2023-24 Excellence Through Innovation Award: Michelle Atkinson

Michelle Atkinson: 2023-24 Excellence Through Innovation Award

Claire Westgate
Michelle Atkinson
Michelle Atkinson

The Institute for Management & Innovation celebrates Michelle Atkinson, winner of the 2023-24 Excellence Through Innovation Award for her work enriching the student experience by designing and implementing UTM’s first-ever Sustainability Ambassadors Program. 

This award recognizes the contributions of initiatives and individuals who work to ensure that all students have exceptional and robust experiences at U of T, including making learning opportunities and communities available to students.   

When Michelle joined the Institute for Management & Innovation in 2022, she brought with her robust experience in student engagement, designing engagement opportunities and programs for student leadership, and community partnerships.  Michelle is responsible for overseeing UTM’s Certificate of Completion in Global Sustainability, Sustainability Week, and the Sustainability: Transdisciplinary Theory and Action Conference, among other initiatives.  When Michelle joined, there was no program in place for students to be able to engage in these initiatives beyond simple volunteering. Michelle immediately identified an incredible opportunity here: to create a robust, reflective experience for students to engaged deeply in sustainability learning, campus connection and professional development.  With a sound understanding of student learning outcomes and high quality student initiatives, she designed, developed and launched the Sustainability Ambassadors Program.    

The program gives students an opportunity to participate in multiple campus-based sustainability initiatives in a meaningful way.  Beyond their time volunteering to support programs and their peers, students are also offered training in the foundations of sustainability, and participate in reflection workshops and peer learning.  

MIchelle at a podium with three banners behind her
Michelle speaking at the STTPA Conference

This initiative offers a unique experience to students from across UTM that allows them to contribute not only to the campus sustainability goals, but also to the University’s larger goals.  It gives them a chance to knit together multiple experiences – learning, leadership, community engagement, peer support and reflection – which further enhances their student experience here at UTM.  Sustainability touches every discipline, and this Program is therefore appealing to students from every academic department or area of study at UTM in a truly inclusive way.  

Michelle’s Program also bolsters a significant number of UTM’s campus goals.  For instance, UTM launched its first Sustainability Strategic Plan in 2020 with five pillars: Academic Programs and Curriculum, Research, Campus Engagement, Civic Engagement and Human  Resources/Infrastructure.  Among the pillars there are goals relating to increasing student engagement in a culture of sustainability, supporting campus engagement activities, and engaging in sustainability events and outreach.  Beyond this, UTM’s Strategic Framework has pillars in fostering student success, encouraging collaboration, and a focus on sustainability.  The Sustainability Ambassadors’ Program serves each and every one of these pillars, by fostering campus and civic connection, expanding student engagement into sustainability, and opening collaborative experience’s for student leaders.  

MIchelle with her sustainability ambassadors
Michelle with some Sustainability Ambassadors

At its root, Michelle’s initiative is a wonderful example of the heart of UTM: students engaging in development, leadership and learning for the benefit of their entire campus community and the world at large.  For these reasons, she is deeply deserving of this recognition for her continued commitment to making our campus a better place, giving our students the opportunity to flourish, and contributing to the goals of our community.

About the Excellence Through Innovation Awards 

Established in 2005, the Excellence Through Innovation Award (ETIA) program recognizes exemplary administrative staff and librarians and provides a platform for sharing outstanding practices across our tri-campus community. The ETIA program is an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate ‘above-and-beyond’ contributions towards the University’s mission as one of the world’s foremost research-intensive universities, driven to invent and innovate.  Learn more at https://people.utoronto.ca/award/etia/