Photo of Eugenia Addy

Scientist, CEO and Community-Builder: Q&A with UTM Alumna Dr. Eugenia Addy, 2022 Recipient of UTM’s Desmond Parker Outstanding Young Alumni Award

Negin Neghabat-Wolthoff

For UTM and U of T alumna Eugenia Addy (née Duodu) (HBSc 2010, PhD 2015), her love of science and community go hand-in-hand. In her role as CEO of Visions of Science, she leads the nonprofit organization in facilitating community-based STEM youth engagement, strengthening youth support networks, and advocating for broader systems change by creating equitable access to education in science, technology, engineering and math.    

In recognition of her outstanding achievements and contributions, she has now been awarded the Desmond Parker Outstanding Young Alumni Award.

She sat down to speak to us about her own path into science, instilling a scientific mindset in children and youth, as well as her long-term vision for her organization and a society with equitable access to STEM education.

Congratulations on being named the 2022 Desmond Parker Outstanding Young Alumni Award winner! While this is just one more among many recognitions, what does this award mean to you?

I’ve had such a wonderful journey at U of T and UTM, specifically, and this award commemorates that. It’s also an amazing opportunity to return to campus [for the award ceremony]!

The other thing is that I really admire the previous AAD winners, so I feel honoured to be in such esteemed company. And, of course, the award itself is such an honour. It’s both, very humbling and encouraging at the same time.

Can you tell us more about your personal background and your path into science?

I grew up in a community in west Toronto. I’ve always felt deeply connected to the incredible people around me and had this deep-rooted sense of community instilled in me from a young age.

Growing up, I attended several different schools in the city, in hopes of getting a really good education, to be able to live up to the potential my mom saw in me. I encountered various challenges in elementary and middle school, but also had incredible teachers who were motivating and encouraging, who helped me foster this passion and love for science that started at a very young age. However, there were also times when I felt very discouraged, mostly because of things I would hear around me. A feeling of non-belonging in the science field would often set in.

It was not until high school when my passion for science got fully reignited. In my senior year, I had the opportunity to be part of the Summer Mentorship Program at U of T, and it was a total game-changer. Being connected to the university, spending time on campus -- it helped me gain confidence in my abilities and capabilities. And that really set me on a path to pursuing science for my post-secondary education!

Eugenia Addy at UTM (Photo credit: UTM)
Eugenia Addy at UTM (Photo credit: UTM)


Why did you choose UTM and what was your UTM student experience like?

I applied for various science programs, including UTM, U of T, also York, and a few others. But what stayed with me was that it was super special visiting UTM. The moment my mom and I arrived there by bus, it felt like home!

All the programs I had applied to were amazing, and I knew I could get a great education in any of those places, but I found that UTM was affording me this opportunity to be part of a community, and that was something that resonated with me.

And that community feeling stayed with me throughout my studies. It was easy to make connections, and I gained life-long friends and had an amazing experience.

The other thing that made my UTM experience really special were my professors. I felt incredibly supported. And the same culture applied to the students. In our interactions, we also all supported each other and were there for each other.

Another interesting fact was that the UTM campus was seeing a lot of upgrades during that time, like the new library, the gym, and a lot of other new facilities. And I definitely used and enjoyed everything fully.

Speaking of enjoying yourself, what were some fun moments from your student days?

To be honest, I studied a lot! I was always studying or working. Most days, I’d be in classes and labs from 9 to 5, sometimes 9 to 8! I had a lot of fun, but it was unconventional fun, like simply letting off steam with my friends after a long study session in the library.

When did you know you wanted to be a scientist?

When it comes to my interest in science and studying different sciences, I would say high school. It was during the Summer Mentorship Program at U of T, that I first began understanding what a scientist really is and the opportunities that come with it.

Then, during my undergraduate studies at UTM, I started to understand more and more. Near the end of my undergrad, I knew that I wanted to be a scientist in the sense of pursuing graduate school and obtaining my doctorate degree.

You often talk about the important role that teachers and mentors played in your life. Who were the professors at UTM and U of T who stood out for you?

The first prof that really changed the game for me was Dr. Michael Georges; he taught organic chemistry at UTM. I had heard that his class was tough before starting, and it was! But every single class was also riveting! He had this unique way of teaching that resonated with me. That class became a turning point for me when it came to the hard sciences. I realized that I could do chemistry, that I could do the hard sciences, too!

Meeting my future supervisor, Dr. Patrick Gunning, was also pivotal to me. It was inspiring to meet someone so accomplished and, yet, so down to earth. And, of course, he had a lasting impact as my supervising professor for my PhD! 

Dr. Ulli Krull was another influential professor, starting with me taking his Analytical Chemistry course. He was an incredible supporter, even on my journey post university.

