Meet the Alumni Achievement Award Winners of 2021
How can I make a difference? If there is one characteristic that recipients of Ryerson’s Alumni Achievement awards share, it is the desire, dedication and drive to make a positive contribution whether it’s in their professional lives, communities or beyond. Since 1998, Ryerson has recognized alumni establishing themselves as leaders and changemakers through the award. This year’s honorees are shining examples of this growing legacy.
This year’s event celebrating the recipients takes place during Alumni Week, on Friday, October 1 at 4 p.m.
2021 Award of Distinction recipients
Civil Engineering ’98
Chief Planning Officer, Metrolinx
As one of too few women in the male-dominated field of engineering, Karla Avis-Birch is committed to getting more girls and women interested in careers in engineering and construction. “When you don’t see yourself in certain spaces, it’s hard to even imagine it’s something you want to pursue or that you will even be accepted in,” she stated in an interview, external link.
For Avis-Birch, whose parents immigrated to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago and who grew up in Montreal, civil engineering provided the opportunity to turn her love of problem solving and math into a career. Since joining Metrolinx 16 years ago, moving into progressively senior roles, she has done just that. In her current executive leadership role, Avis-Birch oversees Metrolinx’s planning, design and sponsorship/benefits management departments, which are working to create integrated regional transit solutions for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Avis-Birch served as the 2017 and 2018 president of the Women in Transportation Seminars (WTS) Toronto Area Chapter, and currently serves on the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) board of directors to oversee the construction of the Gordie Howe bridge.
Applied Computer Science ’89
President and Chairman, NexTech AR Solutions
Over the past three decades, Paul Duffy has used his love of designing technology to develop and patent augmented reality (AR) and telepresence inventions including HumaGram (human holograms) and build and grow four successful businesses. As president of NexTech AR Solutions, he is on a mission to democratize AR. He sees the day when these technologies will be as pervasive as email and text. NexTech is at the forefront of making this happen. Its AR technologies are helping convert shoppers to buyers in the e-commerce space and create immersive learning experiences such as RALE, the Ryerson Augmented Learning Experience.
Hundreds of clients are using NexTech’s AR video platform to create virtual events. Its holopresence technology can be used to deliver a range of presentations: from authors hosting book talks to universities -- including Ryerson -- delivering lectures and labs to musicians in concert. Rapper Offset used NexTech’s technologies as part of his virtual concert, beaming a hologram of himself into viewers' homes. It’s just the beginning.
Interior Design ’97
Founder, Studio Munge
Alessandro Munge got his start in design when he was 13, when he began supporting his mother with her drapery business, sketching solutions and helping her communicate design intent. In addition to developing his creativity, he also learned about collaboration, spatial visualization and how design can positively impact the human experience. Those transformative lessons continue to guide his Toronto-based multidisciplinary design collective, Studio Munge, which has earned global recognition for Munge's luxurious, innovative, highly detailed, and distinct interiors. In 2018, he was named Designer of the Year by Contract Magazine and Design Leader in Hospitality by Interior Design.
Among his recent work is the landmark integrated restaurant, hotel and residences by Nobu in Toronto. In an interview in NUVO, external link magazine, Munge described his approach to design: “It requires a lot of empathy and understanding. But if you can evoke strong feelings in a place, it connects people more deeply. It becomes a much more effective design.”
Dr. Elisa Levi
Food and Nutrition ’01
Resident physician, McMaster’s Department of Family Medicine
Dr. Elisa Levi lives her life with a clear sense of purpose. She is passionate about improving Indigenous health and wellbeing, lifelong learning and supporting innovative causes that work toward making positive change. That passion led her to the world of food systems and to become a health and food systems consultant. After spending several years advising a number of non-profits on food and health strategies working with Indigenous Peoples, she reset. Dr. Levi recently graduated from the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and is completing her residency in family medicine at Grey Bruce Health Services – Owen Sound Hospital.
She is a member of the board for Edkaagmik Nbiizh Neyaashiinigamiingninwag Edbendaagzijig Trust in her community, and sits on the boards of the Indigenous Peoples Resilience Fund and the Anishnawbe Health Foundation. She is a proud Anishinaabe, mother of two and member of the Chippewas of Nawash in Ontario.
Bachelor of Business Management ’94
Principal, Istina Strategic Advisors Inc.
Annie Ropar has achieved what many women in Canada and globally continue to strive for: a seat at the highest levels of decision making. At a time when women account for more than 50 per cent of accountants entering the workforce, there are only two women chief financial officers (CFO) in Canada’s top 50 publicly traded organizations, as reported in thePDF file CFO Talent Report 2021 by Odgers Berndston, external link.
Ropar has pushed past gender barriers, moving up the leadership ranks at CIT Group (where she held her first CFO role), RBC Capital Markets, RBC Capital Partners, and Aequitas Innovations Inc. and Canada Infrastructure Bank where she was CFO and chief administrative officer. Today, she heads her own consulting firm Istina Strategic Advisors Inc. Ropar is vice-chair of the board of Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation after serving as treasurer and past chair of the audit and risk committee. She is past board chair of the Ontario Growth Capital Corporation.
Isadore Sharp Outstanding Recent Graduate Award recipient
Fashion Design ’17
Curtis Oland is an award-winning fashion designer and interdisciplinary artist and self-described nomad. Originally from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, he is currently based in London, United Kingdom. Regardless of place, Oland remains deeply connected to his Indigenous Lil’Wat heritage. His work is informed by the teachings of the land and embodies his desire to use art in all its forms as a means to bring people together both spiritually and emotionally. His garment designs have allowed him to operate in the worlds of fashion, theatre, film and visual art.
Olan’s collection “Oyama Lake” earned him the Emerging Menswear Designer Award at Toronto Men's Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2017. He made his London debut at Somerset House in 2019 at the International Fashion Showcase where he represented Canada with his collection, “Delicate Tissue”. Prior to studying fashion at Ryerson, Olan earned a bachelor of fine arts from Emily Carr University of Art and Design.
To see the full schedule and register, visit the Alumni Week website.