Compassion, technology not at odds for this community-engaged engineer

October 07, 2019

By Ariane Madden

Raaj Chatterjee always had his mind set on making a difference through technology. After receiving an $80,000 Schulich Leader scholarship to attend university, he chose Simon Fraser University’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering for the chance to create next-generation technologies that address social and environmental challenges.

“There are many ways to effect change and university is the time to try them all out,” says Chatterjee, who graduates this October with a bachelor of applied science.

A born networker, Chatterjee first used his engineering and people skills to help assemble Team Phantom. This design team invites students from any discipline to apply their skills toward building a zero-emission formula electric vehicle. They plan to compete in a championship race in California, U.S.A. with their first vehicle next year.

And as co-president of student advocacy organization SFU350, Chatterjee led a campaign calling for SFU’s endowment fund to divest from fossil fuels in favour of more environmentally conscious initiatives. In response, the university committed to reducing the carbon footprint of its investments 40 per cent by 2030.

“Being involved taught me how to advocate for the causes I’m passionate about and how to bring together and motivate others, too,” he says. “It helped me to find and build community on campus.”

Last year, SFU recognized Chatterjee’s environmental advocacy with its President’s Award for Leadership in Sustainability.

More recently, Chatterjee directed his talents toward developing assistive technologies for seniors. Through the Technology Entrepreneurship@SFU program he co-founded Ruby, an interdisciplinary team that designs products for people experiencing essential tremor or cognitive impairments. The team’s first device is an easy-to-program remote control that eliminates complicated buttons and commands to make it easier to watch television.

His experience developing the Ruby Remote was inspired by lessons learned during five co-operative education internships, including one at Apple’s headquarters in Silicon Valley.

“I discovered a passion for user-centered product design and learned the importance of listening to customers’ needs,” he says.

For the next step in his mission to effect change, Chatterjee is joining SFU’s eBrain Lab this fall as a graduate student, supported by three generous scholarships. There, he will research technology-based solutions to mental health challenges among youth, such as depression and addiction. He hopes to one day launch a successful social venture to address either mental health issues or the climate-change crisis.

“I’m grateful for the supportive environment that my peers and SFU created,” says Chatterjee. “Because of them, I was able to align my passions with the change I want to see in the world. There’s nothing more valuable to me than that.”