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March 9, 2012 — Winners: Outstanding Staff Awards

by Christine Elias — Friday, Mar 09, 2012


By Christine Elias

The Outstanding Staff Awards were established in 1999 to recognize employees who have achieved excellence in support of the Faculty of Arts & Science’s mission of teaching and research.

This year’s recipients are: 

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Krystyna Biel, Student Life Award

During their exit interview with the chair, physics graduate students are asked to name the best thing about the department. The most common answer: Krystyna Biel.

As physic's graduate administrator, Krystyna plays key roles as a student counselor, a conduit of information between students and faculty and as a facilitator and initiator of improvements that enhance the quality of the student experience. In fact, many of the department’s recent changes impacting student life originated with Krystyna’s interaction with students. 

Krystyna is also exceptional at counselling students — she understands their needs, anticipates their problems and helps them find the best solutions. In the words of one graduate student, “I am so confident in Krystyna’s ability to solve any problem that a graduate student in the department may face — whether it is financial, academic or personal — that she is the only person to whom I refer other graduate students…and know I am not the only one who feels this way.”

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Peter Hurley, Technical Service Award

"A unique combination of an excellent physicist, an excellent engineer and an excellent manager," Peter Hurley of physics has made enormous contributions across the entire spectrum of technical services.

In his role as the manager of the Physics Learning and Teaching Services unit, Peter does it all — everything from designing and building world-class experimental research apparatus, to managing the undergraduate teaching laboratories, to designing, developing and implementing non-credit courses for graduate students.

A highly-regarded leader, he fosters a cohesive team-spirit. As one staff member put it, “Peter has full confidence in his staff and their technical skills. He’s always willing to provide support and make recommendations.”

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Yvette Ali, Administrative Service Award

Yvette Ali, the director of professional and international programs at Woodsworth College, is responsible for the success of a suite of high-profile and highly complex programs within the Faculty: the Summer and Science Abroad programs, the Teaching in Higher Education course for PhD and post-doctoral students, and the certificate program in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

It’s a lot to manage, even for the most gifted administrator, but Yvette does not just manage well — she manages to exceed expectations.

Under her leadership, the Summer Abroad program — regarded as the most successful program of its kind in North America — has significantly expanded both in terms of student participation and breadth of offerings.  The Science Abroad program — a unique initiative that gives senior science students the opportunity to earn an academic credit overseas on a summer research course — has been called a “life-altering” experience by many students.

As one nominator said, “there are many smart people who do the unsung work often dismissed as ‘bureaucracy’  very, very well; but Yvette stands out in this strong pool."

Praised for her professionalism, sound judgment, tact, sincerity and deep respect for learning, Yvette’s “ambition is to offer the best and she succeeds.”

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Penny Ashcroft Moore & Ilda Cunha
Distinguished Long Service Award

It takes much more than years of service to earn the Distinguished Long Service Award. Honourees must demonstrate a sustained track record of going above and beyond the expectations of their administrative peers, academic colleagues and students.

This is something this year's winners Penny Ashcroft Moore of chemistry and Ilda Cunha of physics have accomplished consistently over their many years of dedicated service to the Faculty.

Penny — who joined the University of Toronto in 1980 and Chemistry in 1994 — manages the chair’s office.

Known for her incredibly helpful nature and wise counsel, Penny is the go-to person for faculty, staff, students, alumni and particularly chairs. Indeed, her keen understanding of the administration of the chair’s office has contributed to the smooth and seamless transition of the last five chairs in the department.

"Penny has a deep commitment to the success of the chemistry department," said chair Robert Morris. "She is amazingly generous with her time, whether assembling large numbers of packages nominating students and faculty for awards, editing the beautiful outreach magazine Distillations or helping organize large events and conferences. She 'rolls up her sleeves' and tackles these projects with enthusiasm and great cheer. She is a joy to work with."

Ilda Cunha — physics’ financial officer — solves problems and dispenses guidance on budgets, payroll, research grant applications, financial accountability and procedures to over 50 faculty members, 45 staff members, 40 post-doctoral fellows, 24 research associates and more than 200 graduate students.

The scale and range of Ilda’s portfolio cannot be understated — each year Ilda and her two staff members administer over 42,000 financial transactions and purchase orders.

But the sheer numbers don’t tell the story. Ilda, who has been a member of the department for almost 40 years, is considered the “ambassador of the department” and is highly regarded for her people skills and empathy. In the words of one colleague, Ilda “always keeps her calm and good humour and is unfailingly helpful and has absolute competence.”

Though the plate outside Ilda’s door reads “Finance Office”, in truth, her role is far more encompassing. To many in the department — both past and present — she is friend, colleague, counselor, mentor and miracle-worker. In the words of one former chair, “we should also nominate her for sainthood. The only thing possibly lacking is a demonstrated miracle, and I am not even sure that is missing.”

This year's awards will be presented in conjunction with the Outstanding Teaching Awards on April 17th at Hart House. This annual event celebrates outstanding teachers, staff and student leadership and is one of the ways we recognize the people who make the Faculty of Arts & Science the exceptional place that it is.

Photos: Diana Tyszko