I could go on to name the whole faculty of the Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences. Every professor I interacted with inspired me in one way or another!

(Photo credit: TD)
(Photo credit: TD)

What is your message to teachers? What would you like all teachers to know?

What made a difference for me were educators who understood that I’d be up against unique systemic barriers, but, with that in mind, didn’t put limitations on my abilities and what I could achieve. In fact, they set high – very high! – expectations for me. But, they also provided me with the support I needed to mitigate those barriers    

Teachers have a lot of power. The comments and remarks they make, but also those they don’t make – what they say and don’t say has a huge impact. 

My advice for educators is to recognize and understand where their students are coming from, set high expectations for them, and provide them with the support they need to achieve their full potential. The moments that were life-changing for me were those when an educator tapped me on the shoulder for an opportunity I wasn’t aware of. It made all the difference for me!

Thinking about the stereotypes and boundaries you have had to face being a woman and a Person of Colour, what advice do you have for others facing similar challenges?

Over the years, I recognized more and more that how I felt about myself and my abilities was really a symptom or a result of my position in society. I’m now much better able to really understand that, specifically how these boundaries impact my day-to-day life and how I am perceived by the world. Recognizing that has allowed me to be much bolder about holding the systems that I interact with accountable. Many Black women and racialized youth from low-income communities are navigating similar and worse challenges than those I encountered, and I think I have a responsibility to speak up about my experiences and advocate for better conditions.

My advice to youth is to remember that you have the right to every single opportunity out there and that those opportunities should be presented to you equally. Make sure to demand that and to advocate for yourself. And, don't be afraid to get the support you need to be able to achieve all that it is that you want.

You often credit your mother with instilling a scientific mindset in you. What advice do you have for fellow parents, being one yourself now? 

My mom helped me see that science was everywhere around me, that it wasn't just something locked up in a classroom, or in a few worksheets. She also showed me that curiosity wasn't something that was reserved for a subset of people. I could be curious and ask questions about how the world was impacting me. I could participate in experiments. I could try and fail and learn from it. And I think that was the foundation for building a scientific mindset, being in a space where I was able to be really exploratory.

My mom also positioned me to be okay to face and solve problems. Children want to know the answer to everything right away, but going through the process of trying to figure out what the answer is, is critical. ‘Do you actually understand?’ my mom would constantly ask me, and she’d tell me to not be comfortable walking away without fully understanding, to not be satisfied with just the answer.

Now, I have a young son, and I try to encourage him to explore, hands-on, trying to foster curiosity and teaching him to redirect any frustration that might come with not knowing the answers. I tell him, ‘We don't have to be frustrated. Let's figure it out. This is an opportunity to learn something.’

In a 2017 Tedx talk, you spoke about community; the way yours nurtured and supported you. Is that what motivated you to move into the non-profit sector and into leading Visions of Science?

Absolutely! I have always been connected to community. It has been particularly important to me, growing up without extended family, to have people to lean on.

During my studies, going through all-nighters, going through tough times, facing new challenges, I always knew my community was supporting me. And I also knew that I wasn’t doing all this hard work and studying just for myself, but also for the benefit of those around me. It was important to me to be visible in my community, to remain connected and engaged and to set the example that you can go to university and accomplish things and still remain connected.

My community has always kept me grounded and, ultimately, led me to the work I’m doing now. Seeing the impact that communities like the one I grew up in can have in organizing and supporting one another, especially in the face of challenges and systemic barriers that might feel insurmountable if you were going through them alone, has hugely influenced my career path.

Where do you see Visions of Science headed?

I think that our organization is probably entering its most exciting stage. For one, we are in the midst of re-engaging in-person programming. Before the pandemic, our work was important, but the pandemic highlighted the urgency of the work that we do, and the urgency to fill educational gaps and address barriers head-on.

But, at the same time, I’m also really excited that we're looking to expand our reach and impact, as well positioning our programming towards systematic change. 

I ask myself this: what would a world look like that offered equitable opportunities for everyone to access and engage and grow and navigate through STEM? What would that kind of society look like, and what kinds of innovations would we have?

At Visions of Science, we are thinking and dreaming much bigger than ever before. And what’s been amazing to see over the past few years is that those dreams have been backed by support and funding! Seeing that people are willing to invest in the future of this vision, and that they believe in it, gets me excited!

You've accomplished a lot in the last decade. Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

I can't tell you what career I'm going to be in or what exact work I will be doing. But I know that no matter what I will be doing, it will be purpose-driven, because that's the only type of work that I can do! I also hope to leverage whatever influence or power I have, and will have, to be able to make an even greater impact in communities and continue to work alongside incredible people.


Group photo of kids and Visions of Science staff members
(Photo credit: Visions of Science)