Top 21 of '21: A Collection of UTM Social Media Stories

Aerial view of the UTM campus in summer season

The last 12 months have been eventful for the University of Toronto Mississauga community. The first full year of the pandemic meant continued safety measures and a focus on our well-being as we marked a year of living with COVID-19.  

The year 2021 saw:

  • New leadership at UTM
  • Our 10th Vice-President and Principal Alexandra Gillespie was officially installed in spring
  • Sonia Kang became the campus’s new special advisor on Anti-Racism and Equity, taking over for Institute of Communication, Culture, Information & Technology (ICCIT) Director Rhonda McEwen who began her appointment as vice-principal, academic and dean
  • As of this year, more than half of U of T’s deans across the three campuses are women

These are just some of the highlights of a significant year; we’ve compiled the top 21 stories of ’21 below.

1.Alex Gillespie speaking in Battling Burnout YouTube video  Battling Burnout series launches 

As Winter 2021 began, UTM launched the Battling Burnout video series with tips on combatting the “COVID winter.”

UTM administrators, faculty members, librarians and more shared ways to deal with pandemic-related stress. It went on to win Best Administrative/Non-Academic Campaign of the Year at the international Higher Ed Social Awards.

2.A couple walks in a parking lot with a 1970s car parked off to the side UTM love stories for Valentine's Day  

Everyone loves a good love story, and the UTM alumni community has plenty of them! 

For Valentine’s Day, we shared some love stories from former students who met on campus, including one relationship that has spanned 54 years and other couples who met up in the 1980s and ’90s. 

3. Novo Nordisk announcement 

In the Winter, U of T announced a transformative partnership with Novo Nordisk to establish the Novo Nordisk Network for Healthy Populations at UTM. A combined donation of $40 million will jumpstart a new era in precision public health and continue the fight against diabetes and other chronic diseases. The announcement coincided with the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin at the University of Toronto. 

4. UTM-based vaccine clinic opens 

In a partnership between Trillium Health Partners, UTM and Peel Public Health, the UTM-based COVID-19 vaccination clinic officially opened at the Recreation, Athletics and Wellness Centre on March 1. UTM was uniquely resourced to support the COVID-19 mass vaccination campaign. Specialized freezers, typically used for scientific research, were designated to store the vaccines safely and securely. The campus also features accessible facilities, easy to reach by car or public transit. 

Rhonda McEwen, UTM dean5. Rhonda McEwen appointed dean 

“I take to heart the honour and trust imparted to me as I take the baton from our incredible dean Amrita Daniere,” said Professor Rhonda McEwen when she was appointed UTM’s vice-principal, academic and dean in March. She officially started her term in July. 

“UTM is an inspiring environment – our students, staff and faculty are the source of the campus’ continuous energy. I am inspired every day by the many examples of the warmth and respect that we have for each other.”

6. Celebration of Books  

The UTM Research Office and UTM Library co-hosted the largest annual spring Celebration of Books to date, highlighting 33 books written and/or edited by UTM faculty.  Authors from 13 academic departments wrote on subjects related to psychology, history, politics, mathematics and more. 

7. UTM VPP Installation ceremony 

After assuming the role in 2020, Alexandra Gillespie was officially installed as UTM’s 10th vice-president and principal at the end of April. The virtual installation ceremony marked a significant milestone and recognized the new leadership and direction Gillespie brings to UTM. 

UTM Alumnus Wali Shah8. Q & A with alumnus Wali Shah 

In spring, we caught up with Wali Shah, a public speaker and performer who is writing his first novel. Shah credits his time at UTM with helping to develop his writing skills. 

"There was an elective course at UTM, Expressive Writing (WRI 203) with Rahul Sethi, a professor who was young and cool and from a relatable background, that particularly helped me develop my writing skills," he said. "But, my field of study was sociology and political science, and what I was learning in those classes inspired me to write; it gave me deeper insight and understanding into topics I already cared about."

The UTM alumnus is also a former poet laureate for the City of Mississauga. The city’s current poet laureate, Ayòmide Bayowa, is also a UTM student.  

9. Full circle moment for alum at vaccine clinic  

In spring, the UTM-based vaccine clinic kicked into high gear, and we spoke with recent alumna Reem El-Ajou who found herself back on campus mere months after graduating. She was working as a project analyst to help shepherd the clinic through its operations. “It’s like I’ve come full circle,” she said.  

