You are now in the main content area

Fall 2020 award winners honoured in virtual celebration

‘Ryerson has fed my soul’: Top grads reflect on extraordinary academic journey
By: Lindsey Craig
November 26, 2020
Alia Youssef smiles holding her degree and a bouquet of flowers, with Ryerson’s virtual graduation celebration playing on a screen in the background

Master of Fine Arts graduate Alia Youssef is one of nine fall 2020 award winners. Photo courtesy of Alia Youssef.

The Ryerson University community extends a special congratulations to nine award-winning graduates, who recently celebrated the completion of their academic journeys in a virtual event Nov. 17.

Learn more about these special awards and hear from the remarkable grads who received them in the section below.

Gold Medal

Luckrezia Awuor, Rachel Jacqueline Bar, Zachary Grant, Eno Hysi, Sze Wan (Kittie) Pang, Eli Vandersluis and Alia Youssef were each selected to receive the Ryerson University Gold Medal. It is the university’s highest award, presented to students with outstanding academic achievement with extraordinary contributions to the life of the university or community.

Governor General Gold Medal

Alinaghi Salari and Eli Vandersluis are recipients of the university’s most prestigious academic award - the Governor General Gold Medal. It’s awarded annually to the graduate student who achieves the highest academic standing in a graduate degree program.  

Board of Governors Leadership Award and Medal

Eno Hysi was selected to receive the Board of Governors Leadership Award and Medal, which is awarded to a Ryerson Gold Medal winner each year.  

C. Ravi Ravindran Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award

Maryam Navi won the C. Ravi Ravindran Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award, which recognizes the excellence of the winning doctoral dissertation from the points of originality, contribution to better understanding of the theory, philosophy, science, practice or their interrelationship, application of theory and impact on society, industry or some aspect of national value.

In their own words

Below, learn more about each of these exceptional graduates, as they share highlights of their academic experience, valuable lessons learned and how Ryerson has equipped them for the future.

Luckrezia Awuor

Program: PhD, Environmental Science and Applied Management, Yeates School of Graduate Studies (YSGS)

Award: Ryerson University Gold Medal

Luckrezia Awuor watches the fall 2020 virtual celebration on a laptop

Photo courtesy of Luckrezia Awuor, pictured watching the fall 2020 virtual celebration.

In her words: 

When I enrolled in the BASc in occupational and public health program at Ryerson in 2010, I wanted to improve my health literacy and pursue a career in public health. Ten years on, I have completed a PhD in environmental applied science and management (ENSCIMAN). I am also a public health professional and a researcher dedicated to protecting and promoting populations and environments by targeting the geographical, environmental, social, and economic disparities that hinder people's ability to achieve good health.

Completing the PhD program – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic – and receiving this award have not only validated my hard work and resilience, but enabled me to reflect on and appreciate the impact of Ryerson's resources and opportunities. I was supported through student-centred, inclusive, work-life balance, and hands-on approaches to learning. I had access to professors, professional networks, and financial resources that significantly contributed to my success.

These 10 years were also not without challenges. As a mature, first-generation student who had gone back to school after more than a decade, I dreaded the course load, exams, inability to take care of my family, and social alienation. Looking back, I recognize that though my fears were unfounded, they motivated me and allowed me to identify my values. As a result, I have built lasting and meaningful friendships and networks. Most importantly, I discovered my strengths, interests, and career path. The courses I took were sources of self-reflection as I became more perspicacious about environmental and health concerns. However, it was the leadership and mentorship of faculty that have guided my vision and enabled me to build collaborative relationships and knowledge that drove my research and profession. I am incredibly grateful to my doctoral supervisors, Dr. Richard Meldrum and Dr. Eric Liberda as well as Dr. Chris Gore, Dr. Ron Pushchak, and Dr. Stephanie Melles. As I continue with my career journey, I also look forward to future contributions to the life of Ryerson University and my profession.

Rachel Jacqueline Bar

Program: PhD, Psychology, Faculty of Arts

Award: Ryerson University Gold Medal

Rachel Bar

Photo courtesy of Rachel Bar.

In her words: 

Graduate school is a time to develop and refine one's craft, but ultimately, it is also a privilege and an opportunity to develop and refine oneself. For me, the  graduate program in psychology at Ryerson did just that. It challenged me to develop the skills I need to contribute to my field and pushed me to further challenge my views and life choices. I will forever be grateful for this time and experience. Defending my dissertation from my kitchen table at home was not how I envisioned my final graduate school performance, but the support and thoughtful guidance I received from my committee further highlighted how fortunate I have been to be a part of the Ryerson community.

Zachary Grant

Program: Master of Social Work, Faculty of Community Services

Award: Ryerson University Gold Medal

Zachary Grant

Photo courtesy of Zachary Grant.

