The team behind Congress among employees to be honoured at Awards Night
For most of the 10,000 people who attended, Congress 2017 lasted for seven days last spring. For Sharmaine McKenzie, it started in 2012. As director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives in the Faculty of Arts, and leader of the Congress Operations Committee, McKenzie was with Canada’s largest academic gathering every step of the way, from Ryerson’s initial bid to its final events.
At this year’s Ryerson Awards Night, the Congress Operations Committee will be recognized with the President’s Blue & Gold Award of Excellence, honouring individuals and teams that have advanced the university’s mission through extraordinary achievements. McKenzie will receive the Linda Grayson Leadership Award for exceptional leadership in managing a project, activity or team. When discussing these awards, McKenzie made it clear that a manager is only as good as their team.
“There were many committees—not only the Operations Committee, but also several sub-committees,” said McKenzie. “The most important thing is that Ryerson really showed up. It takes a community to pull off an event like this. It’s the same thing I said to Mohamed: ‘Ryerson did this.’ It doesn’t really come down to one individual, it’s really the entire team.”
As the Blue & Gold Award citation notes, “Ensuring a welcoming campus for this prestigious event was no small feat. Ryerson's 32-member Congress Operations Committee demonstrated teamwork, efficiency, and innovative problem solving. Their achievement was possible due to the seamless collaboration and dedication of individuals from 15 different departments across campus.”
“The Blue & Gold Award recognizes the highest accomplishments of faculty and staff in representing Ryerson’s core values,” said Ryerson University president Mohamed Lachemi. “The Congress team created a dynamic event that we will never forget. They reaffirmed Ryerson as a premiere place for academic gatherings, while also making Congress a destination for the community at large.”
When McKenzie and the dean of arts office began working with Tourism Toronto on a bid to host the conference, Ryerson had never hosted an event as big as Congress. “There were concerns about the infrastructure: there had never been a Congress in such a busy downtown campus. We had some challenges as a campus, and we really rose up and overcame them.”
One of the ways the Ryerson team overcame these challenges was by carefully observing other universities’ Congress events in the years leading up to 2017. “One of the gaps I noticed is the organizing committee was often small, and the overall engagement on campus seemed to be lacking. I knew that wasn’t going to work. It really was about mobilizing our entire university and about getting everyone involved. That’s why we hosted two Town Halls and doubled the number of volunteers—over 800 students and staff. But with all of the challenges, the end-goal never wavered.”
In the end people from many departments contributed, including Administration and Finance, Computing and Communications Services, Continuing Education, Equity and Community Inclusion, Facilities Management and Development, Faculty of Arts, Financial Services, General Counsel and Board Secretariat, Human Resources, The Chang School, Integrated Risk Management, Mattamy Athletic Centre, Ted Rogers School of Management, University Business Services and University Relations.
The Ryerson team reached out to the community, organizing Social Justice Walks with homeless advocate and Distinguished Visiting Practitioner Cathy Crowe, a Truth and Reconciliation walk, and a bike-tour led by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. High-profile events included a concert by A Tribe Called Red and a memorable lecture by Cornel West. “We had over 1,000 people in attendance, and required three overflow rooms,” said McKenzie. The spirit of Congress stretched beyond campus, with Toronto City Hall lighting up in Ryerson’s blue and gold colours.
“Our programming was so diverse—especially because we were hosting in the year of our sesquicentennial. Dean Pamela Sugiman put forward a vision of diversity: it was about bringing a Congress to Ryerson that would be truly reflective of our campus and our city. That’s what really brought so many people out.
“The conference was able to bring together over 10,000 delegates from across Canada to come to our university, increased tourism revenue in Toronto and dominated our downtown core as a community forum giving Humanities and Social Science the serious recognition it needed for scholarly discussion and research sharing. In addition to showcasing our university.”
At every step of the way, McKenzie attributes the success of Congress 2017 to the community. “Everyone really wanted to play a role in Congress—I can’t tell you the number of emails and phone calls I received from people wanting to lend support.”
Ryerson Awards Night celebrates the achievements of faculty and staff in teaching, research, administration, service and leadership. This year’s event takes place March 28 at the Eaton Chelsea Hotel. To read about all the recipients, visit Recognition and Awards.