Winners of the 2020-2021 Principal’s Awards of Excellence for Staff
Principal’s Staff Awards
Principal’s Staff Award for Well-being
Principal’s Staff Award for Creativity and Innovation
- Andrew Wang
- UTM ServiceNow: Nathania (Nia) McCash, Rishi Arora, Hongyu (HY) Luo, Andrei (Andy) Semine, Vatsal Shah and Jenny Hu (team)
Principal’s Staff Award for Community Engagement
Principal’s Staff Award, the Karen Thiffault Award for Enhancing the UTM Experience
Principal’s Staff Award for Advancing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
Andrea Carter has earned a Principal’s Staff Award for Well-being in recognition of her outstanding contributions to health and wellness at UTM.
As the Assistant Dean, Student Wellness, Support and Success at UTM, Carter leads strategic initiatives to address student persistence, retention and success. She also works proactively to develop innovative services and programs for employees under her portfolio.
Her nominator notes that Carter has embedded counsellors in select academic departments and strengthened the links between personal counsellors, disability advisors, career counsellors, health promotions staff and student crisis team responders.
She was also praised for her problem solving, vision, positive influence, leadership, commitment to UTM and genuine care for the students and staff, as well as for her ability to break complex situations into manageable pieces, all without minimizing the issues at hand.
Carter has implemented programming to encourage student success through projects such as the Healthy Resiliency Project, which pairs students with a personal fitness trainer for up to six weeks to develop a personal program that assists with managing depression and anxiety symptoms.
For helping instructors develop new course delivery methods and remotely monitoring three computer labs in an ever-evolving technological environment, Andrew Wang has earned the Principal’s Staff Award for Creativity and Innovation.
He has been with the University of Toronto for more than 20 years, with IT roles on both the St. George and Mississauga campuses. Since 2014, Wang has held the role of System Administrator in UTM’s Mathematical and Computational Sciences Department, where he is known as the go-to person for technical support.
Wang’s nominator praised his dedication to always keeping the computer labs ready for students, making himself available around the clock to make immediate fixes, and physically attending campus when it can’t be done remotely. In addition, he is known for being generous with his time and skills, with students often dropping by his office for a chat, to discuss career options or to have him review the latest code they are writing.
Currently, he is working with faculty and I&ITS to set up a Virtual Machine environment, which offers a relatively inexpensive, flexible alternative to needing a physical computer lab.
Nominators also saluted his thorough research to ensure he is getting the best price for equipment and supplies, and his work in repurposing old equipment to keep it out of the landfill.
Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre (RGASC) Coordinator Cliona Kelly has been awarded the Principal’s Staff Award’s Karen Thiffault Award for Enhancing the UTM Experience for her efforts in juggling many roles in her department and helping to facilitate and innovate campus-wide initiatives.
Kelly has held her RGASC position for more than 10 years, as the team has grown from five to forty people. She has been responsible for finances, program scheduling, marketing, coordinating with other units on campus, the mentoring program for leaders and assistants, and maintaining the Centre’s facilities and equipment.
Nominators praised her for being instrumental in expanding the value, efficiency and sustainability of the RGASC’s academic skills programming through automation, new software applications, innovative administrative processes and clever use of student staff.
Kelly was also commended for her empathy, whether following the sensitive matters with a team member or when helping students in crisis find the right support and services, as well as acting as a mentor for the centre’s more than 200 annual student volunteers, helping them to develop a more professional mindset for life and work beyond university.
Her efforts have also helped establish relationships with other departments for campus-wide initiatives including Head Start, Orientation Week, Fall and Winter Exam Jam, the Student Life Professional network events, and Peer Mentor end-of-year appreciation parties.
Cristina Puha, Manager of International Student Advising within the International Education Centre (IEC), has earned the Principal’s Staff Award’s Karen Thiffault Award for Enhancing the UTM Experience for her commitment to helping international students make the most of their time at UTM.
Puha first joined UTM as the IEC’s International Immigration Advisor seven years ago. Since then, her efforts have included creating targeted pre-arrival supports for international students, collaborating with the Office of Admissions in the delivery of more than 25 international student specific sessions for newly admitted students as well as coordinating supports for students seeking employment during their time at UTM and after graduation.
Uniquely at UTM, Puha also offers individual support on post-graduation permit applications up to three-years after graduation, helping students navigate complicated immigration processes to reach their life goals. Her nominator also praised her outstanding customer service skills and ability to stay current with ever-changing immigration policies.
Puha was also commended for always putting students first, easing their anxieties by implementing such initiatives as webinars detailing the process of obtaining study permits, and a leave of absence program specific to the needs of international students and their families.
One nominator noted students often ask for her by name because friends have told them “you need to talk to Cristina, she is very nice and will help you.”
In recognition of her expertise, Puha was invited to be part of the Canadian Bureau of International Education Registered International Student Immigration Advisors examination working group, helping to create the exam for new professionals looking to enter this field. She then encouraged others at the IEC to becoming Registered International Student Immigration Advisors.
In addition, she was praised for exemplifying leadership as a mentor with the Rose Patten Group Mentorship Program, helping fellow staff develop their career paths.
Martina Simmonds of UTM’s Master of Management and Professional Accounting (MMPA) program has earned the UTM Principal’s Staff Award for Community Engagement.
In her seven years as MMPA’s program officer, she has dealt with divisions across the University, alumni, current students, suppliers and the extended community.
