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From air pollution to Indigenous storytelling: New courses at U of T Mississauga

The coal-fired Lakeview generating station in Port Credit, a source of air pollution in the GTA, was demolished in 2007. (Photo by Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

If you could choose any new course to study this year, would you focus on the present and explore the air quality in Peel Region – and its impact on residents? Would you look to the future and learn how to help a robot understand its surroundings?

Or would you travel back in time to learn about the lives of prisoners and asylum patients by studying their remains?

For her lesson on the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, Madeleine Mant dressed as a war nurse. This year she is teaching Behind Bars: Anthropology of Institutional Confinement.
(Photo by Drew Lesiuczok)

“By looking at human skeletons from people who might have died in a hospital, asylum and institution, we can ask some sort of broad questions about health and power and structural violence,” says Assistant Professor Madeleine Mant, who will use archaeological records and artifacts to examine questions of health, power and the impact of institutions in her new course, Behind Bars: Anthropology of Institutions and Confinement.

It’s just one of a diverse array of offerings from the University of Toronto Mississauga that are new for the 2022/2023 academic year:

Robotic Perception

Humans can automatically perceive the world around us and understand what is happening in our environments. We already know where objects are, and what state they are in, by the time we start consciously thinking about what we see and hear around us.

But robots aren’t quite there yet.

Perception is highly challenging for robots, explains Assistant Professor Igor Gilitschenski from the department of mathematical and computational sciences, and students enrolled in Robotic Perception will learn about the challenges computer scientists face when deploying perception algorithms on a robot – as well as algorithms that can be used to address these challenges.

“At the end of the course, students will be able to better understand, what are the challenges involved in making a robot understand its environment,” says Gilitschenski.

GIS Capstone Project

This year, geography students will map air pollution throughout Peel Region as part of the GIS Capstone Project, a new course that will allow them to gain real-world experience as they work with external partners in the public and private sector.

Tingting Zhu, an assistant professor, teaching stream in the department of geography, geomatics and environment, says one of the projects will allow students to map air pollution throughout Peel Region and see its impacts on residents. Students will also look at the correlation between air pollution levels and socioeconomic status, and how disadvantaged groups are impacted by air pollution.

Zhu says this experiential learning course will give students real-world knowledge and experience that can’t be learned in a classroom.

“Experiential learning lets students actively apply their knowledge and skills learned in the program,” says Zhu. “I hope students can hone their professional competencies like communication skills, problem-solving skills, and management skills along with their technical skills.”

Behind Bars: Anthropology of Institutions and Confinement

The Kingston Prison for Women operated from 1934 to 2000. A new course, Behind Bars, will examine archeological records and tackle broad questions of health, power and structural violence. (photo by Bob Olsen/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Artifacts such as skeletal remains, physician notebooks and confiscated prisoner-made tattoo machines can tell a much larger story of marginalized or institutionalized people, and the health inequities they faced throughout history.

In this interdisciplinary course, taught by the department of anthropology's Mant, students will have the opportunity to examine these various archeological records and learn about institutions’ effects on the human body, as well as the impacts of separation on people.

“By looking at human skeletons from people who might have died in a hospital, asylum and institution, we can ask some sort of broad questions about health and power and structural violence. Looking at the type of archeological or archival records, we can start to think about the effects of institutions through time,” Mant explains.

She hopes the course will help students think more critically about the long-term effects of separating people from others.

“I hope this class is a chance for students to think about health-care access through time, to think about ethics, as well as thinking about questions of disability and care within society,” she says.

Linguistics and Computation

When you type “The cricket jumped over the fence” on your computer, how does it know if the word “cricket” refers to the game or the insect? How can it tell the difference between a grammatical and ungrammatical sentence?

In this course led by Assistant Professor Barend Beekhuizen from the department of language studies, students who have either a background in linguistics or a computing science will be introduced to how linguistics and computing intersect – and how computational algorithms and data structures can be used as a formal language model.

Politics and Social Justice

Problems around gender equality, racism and wealth distribution aren’t just social justice issues. They are also political issues.

Politics and Social Justice, led by Assistant Professor Martha Balaguera Cuervo from the department of political science, will introduce political science students to the concept of social justice as a political issue. This course will focus on human rights, economic and social inequity, fairness and inclusion – with key concepts including power, identity, conflict, and structural racism, to name a few.

Anishinaabe Storytelling and Oral Tradition

Maria Hupfield, assistant professor in the department of English and drama and an artist and Anishinaabe-kwe of Wasuaksing First Nation, will lead students on a journey exploring the legends, beliefs and values of the Anishinaabek Nation.

In this course, which uses a transdisciplinary approach, students will explore the Anishinaabe story through many different forms including dance regalia, weavings/baskets, poems, songs, and Anishinaabe legends – as well as creation stories and guest speakers.

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