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April 5, 2020 | Volunteer & Awards

Celebrating the winners of the 2020 UTAA Awards of Excellence

The Toronto skyline with CN Tower is reflected in a door framed by an elaborately carved stone archway.

The University of Toronto proudly celebrates its outstanding community members through the annual Awards of Excellence. (photo by Laura Pedersen).

The University of Toronto congratulates this year’s outstanding winners of the Awards of Excellence—faculty members, University staff and students who stand at the apex of U of T’s culture of excellence.

These prestigious awards, presented in collaboration with the University of Toronto Alumni Association, don’t just honour incredible achievements. They celebrate their honorees as inspiring examples—people who make the University, and often the world, a better place. It is because of these outstanding achievers that U of T enjoys such a stellar global reputation for research, teaching and innovation.

Read on to find out about a graduate student who builds unique medical devices, the engineering professor taking the lead on Reconciliation initiatives, a gifted physicist who makes first-year math more accessible, the events co-ordinator who started Hip Hop Education and more.



Jason Bazylak (MEd 2016): Joan E. Foley Quality of Student Experience Award

Jason Bazylak smiles as he stands outside Convocation Hall.

Jason Bazylak goes above and beyond every day to improve the student experience in the Faculty of Engineering. Bazylak ensures that first-year students get an incredible, hands-on introduction to engineering, strengthens efforts to make the field more inclusive for women, and takes the lead on reconciliation initiatives and on addressing the underrepresentation of Indigenous people in engineering.

Growing up Métis in Saskatchewan, Bazylak remembers his struggles as a lost first-year student who was the first in his family to study engineering and only the second to attend university. Today, he is building community and changing the faculty’s culture to benefit students, women, and Indigenous peoples. Read Bazylak’s citation.

Dana Seitler: Ludwik & Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize

Across research, teaching and volunteerism, internationally recognized scholar Dana Seitler has built a reputation as a champion of human rights and inclusion.

A professor of American literature in the Department of English and the director of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, Seitler carries out research at the crossroads of American literature and sexuality studies, with a particular focus on marginalized communities and minority experience. As director, she has led a number of initiatives to expand the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies’ commitment to advocacy for human rights, equity and anti-discrimination. Read Seitler’s citation.

Cristina Amon: Vivek Goel Faculty Citizenship Award

Portrait of Cristina Amon smiling.

Cristina Amon, an Alumni Distinguished Professor, served as Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering from 2006 to 2019. A “transformational” leader and a pioneer in multidisciplinary thermal research, she is universally recognized as an inspiring role model who empowers others around her to effect positive change.

Amon has worked tirelessly to advance gender equity and promote diversity while establishing U of T as a world leader in multidisciplinary engineering research and education. During her deanship, she expanded the curriculum, spearheaded initiatives such as the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering, and saw the number of women faculty members triple and female undergraduate enrolment reach historic levels. Read Amon’s citation.

Carol Rolheiser: Vivek Goel Faculty Citizenship Award

Portrait of Carol Rolheiser smiling.

A professor with the Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning and the director of U of T’s Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, Carol Rolheiser is a champion of teaching excellence who has worked for more than 30 years to enhance the learning environment and teaching culture at the University of Toronto.

As a dynamic leader in educational change, she has been instrumental in improving learning experiences for students and has raised the profile of teaching and connected educators across the University’s three campuses. At the core of all of Rolheiser’s professional work is her passionate love of teaching. Read Rolheiser’s citation.

Audrey Macklin (LLB 1987): Carolyn Tuohy Impact on Public Policy Award

Law professor Audrey Macklin, U of T’s Chair in Human Rights Law, has made a profound impact on Canadian and global policy relating to migration, citizenship and human rights, contributing to enhanced protection for some of society’s most vulnerable members.

She has authored critical policy reports, commented (by invitation) on pending legislation, consulted for the United Nations and participated in international human rights fact-finding missions. As well as sharing her academic expertise, Macklin has litigated high-profile cases, including that of Omar Khadr. She is a committed advocate for evidence-based, human rights compliant policy, public advocacy and education. Read Macklin’s citation.

Jackman Scholars-in-Residence Program: Northrop Frye Award (Faculty)

Six professors  stand together, smiling.
Left to right: Michael Lettieri, Ira Wells, Angela Esterhammer, Alison Keith, Mark Schmuckler and Robert Gibbs. Photo by Diana Tyszko

The faculty members of the Jackman Scholars-in-Residence program administer a first-of-its-kind collaborative, multidisciplinary experiential learning program in the humanities and social sciences at the University of Toronto. The program is inspired by the belief that undergraduate students have untapped potential to contribute to faculty-led research projects in humanities and social sciences. 