In their words: 

Ryerson has fed my soul. It granted me the time to read, to think, to question. It has helped me to better understand the world and the situations we find ourselves in. My professors have taught me to “always aim to do better”. Social work is far from perfect. I doubt I have found any solutions to these imperfections, but my professors have taught me how to identify some of the messy parts in hopes of working towards positive change.

When my classmates and I met in orientation over a year ago, we knew we were undertaking a difficult and challenging journey. Yet many of us could not fathom just what we were in for. We struggled, succeeded, found joy, shed tears, learned how to disagree, be vulnerable, and work together. We discovered a new and confusing world when COVID-19 changed our lives. I cannot express my gratitude to you all.

I entered this program thinking I would learn how to do “social work” and I am leaving with so much more than a foundational knowledge. I am leaving with the support and friendship of 32 of the most astounding colleagues. This is what I think of when I think of my time at Ryerson – the people. I have been privileged to be supported by my classmates and my professors. Without the master of social work faculty & staff – Dr. Poole, Dr. Friedman, Dr. Yee, Dr. George, Dr. Massaquoi, Dr. Oba, Dr. Moffatt, and Milene – I doubt I would be receiving this award.

Eno Hysi

Program: PhD, Biomedical Physics, Faculty of Science

Awards: Ryerson University Gold Medal and Board of Governors Leadership Award and Medal

Eno Hysi

Photo courtesy of Eno Hysi.

In his words:

From the moment I entered Ryerson in 2006 as an undergraduate to the day I defended my PhD in May of this year, exactly 4,999 days have passed. There wasn’t a single day that went by where I did not feel like the luckiest person on campus. I felt this way because I had the privilege of experiencing an educational journey that will benefit me for the rest of my career as a scientist. The research that I had the good fortune of contributing to was accompanied by fantastic mentorship through my longtime supervisor Prof. Michael Kolios and the enriching research environment he built. I am very proud of the impactful research that our team embarked on over the years. Moreover, as a Banting Fellow at St. Michael’s Hospital, I am excited to continue the work that I started at Ryerson on evaluating the quality of kidney transplants using photoacoustic imaging.

As years went by, I felt a moral obligation to contribute to the same graduate culture that granted me so many opportunities. As Ryerson graduate students, we are very lucky to be part of a smaller, but growing community within our large campus. This permitted me to connect with countless individuals over the years at YSGS, the Senate or the many committees I was privileged to be a part of. All of them had a unified goal in mind which is to give graduate students a nurturing, scholarly environment where they could succeed. I truly believe that their efforts come to fruition when I see the superb graduate scholar community that I am surrounded by and the spectacular contributions to their disciplines and our society. I will sincerely miss being a Ryerson student, for this campus has always felt like home to me.   

Sze Wan (Kittie) Pang

Program: Master of Health Administration (Community Care), Ted Rogers School of Management

Award: Ryerson University Gold Medal

Sze Wan (Kittie) Pang smiles with her arms around her children, who are holding celebration signs

Photo courtesy of Sze Wan (Kittie) Pang, pictured with daughter Mackenzie, left, and son, Owen.

In her words:

I am grateful and honoured to be a part of the Ryerson family. From day one, I felt welcomed as part of this large, talented and diverse community. 

Ryerson offered many opportunities that allowed exploration of different faculties and encouraged outside-the-box thinking. This diversity widens my horizon in my perspective in health care - how it is connected and interdependent on many different sectors.

Under the guidance of my professors and the support from my classmates, I have grown tremendously personally and professionally. The knowledge I’ve gained during my time at Ryerson prepared me to help advance the knowledge and adaptation of health system integration policy and practice, especially during this challenging time while we are faced with a global pandemic. 

Ryerson offered an innovative approach to health care that is unique in Canada. I am proud to be the first cohort of the MHA (CC) program and will continue to lead the movement for change in the health care sector.

Eli Vandersluis

Program: PhD, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science

Awards: Ryerson University Gold Medal and Governor General Academic Gold Medal

Eli Vandersluis sits beside a computer screen that’s playing the graduation celebration

Photo courtesy of Eli Vandersluis, pictured watching the graduation celebration.

In his words:

Ryerson has been my home for the past decade, having completed my BEng, MASc, and finally my PhD in mechanical and industrial engineering (MIE). I was first drawn to the university by the promise of experiential learning and a rich student life. Yet, I had no idea that enrolling would have such a drastic, positive and everlasting impact on my professional and personal growth.

When I first started engineering, I knew almost nothing about metallurgy, and I never considered it as a career path. However, in the first year of my undergrad, I was granted a research assistantship in Dr. Ravindran’s casting laboratory. This completely transformed my academic trajectory, as I developed a passion for materials science under his guidance. That year, I began an exciting research journey that has extended through two graduate degrees, filled with invaluable learning, international collaborations, scientific discoveries and lots of fun. Now, that journey has evolved into my next challenge, as I have proudly begun working in forensic materials engineering this fall.