Simmonds played a leadership role in organizing the annual Black History Month event held at the U of T Division of University Advancement in February 2021. She secured notable speakers for the virtual event such as NHL Senior Executive VP of Social Impact Kimberly Davis and representatives from NHL Hockey Diversity Players Alliance, as well as actress/singer Tatyana Ali, best known for her role in the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Simmonds has also played a key role in fundraising for scholarships for Black students, to help remove barriers to post-secondary participation for a key equity-seeking and underrepresented community.
Her nominator also praised Simmonds’ work on the annual MMPA orientation for international students, saying she was moved by the passion and concern Simmonds has for the students, many of whom are away from home for the first time.
Peter Mitrakos has earned the Principal’s Staff Award’s Karen Thiffault Award for Enhancing the UTM Experience for his work as the Core Facility Manager and a Laboratory Coordinator in the Chemical and Physical Sciences department.
He has been working at UTM for approximately 20 years, after being both an undergraduate and graduate student here.
In his roles, he teaches students the operation of analytical equipment, maintains state-of-the-art instruments, interacts with external clients to run their samples on the specialized university equipment and also created an online booking system, which allows graduate students to schedule their analysis needs and reserve equipment.
His nominator praised Mitrakos’ commitment, noting he plans his vacations around seasonal lulls in the lab usage to ensure minimal disruption for graduate students, and loans out spare parts to minimize downtime when researchers are waiting for delivery of replacement pieces. After power outages, Mitrakos individually checks the instruments to confirm that they are properly calibrated and available as soon as possible.
During the pandemic, Mitrakos — praised for engaged leadership, positive attitude and calm demeanour, as well as his skill in anticipating needs and problems — was quickly made an essential worker and came in to ensure the instruments were maintained for critical research.
His nominator praised him as “a magician, mechanic and an overall lifesaver.”
Under Mitrakos’ engaged leadership, the facility has flourished and grown, providing a venue for world-class, ground-breaking research activities while saving the campus millions.
TEAM: Women in Tech group: Jenny Hu and Selena Panchoo
Jenny Hu and Selena Panchoo of the Information and Instructional Technology Services team have earned the Principal’s Staff Award for Advancing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) for their work in establishing the Women in Tech (WIT) group at UTM.
This group meets quarterly and provides a safe, respectful environment for female-identifying members, non-binary people and allies to network and discuss topics of interest.
WIT was established in early 2020 and now includes members from all three campuses.
Activities include lightning talks ― where members can showcase their work or speak about their topic of interest — and group viewings of webinars, such as U of T Munk School’s “Women Break Ceilings,” followed by open group discussion.
In addition to the now-virtual meetings, information is shared through a Microsoft Teams channel, social media accounts on Instagram and Twitter and a mailing list to allow members to stay up-to-date with the latest discussions regarding EDI.
One nominator praised the value of WIT for both career professionals and early-career individuals, while another noted the efforts of Hu and Panchoo had motivated her to represent EDI in her own department.
TEAM: UTM ServiceNow
The UTM ServiceNow team has earned the team Principal’s Staff Award for Creativity and Innovation for their work in keeping UTM on track as the physical campus was forced to close its doors during the pandemic.
The team includes ServiceNow architect Nathania (Nia) McCash, Business Process and Info Tech Analyst Rishi Arora, User Experience Analyst Hongyu (HY) Luo, Senior Business Analyst Andrei (Andy) Semine, ServiceNow developer Vatsal Shah and Senior ServiceNow Developer Jenny Hu.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, they faced the challenge of suddenly becoming a remote team while also trying to keep the UTM community connected to their daily work, research and classes.
Since adopting ServiceNow (SN) in 2015, the platform has become the standard for service management at the campus and, as such, they quickly leveraged SN's portals to efficiently access services and support. SN is the ticketing system for tracking client IT requests, allowing UTM students, faculty and staff to follow the status of their tickets, while also helping I&ITS to respond to clients faster. The UTM team then became highly sought-after to help implement SN at St. George and UTSC.
In addition to making significant enhancement to existing portals, they also created three new portals in 2020: the Office of the Registrar's AskRegistrar (which services nearly 16,000 students), the UTM Instructional Support portal and the UTM Print Shop.
Last year, the ServiceNow team worked together to process more than 45,000 requests and tickets. Despite the heavy workload, their nominator notes they have maintained “an extraordinarily high level of client satisfaction,” earning top marks in a recent user survey.
TEAM: Campus Wellness
Dr. Erin Kraftcheck of UTM’s Health and Counselling Centre, Elizabeth Martin of UTM’s Accessibility Services and Renu Kanga Fonseca of UTM’s Recreation, Athletics and Wellness Centre have received the team Principal’s Staff Award for Well-being for their work and dedication in fostering a campus culture of wellness and resiliency.
The three have worked together to create a ‘permeable border’ between their objectives and combine the resources of their departments to change the focus from health concerns to wellness, from failures to resiliency.
For example, students with mild to moderate depression or anxiety who seek support from health services are also provided with a ‘prescription’ to be teamed with a personal trainer in the recreation department to add activity and coping skills.
Another example includes the acknowledgement that students with disabilities typically are at higher risk for family violence and interpersonal relationship violence. With this in mind, the directors worked to establish dedicated counsellors who understand the impact of disability in a social context on-site at accessibility services, where support was more likely to be sought.
The three services also incorporate peers (students teaching and guiding other students) in initiatives ranging from wellness Wednesdays, book clubs on issues related to resiliency and health, running groups, nature walks that incorporate mindfulness, and mentoring programs, with the goal of keeping the campus engaged and focused on steady, accessible care and education.
One nominator praised the trio’s efforts for going above their regular duties to create a “kinder approach to care, to mental health and to well-being across the campus.”