In just four years, through collaboration between professors representing the Jackman Humanities Institute, Victoria College, U of T Mississauga and U of T Scarborough, the program has provided 245 students across all three campuses with the opportunity to work on faculty-led research. These experiences give them first-hand experience in methodology, project design, and research ethics, and exposure to research culture. Read the team’s citation.



Jeff Burrow (PhD 2019): Jill Matus Excellence in Student Services Award

Portrait of Jeff Burrow smiling.

Jeff Burrow, Manager of Assessment & Analysis at Student Life, does much more than gather vast quantities of data about student life at U of T. By extracting insights and fine-tuning methods of collecting information, he leverages data to improve the student experience and empowers his colleagues to do the same.

Through the “Who are our Students” presentation and workshops on assessment and data analysis, Burrow shares actionable insights in an engaging way. As a tireless volunteer with the wider student affairs and services assessment community, he is a respected national voice for the power of data—and of a students’-eye view—to improve education in Canada. Read Burrow’s citation.

Zoe Dille (BA 2003 WDW, MEd 2005): Jill Matus Excellence in Student Services Award

Portrait of Zoe Dille smiling.

Thanks to Zoe Dille, Senior Co-ordinator of Integrated Learning and Community Engagement at Hart House, thousands of U of T students feel included and engaged in the campus community, with many opportunities to explore leadership, nurture wellness, engage in social justice and realize equality.

Dille has helped organize inclusive and empowering student programs such as the annual Hart House Hancock Lecture series, the Hart House Good Ideas Fund, the Hip Hop Education initiative and Black Futures, among others. She successfully forefronts the voices of racialized, Indigenous and equity-seeking students. Read Dille’s citation.



Bryn MacPherson: Chancellor’s Award (Influential Leader)

As Assistant Vice-President, Office of the President and Chief of Protocol, Bryn MacPherson has worked tirelessly in support of the University’s mission for 17 years. From leading the successful and seamless transitions of University presidents and vice-presidents, to building a reputation as a leading protocol expert, she has enhanced the University’s renown as a national and global leader in higher education.

Leading operations of the President’s Office, she provides essential leadership in all areas including issues management, institutional events and communications. The President, Chancellor, executive team and broader University community rely on her creative leadership, innovative solutions and collaborative advice. Read MacPherson’s citation.

Renée Brost: Chancellor’s Award (Emerging Leader)

Renée Brost is truly an emerging leader. As Chief Administrative Officer for the Division of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation (VPRI), she has been widely recognized for her effectiveness as a change agent, and for her outstanding and ongoing commitment to the University.

While concurrently overseeing the VPRI operating budget and Human Resources structures and procedures, including the establishment of the new Institutional Strategic Initiatives unit, Brost has streamlined important initiatives and worked closely with colleagues and leaders of other central services and academic divisions. Her leadership and impressive understanding of business practice make Brost an inimitable asset to University-wide operations. Read Brost’s citation.

Asian Institute Staff: Northrop Frye (Staff) Award

Four women smile as they sit together in a room hung with artworks.
Left to right: Shannon Garden-Smith, Nina Boric, Dasha Kuznetsova and Katherine MacIvor. Photo by Dewey Chang.

The Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy co-ordinates the Richard Charles Lee Insights through Asia Challenge (ITAC)—a student award and experiential learning program whose staff members create life-changing international research experiences for undergraduate and graduate students.

ITAC supports students through the trajectory of their outstanding research projects, facilitating research entrepreneurialism, understanding of research methods and ethics, and professional development. Shannon Garden-Smith (BA 2012 TRIN), Nina Boric (BA 2004 TRIN, MA 2007), Katherine MacIvor (BA 2008 VIC, MA 2009) and Dasha Kuznetsova (BA 2017 WDW) open up incredible opportunities for us, say grateful students. Read the team’s citation.



Sachin Kumar (BSc 2012 TRIN, MSc 2015): Adel S. Sedra Distinguished Graduate Award

Sachin Kumar smiles and leans forward.

An accomplished researcher and community health advocate, MD/PhD student Sachin Kumar has already made prominent cancer discoveries, championed graduate student wellness, and led major fundraising efforts to benefit pediatric cancers and men’s health and mental health initiatives.

Kumar, who leads U of T’s Movember campaign, has helped raise more than $30,000 since 2015. He has also pioneered the groundbreaking discovery of a novel genetic mutation that drives the pediatric brain tumour medulloblastoma, which was recently published in Nature. Through international collaboration, he has also discovered that this mutation has implications in additional cancers, including leukemia and liver cancer. Read Kumar’s citation.