UTM Alumnus Zarina Mamadbekova10. Spring Convocation  

June saw more than 15,500 students from 105 different countries – from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe – graduate in absentia at a virtual convocation eventUTM grads displayed resilience and perseverance as they finished their degrees amid the ongoing pandemic, and showed a commitment to giving back on an international scale.  

11. Sonia Kang’s appointment  

“We want everyone to feel safe and welcome.” Sonia Kang emphasized inclusion and acceptance as she became the campus’s new special advisor on Anti-Racism and Equity on July 1.  

Kang builds on the foundation laid by UTM’s inaugural advisor, Rhonda McEwen, who officially took on her new role as dean. 

Alicia Brown standing in a stadium12. UTM alum Alicia Brown competes in Tokyo  

More than a dozen University of Toronto students, alumni and staff sought Olympic glory in Tokyo this past July. Alicia Brown, a current Hart House staffer and UTM graduate in communications, culture, information and technology, once again represented Canada in the 4x400-metre relay. Also this past summer, Brown was named a CAN Fund #150Women recipient

Alexandra GIllespie speaking at the UTM Vaccine Clinic Closing Event13. UTM vaccine clinic winds down after more than 335K doses 

This past summer, the final dose at one of the region’s first mass vaccination clinics was administered. It marked another milestone in the concerted effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic as the UTM-based clinic officially closed in late July after delivering more than 335,000 doses. The moment was marked with speeches, tears and applause.  

14. RAWC turns back into gym in mesmerizing timelapse

After five months as a COVID-19 vaccination clinic, the Recreation, Athletics & Wellness Centre (RAWC) turned back into a gymnasium space this past summer. Interactive Digital Producer Nicholas Iwanyshyn captured the transformation, which included removing flooring and equipment, in a timelapse with 11,682 images taken over the course of 14 days. It was part of #UofTBackToSchool preparations as students began to return to campus in the fall for in-person activities.  

U of T lecture hall with physically distanced students in attendance15. Students go back to school – and back to campus 

A wave of students moved into UTM residence buildings for the 2021-2022 school year as U of T kicked off its fall semester – with many students on all three campuses attending in-person classes and activities for the first time in nearly 18 months. Safety protocols such as mask-wearing, physical distancing and a vaccination requirement were in place. Other protocols such as UCheck screening will continue into 2022. 

16. Black Research Network launches

The Black Research Network launched this fall, as part of the Institutional Strategic Initiatives program with UTM faculty members in key roles. The network takes a multidisciplinary approach to help redress the sense of isolation that many Black faculty members feel by connecting them not only to each other, but also to the broader community – and resources – at the university. UTM Dean Rhonda McEwen is a co-founder while Associate Professor Beth Coleman of the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology and the Faculty of Information is the network’s director. 

17. Strategic Framework  

This fall, UTM released its draft Strategic Framework, providing an overview of the priorities that will unify the campus’s existing plans and guide long-term decisions and investments. Informed by more than 500 distinct conversations over the past 14 months, with input from members of the UTM community, the draft is the latest step toward developing UTM’s long-term vision for collective flourishing.  

There’s still time to share your feedback and help to shape the strengthen the working draft framework. 

Man seated in a cubicle, playing video games at the Bolton Collection18. Syd Bolton collection comes to UTM  

In 2021, the UTM Library took possession of the Syd Bolton Collection, which is comprised of almost 14,000 video games and hundreds of consoles and systems, along with thousands of related items. It is one of the largest collections of its kind in the world and the largest known in Canada. 

The Bolton Collection will be made available to the university community and the general public through the UTM Library, and will provide opportunities for experiential teaching, game-related research and community engagement. 

19. Snider Lecture 

The annual Snider Lecture returned this past October with a virtual presentation by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The scientist, author and Citizen Potawatomi Nation member drew on Indigenous and scientific wisdom to offer lessons on how we can heal our relationships with the natural world. The free event, broadcast live via YouTube, was watched by thousands worldwide.  

UTM Alumnus Amna Adnan, seated outside on the UTM campus20. Fall convocation  

November 18 saw more than 5,700 students graduate from 70 countries graduate in absentia via a virtual ceremony. For UTM welcome ambassador Amna Adnan, her inspiring university journey involved changing majors six times, grappling with a diagnosis of ADHD, and resolving to mentor and empower fellow students.   

21. A special message to end the year 

Stay tuned to our social media channels for a special year-end message!  

Continue the conversationWhat did we miss? As we review the year that was, let’s continue the conversation on social media with the hashtag #UTMLookBack