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Meet five U of T student leaders recognized with Cressy Awards

Students who made outstanding extracurricular contributions to their college, faculty or school, or to the university as a whole, were recognized with the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award this week (photo by Gustavo Toledo Photography)

They have promoted mental health awareness, raised funds for important causes and advocated for justice for Indigenous Peoples.

The accomplishments of this year's Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award winners know no limits. Just over 200 award recipients met in Convocation Hall on Tuesday evening to receive their certificates from University of Toronto President Meric Gertler and Gordon Cressy, a former Toronto city councillor and former vice-president of development and university relations at U of T. Cressy was also president of the United Way of Greater Toronto. 

President Gertler said the Cressy Award recipients have shown tremendous ability by balancing their commitment to community service with the demands of their degrees. 

“They have contributed in countless, diverse ways to the advancement of the university and of society as a whole,” he said.

He also encouraged students to continue on the same track after graduation. “Volunteering is a lifelong mission, and you are off to an impressive start.”

The award was established in 1994 to recognize students who have made outstanding extracurricular contributions to their college, faculty or school, or to the university as a whole.

Cressy's son Joe is the current city councillor for Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina, which includes a large swath of the downtown Toronto campus. After 24 years of attending the awards ceremony, he told U of T News he is always impressed with the recipients' achievements. “When you hear the bios and what people have done, every year it lifts you up in a world that has far too much chaos these days,” he said. 

“Every year you feel a little more hope for the future.”

U of T News spoke with five award winners at the ceremony, asking them how they will continue to make a difference in the world after graduation. 

Read about last year's ceremony and recipients

Oluwatobi Edun, Chemical Engineering

Edun was the president of the Nigerian Students Association. He's known as an advocate for diversity in engineering and across the university, and was a mentor to students as a teaching assistant and residence don at New College.

“To be recognized as a student leader encapsulates everything I’ve done at U of T. It shows me that being involved and volunteering to make your space better is truly an honour, and that service is very important to society. Part of why I chose to be involved the way I was at U of T was to work towards a vision to help my country, Nigeria. By being involved I learned a lot of skills – leadership, communication, presentation, policy – and that will go a long way.” 


Elizabeth White, Chemical Engineering

White was chair of the U of T student chapter of the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering and she was on the student program committee for the 2018 Chemical Engineering Conference to be held in Toronto this fall.

“From a student perspective, we can see how valuable alumni engagement is. Once you're on the other side and you've graduated and have industry connections yourself, I think it's really easy to give back. Students already have really great ideas. They have the drive and a lot of stuff going for them, but sometimes what they're missing is a helping hand from the outside to bridge that gap. The most important role we can do as alumni is to boost those [student] voices.”


Felipe Branco, Master of Business Administration

Branco likes to bring people together over the dinner table. He was the president and founder of the Rotman Culinary Club, the president of the Rotman wine society and he was a star on the student Iron Chef culinary competition for two years in a row. 

“The main thing I did at Rotman was I brought food to the program. I started a culinary club, which all students will be able to participate in and enjoy in the future. After my MBA, I want to bring better management practices to the restaurant industry.”


Oghosa Igbinakenzua, Industrial Engineering

As vice-president, academics for U of T's engineering society, Igbinakenzua worked hard to improve the student experience. 

“In my understanding, making a difference is something you do in small ways. I realized that in school doing the small thing I do but in a very excellent way is how I will make a difference. For me right now, I want to improve education in Africa. Academics is big for me but I think for any economy to grow in any country or region there needs to be education. That's something I'm passionate about doing long-term. I'd like to be part of that at least in a small way.”


Sadaf Rai, Doctor of Pharmacy

Rai – who started her studies at U of T Scarborough – worked in recruitment for the IMAGINE Clinic, which provides health-care services to underpriviledged communities in Toronto. She helped recruit health professionals to volunteer their time to the clinic. She was also president of the Pharmacy Student Service Team and organized events encouraging pharmacy students to give back to their communities with annual food and toy drives. 

“Being at U of T gave me opportunities to make a difference. I was part of an IMAGINE Clinic, where we ran a clinic that was student-based for people who didn't even have Ontario Health Insurance Plan coverage. Opportunities like this encourage me to go out now and continue to be involved in the future. I do plan to continue being a mentor to the IMAGINE Clinic and helping run the clinic as a pharmacist rather than a student. I'm not at all surprised by who got this award. They are the people you see making a difference every single day.”