Over the course of my studies, I’ve been inspired by dynamic faculty and hard-working peers alike. I’ve developed meaningful relationships with diverse individuals, having been involved with several student interest groups and inter-disciplinary communities. As a lecturer and a graduate assistant, I’ve had the honour of contributing to others’ education as well.

I am very grateful for the many fond memories, warm friendships, and supportive mentors who have contributed to such an outstanding university experience. I know that Ryerson has truly prepared me for success ahead.

Alia Youssef

Program: Master of Fine Arts, Documentary Media, Faculty of Communication and Design

Award: Ryerson University Gold Medal

Alia Youssef smiles holding her degree and a bouquet of flowers, with Ryerson’s virtual graduation celebration playing on a screen in the background

Photo courtesy of Alia Youssef, pictured celebrating her graduation during the virtual event.

In her words:

I completed both my degrees - my bachelor of fine arts (BFA) in photography and master’s of fine arts (MFA) in Documentary Media - at Ryerson, so it’s hard to put my experiences over the seven years collectively in a few sentences. It was in Pitman Hall residence that I met some of my best friends and my now husband. It was in a Kerr Hall classroom that I thought of the photo series which launched my career, The Sisters Project. It was in the Ryerson Artspace and Ryerson Image Centre student gallery that I had my first solo exhibitions. It was at the Ram in the Rye after an artist talk in the library building that I came up with my MFA project, Generations, and it was in the offices and classrooms of teachers I treasure that I worked through creative blocks, felt inspired, and found mentors that will continue to impact my creative journey post-graduation. The walls of this campus have seen me grow from a 18-year-old who just moved to Toronto for art school, to a MFA student giving artist talks and guest lectures to the next group of undergraduate students.

Memorable highlights from my MFA include receiving the SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship (CGS-M) to work on my MRP (Masters Research Project), working with my wonderful and generous supervisors: Don Snyder and Dr. Brett Story, receiving the Mort Greenberg Award, being nominated and then being named a top 12 photography graduate globally by PHmuseum, and of course, the incredible honour of both being nominated and receiving the Ryerson Gold Medal for FCAD. Although I won the Gold Medal award for my work as a graduate student, it feels like the perfect close to a long, important, and memorable chapter of my life here at Ryerson.

Alinaghi Salari

Program: PhD, Biomedical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science

Award: Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal

Alinaghi Salari

Photo courtesy of Alinaghi Salari.

In his words:

My studies at Ryerson University was truly a memorable and amazing experience. I was so lucky to have great advisors and supportive lab mates working together in a friendly environment, which was perfect for learning and conducting cutting-edge research. Specifically, at iBEST, which is a partnership between Ryerson University and St. Michael’s Hospital, I was able to explore numerous interdisciplinary themes that really helped me in expanding my research career.

During my PhD studies, I also tried to be constantly engaged, at various levels, in both academic and research activities, including attending seminars and conferences and collaborating with numerous researchers across different disciplines, which was a unique opportunity. Even though I had to learn a lot from my mistakes throughout this journey, I tried to keep the focus on my academic goals, stay motivated, and not to give up after each failure. It is now a great honour to be a recipient of the prestigious Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal by which my fascinating experience at Ryerson University is concluded.

Maryam Navi

Program: PhD, Biomedical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science

Award: C. Ravi Ravindran Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award

Maryam Navi smiles while sitting in a lab with a computer behind her

Photo courtesy of Maryam Navi, pictured in her lab at iBEST (Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Science, and Technology) at Ryerson.

In her words:

I came to Ryerson as a MASc student. My goal was to obtain a master’s degree and enter the job market. However, my experience in graduate school completely changed my plans. I fell in love with research and decided to pursue a career in academia. Research involves a lot of uncertainty, constant learning, and lots and lots of failed experiments and frustration. However, my advisor made this journey exceptionally joyful by patiently mentoring me throughout my time in graduate school. He believed in his students and was very receptive of off-the-wall ideas. He never discouraged us from tapping into unknown realms. He went through every single word in my papers to teach me perfect scientific writing and coached me on how to navigate my way through the uncertain path of research.

My lab mates also provided me with a friendly and supportive environment. They went out of their way to help and support each other. In addition, watching my highly aspiring lab mates achieve their goals was a powerful source of inspiration and motivation. During my time at Ryerson, I had the chance to meet some of the kindest, most hard-working and most intelligent people, who taught me valuable life lessons in their own unique way.

I am humbled to receive this award. It would certainly not have been possible without all of the help and extraordinary support that I received from my advisor and my lab mates.

More News