The University of Toronto Alumni Association recognizes the finalists for the Sedra Award as UTAA Graduate Scholars.  The UTAA is celebrating three finalists this year:

Emily Deibert (BSc 2017 VIC): UTAA Graduate Scholar

First, she was an English major; now she’s an astronomer. Emily Deibert has achieved excellence in both science and communication, making major discoveries about exoplanets, and sharing the wonder of science with both her peers and the public.

Deibert is one of the few scientists studying “small Saturns” exoplanets and has made significant contributions to the field. She regularly writes for The Varsity and Research2Reality, highlighting the amazing work of women in the STEM fields; if you have an astronomy question, you can ask her via the University’s Ask an Astronomer service. Read Deibert’s citation.

Crystal Milligan: UTAA Graduate Scholar

Crystal Milligan has already led important health initiatives in the Northwest Territories. Through innovative research that reframes how health systems can work with Indigenous communities, she is helping build a culturally responsive health-care system for Canada’s North.

Milligan has worked on Rwanda’s national palliative care policy and led the creation of the Northwest Territories’ first cancer strategy – earning the Premier’s Collaboration Award for her efforts. She is a driving force behind U of T’s Turtle Island Journal of Indigenous Health, a student-led, community-governed journal and community of practice. Read Milligan’s citation.

Kramay Patel (BASc 2016): UTAA Graduate Scholar

Kramay Patel’s innovative thinking and commitment to serving others have led this biomedical engineer to dedicate hours to epilepsy organizations, significantly improve course and research curriculums, and build unique medical devices. These devices include a wheelchair that measures trunk muscle stability to a feedback mechanism that lets a person with epilepsy self-regulate their brain activity.

Patel is playing a significant role in designing curriculum for U of T’s planned Neuromodulation Institute, won an award for improving students’ summer research experience, and helps organize Purple Walk and Purple Day events at Toronto Western Hospital. Read Patel’s citation.



Lana El Sanyoura: John H. Moss Scholarship

Lana El Sanyoura smiles while standing in a courtyard outside.

She’s absorbed by the cross-disciplinary potential of using cognitive science insights to improve AI and using computer science to improve mental health. Lana El Sanyoura put her ideas into practice by transforming undergrad culture in the Department of Computer Science and by tackling uniquely original research.

A Victoria College student, El Sanyoura has interned with Intel and MIT/IBM, and conducted academic research in U of T’s Cognitive Lexicon Lab. She co-founded Hello, Girl, a supportive community for women in computer science, and led efforts to make the entire undergraduate computer science culture more inclusive and welcoming. Read El Sanyoura’s citation.

The UTAA recognizes the four finalists for the Moss Award as UTAA Scholars.

Kaylee Baxter: UTAA Scholarship

Kaylee Baxter, an archaeology and anthropology major at Victoria College, is passionate about combining her dual loves—history and science—through Arctic archaeology. In the far north, uncovering the story of past climate change can offer answers to our current environmental dilemmas.

Baxter is an award-winning scholar who earned a coveted spot in the Institute for Field Research’s Greenland Arctic Vikings summer field school in archaeology. She is a generous volunteer in her residence community and through the Humanities for Humanity program. Read Baxter’s citation.

Jeffrey Fasegha: UTAA Scholarship

He’s a former top Junior A hockey draft pick, he’s an innovator with his own startup, and now Jeffrey Fasegha is pursuing a dynamic ambition: empowering youth and generating economic and social change through venture capital investing in Nigeria, his birth country.

A former director for the University of Toronto Black Students’ Association, Fasegha has developed initiatives to promote student financial literacy and encourage Black youth to enroll in university. He has also won the New College Innovation Award for founding the successful Black Career Conference for underrepresented students. Read Fasegha’s citation.

Michael Kyung Ik Lee: UTAA Scholarship

Michael Lee earns top marks while studying subjects as diverse as pathobiology, biochemistry and Latin. Also, he already has three years of scientific research under his belt. Working with Prof. Philip Marsden’s lab, he is a co-author on two articles submitted for publication and plans to become a physician-scientist who bridges medicine and research.

A deeply committed volunteer with an impressive long-term record of community engagement, Lee has organized a successful conference on forensics and won awards for his leadership and volunteer work with seniors. Read Lee’s citation.

Arthur Lei Qiu: UTAA Scholarship

Physics or math? Arthur Qiu embraces both. A gifted interdisciplinary scholar who has studied at one of Europe’s top STEM universities, he is also a compassionate volunteer who has stepped up to lead equality and accessibility initiatives.

Qiu has already published peer-reviewed research in astronomy and has led efforts to promote gender equality in mathematics among undergraduate students in Switzerland and Toronto. The workshops he initiated for first-year math students have had significant impact on making U of T’s introductory math courses more enjoyable and accessible. Read Qiu’s citation.