When you’re working to address some of society’s most pressing issues, co-operation and diverse perspectives are key, says Steven N. Liss, vice-president, Research and Innovation at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). “With our strong focus on innovation, commercialization and impact, partnerships and collaborations are absolutely essential.”
At TMU (formerly Ryerson University), this can mean anything from working with universities and non-governmental organizations on social science projects, to carrying out applied research with industrial and government clients.
The networks, relationships and expertise needed for this work have been carefully nurtured over time, Dr. Liss notes. For example, TMU drew on decades of innovation in areas such as electricity generation, alternative fuels and energy efficiency when it launched its Centre for Urban Energy in 2010.
Similarly, TMU’s research into immigration and settlement issues stretches back some 30 years. Federal research agencies recognized the depth and strength of that scholarship, Dr. Liss says, when they awarded TMU the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration (CERC Migration) in 2019. The seven-year program includes a $10-million research grant.
Integrating migrants and improving governance
Migration drives social and economic innovation but also poses challenges, particularly around integrating newcomers into the labour market. CERC Migration produces usable knowledge to help partners navigate these changes.
In 2020, it invited civil society organizations across Canada to suggest projects addressing gaps in migrant-related research. ACCES Employment, a non-profit organization that helps newcomers in the Greater Toronto Area integrate into the job market, wanted to know how settlement agencies could better use social media to communicate with and assist their clients. Responding to this request, CERC Migration began a three-year, $2.5-million project called Virtual Bridge in late 2021.
“The settlement sector in Canada has always been an in-person service,” explains Anna Triandafyllidou, who leads CERC Migration. Statistics show that these agencies supply only 7 per cent of their services digitally, even though an estimated 80 per cent of immigrants use social media. However, organizations such as ACCES Employment have made some strides in digital services, so the project is studying whether such efforts have succeeded and could be scaled nationwide.
Collaborating with immigrant settlement organizations across Canada, Virtual Bridge researchers are determining how migrants use social media to find work. They are studying whether certain social media platforms are more popular among particular demographic groups, and whether that popularity is changing over time. For example, initial research has shown that women are more likely to use Facebook for job searches, while younger migrants are moving toward Reddit. Researchers are also looking at how employers assess newcomers’ skills, and how migrants can demonstrate their expertise through online endorsements and other digital mechanisms.
Not surprisingly for an organization with such an international focus, CERC Migration also works with diverse global partners. Recently, Dr. Triandafyllidou received a $2.49-million grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for a six-year project involving 37 researchers and 28 partners around the world. Together, they will examine how and why migrants and refugees move through different migration systems on three continents. The goal is to produce innovative tools for policy-makers and analysts to improve international migration governance.
Bala Venkatesh Founder, Toronto Metropolitan University’s Centre for Urban Energy
" We are solving challenges to enable energy transition. Utilities are looking towards us to create that transition in an affordable manner, and that’s really the heart of the work that we are doing.
Easing the transition to a zero-carbon world
It’s one of the most pressing questions of our time: How can consumers, manufacturers and nations transition to zero-carbon energy systems, efficiently and affordably?
To address this question, Bala Venkatesh founded TMU’s award-winning Centre for Urban Energy (CUE) in 2010. In the years since, CUE has become an international leader in developing solutions to new and emerging challenges in the energy sector. To date, it has worked on 83 applied research projects with stakeholders across Canada and around the world.
“We are solving challenges to enable energy transition,” says Dr. Venkatesh. “Utilities are looking towards us to create that transition in an affordable manner, and that’s really the heart of the work that we are doing.”
In one current project, CUE is working with three partners: the Independent Electricity System Operator, which operates Ontario’s power grid; Toronto Hydro; and Power Advisory LLC. That project aims to determine how a local utility can use the same resources at the same time to both meet local energy needs and provide capacity to the provincial grid, driving efficiencies and fostering sustainability in innovative ways.
Internationally, CUE is working on another project to analyze the impact of rising electric vehicle use on a New Delhi utility distribution feeder and to create technology solutions to prevent grid overload.
Such research projects are one way to develop energy-transition solutions. Another is to help inventors develop and commercialize their innovative ideas. “Entrepreneurship requires money,” Dr. Venkatesh points out. To help address this issue, CUE created the Clean Energy Zone. Since its 2012 launch, this incubator has supported more than 50 startups, mentored more than 200 students and raised over $14-million in funding.
TMU’s partnerships and collaborations with industry, utilities and non-profit organizations mean that students can hone their skills by working on exciting, real-world projects. “Most of the questions that show up at our door require research innovation,” Dr. Venkatesh says. “We get to invent new solutions, so that’s a huge draw and keeps us ticking.”
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