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Ryerson Gold Medal winner recognized for community engagement

By Will Sloan

Lisa Ward Mather

Lisa Ward Mather earned a doctorate in English before studying urban planning, and brought the same principles of critical thinking.

One of the courses Lisa Ward Mather took when she studied for her PhD in English was Critical Reading and Writing. Years later, when she came to Ryerson for the Urban Development graduate program, she found those same ideas still applied.

“The principle of critical thinking is what has underpinned my entire academic career,” said Mather. “That’s also one of the things that drew me to the planning discipline. It’s a discipline that requires you to be analytical on multiple levels.”

“I think my strength as a student is that I enjoy difficult conceptual problems. I like to try to unpack them, and understand what all the constituent parts are. That’s something that was a very important part of my English studies, and also a very important part of planning.”

Mather, who graduated in June with a Master’s in Urban Planning was this year’s Faculty of Community Services winner of the Ryerson Gold Medal presented at fall Convocation last week. Cited for combining academic proficiency with community engagement, Mather was praised for her ability to “collaborate in meaningful ways with community partners.”

With her studio group, Mather collaborated with Regent Park’s Daniel Centre of Learning on an outreach project to assess the centre’s programs. “We ran a whole bunch of focus groups and interviews, and one of the key parts of the project I did was develop a logic model with the results,” said Mather.

“I developed a series of infographics to communicate that information, because one of the priorities of the project was to be able to do the evaluation in a way that would be accessible to all audiences. That meant people in the community, an academic audience, and the administration of the Daniel Centre itself.”

She has embraced the potential of new media: she helped animate the campus master plan, and wrote her master’s thesis on the collaborative possibilities of Minecraft on civic engagement. She honed her thesis by interviewing Toronto planning professionals. “They want to find innovative, interesting ways to engage with problems. It’s gratifying to see that planning professionals have such open minds – they’re really interested in new solutions to old problems.”

This may seem like a lot of work for someone with a doctorate and three children. But urban planning had been a growing interest for Mather, who moved from Edmonton to Toronto in the immediate wake of amalgamation. “It’s been a very interesting time to be in Toronto,” she said. “To see how amalgamation played out, and now the debates about transit and the mayoral contest, you can really see that people have different visions about what the city should be.”

Since graduating, Mather has moved with her family to California, where she hopes to become involved in urban planning. She also is continuing to do research for Pamela Robinson, her faculty supervisor at Ryerson. “Studying at Ryerson, with where it’s located and how it sees itself as an institution, being really woven into its urban context, was a really unique opportunity,” said Mather.

This year’s other Ryerson Gold Medal recipients are: David Collins (MA, Philosophy, Faculty of Arts), Sarah Foy (MA, Documentary Media, Faculty of Communication and Design), Dineshkumar Patel (PhD, Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science), Eric Strohm (PhD, Biomedical Physics, Faculty of Science), and Peter James Myers (MBA, Ted Rogers School of Management).

Eric Strohm also won the Ravi Ravindran Outstanding Thesis Award and Governor General’s Gold Medal. Sarah Foy received the Board of Governors Leadership Award and Medal.