cost, no exams

The program is an online review of some of the core Grade 12 concepts in subjects like physics, chemistry and math. It gives students a head start by introducing them to the new concepts they will be learning in their first year of university in the engineering program, with mentorship from upper-year students. 

Yip says the UTEA was piloted in a scramble last summer for class of 2020 high school graduates.

"We thought It'd be great to offer some students sort of a non-strenuous way to kind of catch up on the core courses," Yip said. The courses are self-paced, free and there are no exams.

Yip says the objective of the program is not only to fill in the gaps in learning left in part by the pandemic, but also to get all students on the same playing field, which he says is always difficult to do come first year.

He says the outcome of last summer's program was so positive, it was expanded this year.

WATCH: U of T launches free course to help engineering students graduate

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After a school year in a pandemic, many students are feeling a bit behind, academically. A free course offered by the University of Toronto is trying to change that — by offering help to engineering students who are looking to successfully graduate. Ali Chiasson has more.

"We were super happy with the results. The students who went through the program actually did really well come this fall."

Stephen Laditi, a recent graduate of Alexander Mackenzie High School in Richmond Hill, says taking the course is a no-brainer and he highly recommends it to all incoming engineering students.

"I took Grade 12 physics and calculus in Grade 11, so it's been over a year now, so obviously I've forgotten a few of those things," Laditi said. 

"I feel like this program will help me a lot because its going to help me refresh my memory, sharpen my skills a bit more, and get me prepped up for the university experience."

Yip says he is worried about how well Grade 12 students have absorbed the material this year, citing the decision to use quadmesters in high schools rather than semesters. Quadmesters forced teachers and students to cram more material into shorter periods of time and some called it "mentally and physically draining."

Resources, support for students is critical, dean says

Yip says universities play a critical role in ensuring student success, especially after this year amid the pandemic. 

"Coming now into the university or college environment, it's really important for universities to be prepared to have the resources or supports in place to ease that transition," he said.

He said the engineering program at U of T will likely have to adjust its expectations in terms of the incoming first year students, as they have not had as much of a chance to  prepare for university. 

Choi, one of the incoming engineering students, says the summer program is helping her calm her nerves about university, saying it's a great way to integrate back into the social aspect of school that was taken from her during the pandemic. 

But according to Yip, "this is a program, an initiative, that we are not going to get rid of once the pandemic is over." 

With files from Ali Chiasson


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