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Toronto Met Awards recognize extraordinary achievements of faculty and staff

President’s Blue and Gold Award of Staff Excellence recipients recognized for exceptional collaboration in university’s renaming
February 16, 2023
Karen Benner, Derek Flack, Katherine Greflund, and Johanna Vandermaas.

In April of 2022, Ryerson University became Toronto Metropolitan University, and the first post-secondary institution in North America to adopt a new name on the grounds of inclusivity. Communications and marketing leads, from left,  Katherine Greflund, Derek Flack, Johanna VanderMaas and Karen Benner are the 2023 recipients of the President’s Blue and Gold Award of Staff Excellence for a team, in recognition of their extraordinary efforts in making the name change possible.

The renaming to Toronto Metropolitan University this past spring was a powerful act of reconciliation that required the actions and work of a multitude of TMU staff—all working together and with intention to unify our community and recommit to our values and aspirations. 

The renaming was precedent setting. An undertaking made possible only through the highly coordinated, collaborative and comprehensive efforts of a dedicated team.

This year’s Toronto Met Awards will recognize the marketing and communications leads for their leadership in the strategic development and execution of a successful plan for the university’s renaming. Congratulations to the 2023 recipients of the President’s Blue and Gold Award of Staff Excellence for a team who has advanced the university’s mission through extraordinary achievements. The honourees are:

  • Karen Benner, Associate Director, University Communications, Central Communications 
  • Derek Flack, Assistant Director, Content Strategy 
  • Katherine Greflund, Assistant Director, Marketing, University Relations 
  • Johanna VanderMaas, Associate Director, Leadership Communications, Central Communications   

The President’s Blue and Gold Award of Staff Excellence is one of many Toronto Met Awards to be presented to honoured employees at the in-person Toronto Met Awards Gala on May 9.

The ambitious renaming project included support to the University Renaming Advisory Committee to engage in broad community consultation, the launch of highly strategic marketing and communications plans – including the Next Chapter website and signage across campus – to inform the community of progress updates, preserve and strengthen stakeholder relationships, and advance the university’s commitment to equity and community inclusion.

The project also featured an integrated multimedia launch strategy, which successfully fostered a positive response to the new name.

“The renaming would not have been possible without the work of so many dedicated TMU community members,” says Benner. “We are honoured to receive this award and proud of the level of collaboration achieved in steering a project of this magnitude. By empowering the Standing Strong Task Force to make the informed recommendations needed to move forward, the university took hold of a significant opportunity to give expression to our values, despite the enormity of the project. We are now Toronto Metropolitan University and everyone can take great pride in that.”

President’s Blue and Gold Award of Staff Excellence: Individual

Marcia Boniferro.

Student Care Manager Marcia Boniferro will be honoured with the President’s Blue and Gold Award of Staff Excellence for an individual. In her role, Boniferro prioritizes wellness on her team through leadership, modeling and support, and approaches student case management with compassion and care.

The President’s Blue and Gold Award of Staff Excellence for an individual is awarded to Student Care Manager Marcia Boniferro. 

Her team is tasked with handling a large volume of requests related to outreach, intervention, student case management, coaching and more. 

Boniferro balances helping students navigate multiple complex issues with compassion and care while also prioritizing the health and wellness of her team through exceptional leadership, modelling and support.

She demonstrates excellence in centering equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), consistently recognizing the diverse composition of the TMU student body, including the specifically complex intersectional identities that require nuanced forms of care. Under her leadership, the Student Care team at TMU has become more skilled at prioritizing EDI in their practices.

The nominators noted that Boniferro is an exemplary supervisor who coaches her staff with guidance and empathetic teaching when navigating complicated cases.

Boniferro is also recognized for excellence in collaborative relationships and stakeholder engagement. She is responsible for the university-wide collaborations during challenging situations, acting as the main support for families when a student has died as well as successfully collaborating on efforts like support for Ukrainian and Russian students and COVID-19 Vaccination Policy navigation.

Boniferro is often sought by committees and projects to offer her insightful perspective on developing programs, processes and communications that embody a student-centric approach. 

Linda Grayson Administrative Leadership Award

Rachel DiSaia.

As associate director, Next Chapter implementation, Rachel DiSaia has shown exceptional leadership through many of the university’s largest and most impactful initiatives, including the renaming of the university.

The Linda Grayson Administrative Leadership Award is awarded to Rachel DiSaia.

As associate director, Next Chapter implementation and coordination, DiSaia has demonstrated exceptional leadership through their continued work towards fulfilling the Standing Strong Task Force recommendations, a framework of initiatives that lay the groundwork for reconciliation work at the university that will have wide-reaching impact on the university in the years ahead. 

Over the past year, DiSaia has played a significant leadership role in the implementation of major initiatives that include the renaming of the university, the development of TMU’s new mascot and team name, and the creation of a new policy on commemoration and benefactor naming.

Their commitment to equity, inclusion and open conversations heals differences and breaks down barriers. DiSaia’s leadership on the Next Chapter ensures that carrying out the task force recommendations is on track and positioned for success.

Knowledge mobilization and engagement award

Mandana Vahabi.

Nursing professor and co-director of the Centre for Global Health and Health Equity, Mandana Vahabi is recognized for her unparalleled ability to mobilize knowledge among diverse stakeholders. She works locally and globally to develop and implement innovative interventions to mitigate health disparities.

Nursing professor Mandana Vahabi is receiving the Knowledge Mobilization and Engagement Award for her outstanding research and scholarly work to strengthen health-care knowledge uptake and equitable health-care access among vulnerable and marginalized populations.

"If my research has any importance it is because of the daily lived experiences of the people that I work with. I am just giving voice to their condition."

Vahabi’s’s research focuses on population health promotion and health equity. Specifically, she works to find ways to make vital health-care information accessible. Vahabi, who is also co-director of the Centre for Global Health and Health Equity, empowers communities experiencing social, political and economic exclusion, to make informed and life-saving decisions about their health.

One area of her work is improving regular cancer screening access within mariginalized communities. Cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of death among women but is preventable with regular testing.

“Women in lower socio-economic strata tend to screen less due to structural barriers,” says Vahabi. 

Realizing that education alone is not sufficient, Vahabi works to provide solutions that can help to circumvent structural barriers. One method is through at-home testing, the success of which has led to extended funding and pilot studies in Canada and in India where cultural factors can also lessen screening uptake.

Recognized for her work as a humanitarian, Vahabi exemplifies the values of equity and inclusion.

“This award is an acknowledgement of those marginalized populations,” she says. “If I am able to contribute and place equitable access on the agenda, particularly with policymakers to effect decisions that benefit ‘minorities’, but who really occupy a large portion of our population, then what it demonstrates is TMU’s recognition of the importance in meeting the needs of marginalized groups. I am no one without the various stories I am able to tell.”

The Toronto Met Awards is part of the TMU employee recognition program co-ordinated by Human Resources and celebrates the achievements of TMU faculty and staff in teaching, research, administration, service and leadership. This year, 97 recipients are being honoured. Congratulations to all nominees and recipients! To learn more about all the award winners, visit Recognition and Awards.

Awards will be presented to honourees at the Toronto Met Awards Gala, an in-person event on May 9 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.

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