Eight University of Guelph employees received the 2021 President’s Awards for Exemplary Staff Service from U of G president Dr. Charlotte Yates during today’s U of G Community Breakfast.

The annual event, held virtually this year, marks the start of the academic year on campus.

The awards recognize individuals and teams for outstanding service or extraordinary contributions to the U of G community.

Yates said the award selection committee received 58 nominations from across the University’s campuses for this year, with more than twice as many nominations submitted in every category as in previous years.

“Congratulations to all winners and nominees. Your care and your commitment have made the University of Guelph what it is today,” she said.

This year’s award winners are:

Exemplary Team Recognition Award in the category of Excellence in Wellness, Health and Safety

Student Affairs, Human Resources and Physical Resources 

This interdisciplinary staff team helped ensure the health and safety of U of G students, faculty, staff and visitors during the pandemic.

Student Health Services conducted COVID-19 testing, provided critical health guidance and clinical treatment, and supported more than 250 students impacted by a January 2021 outbreak.

Human Resources led in adapting work-from-home and flexible working arrangements, increased communication and cooperation with employee groups as well as faculty and staff, and implemented PPE policies and practices on campus and research stations.

Physical Resources adapted operations to support health, safety and well-being, including cleaning, ensuring safety and learning new protocols.

The continuous collaboration and individual efforts of these teams have been instrumental in the University’s exceptional management of the pandemic.

Exemplary Team Recognition Award

Student Housing teams

During the pandemic, Student Housing teams collaborated with numerous campus partners to support students on and off campus and families in Family Housing to foster a sense of community and belonging while ensuring safety and well-being.

Through front-line staff and virtual communications, the teams engaged with students and parents and ensured safe meal delivery, room assignments, building entry and distribution of quarantine kits, including supporting about 220 students during a campus outbreak in early 2021.

Through its new virtual Gryphons Nest program, Student Housing built an online community for thousands of first-year students living off campus. The unit supported on-campus first-years through a virtual House Calls program and worked with the International Students Office in supporting arriving students requiring quarantine.

During an unexpected and unusual year, the Student Housing Team has risen to challenges with innovation, flexibility and courage.

Award of Excellence in Wellness, Health and Safety

Lalit Jairath

Lalit with Gryph

Lalit Jairath, leader of the U of G Yoga and Meditation Collective, has promoted health and wellness in the University community for more than 10 years.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, he instituted online yoga and meditation sessions, including running an international speaker series sponsored by U of G’s Wellness@Work program. He has touched the lives of hundreds of participants, virtually all of whom have reported improved physical and mental health.

Known as an inspiring, selfless leader, Lalit has demonstrated a commitment to improve life, nurture positivity and promote health, wellness and work-life balance across campus.

Hidden Hero Recognition Award

Tom Smith

Thomas Smith

A technician in the Department of Plant Agriculture, Tom Smith has worked for 37 years in peanut, canola and dry bean breeding. Working with Dr. Peter Pauls, he designs and executes field trials for variety development and for graduate student experimental projects.

A team player and leader, Tom serves as a valued mentor and adviser for new staff, including students from high school to graduate level. He helps ensure that U of G breeding programs produce quality data, key to multiple new inventions and licensed varieties for the University each year.

Tom’s efforts regularly go above and beyond his official job description.  He exemplifies the U of G’s Strategic Framework theme of building a connected community.

Claire Piovesan

Claire Piovesan

A custodian in U of G’s Food Science building, Claire Piovesan demonstrates a self-driven work ethic and commitment to improve life for other University community members.

Early in the pandemic, she helped implement policies to ensure the safety and productivity of graduate student researchers, including safe use of space, proper sanitization of surfaces and acquisition of personal protective equipment.

Beyond her normal custodial duties, Claire provided much-needed emotional support and morale-boosting for students isolated from families early in the COVID-19 lockdown. Her commitment to the work and wellness of others embodies values long upheld by U of G.

Innovative Leadership Recognition Award

Lisa Tersigni Holt

Lisa Tersigni-Holt

A long-time, trusted employee, Lisa Tersigni-Holt leads a Hospitality Services team that provides conference and catering management services for high-profile U of G events from Alumni Weekend to convocation week. Her team also hosts numerous external groups from the Guelph General Hospital and Guelph Chamber of Commerce to provincial and national sports organizations and led in shifting to virtual platforms for these gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This past year, Lisa led a University team collaborating with city and regional public health bodies to plan, organize and run the campus community clinic that administered more than 80,000 vaccinations between mid-March and early August.

In every project that Lisa is involved with, her innovative and collaborative approach makes a tremendous impact.

Erin Doherty

Erin Doherty

Erin Doherty manages the operations of the John F. Wood Centre and leads staff and volunteers in delivering collaborative entrepreneurship and innovation training across campus.

Her passion for empowering students and preparing them for a rapidly changing workforce led her to develop an innovation toolkit to enable faculty members to teach transferable skills. She co-created the Improve Life Challenge enabling students to enhance their critical thinking and problem solving skills through working with community, industry and government partners to create solutions for real-world challenges.

Erin consistently goes beyond her role to create innovative, impactful learning experiences. Through teaching and course design, including development of a capstone biology course, Erin has supported and encouraged thousands of students across campus.

Service Excellence Recognition Award

Katherine Rodriguez

Appointed as U of G’s COVID-19 clinic nurse, Katherine Rodriguez has collaborated with Housing Services, Occupational Health and Wellness, and Physical Resources to help prevent disease spread and ensure campus safety during the pandemic.

She has led initiatives to assess students, staff and faculty for COVID-19 risk, to provide health information to community members and her peers and to promote public health guidelines and directives.

Described as a resilient, inspirational champion for campus safety, Katherine is known as a trusted source of knowledge and information among her peers and as a primary health-services contact for students. In this new role, she regularly took the initiative, always leading by example and inspiring others.

During today’s event, Yates congratulated 24 long-term service employees joining U of G’s 25-year club in 2021.

She also named winners of two other awards:

Dr. William Winegard Exemplary Volunteer Involvement Award

John Walsh

John Walsh

Dr. John Walsh, School of Languages and Literatures, has made a phenomenal impact on the University of Guelph community, both inside and outside of the classroom

He designed the Serving Scholar Program – among the first of its kind in Canada – to support student reservists as they complete their degrees. He has organized numerous student and U of G community events, including developing a virtual graduation ceremony for 2020 classics graduates.

He has contributed upwards of 225 volunteer hours in supporting students and the greater community, including conducting weddings as an ordained minister for other Gryphons, past and present, free of charge.

Samantha Casey

Samantha Casey

Samantha Casey is an avid volunteer who possesses a wealth of experience in building community, mobilizing youth and leading action-oriented projects.

In her work at U of G’s Sustainability Office and with Hospitality Services, she champions community and campus involvement by assisting students, staff, and faculty with developing and implementing campus sustainability projects.

Her volunteerism began largely during her studies in environmental governance at U of G, as she looked for meaningful ways to get involved on and off campus. Since graduating in 2019, she has held numerous volunteer roles for varied organizations, including serving as a board member for 10C – Guelph’s social innovation hub, co-founder of the youth-founded Community Climate Council, chief development officer for the youth-led national climate organization Shake Up the Establishment and foster coordinator for Sea Paws Dog Rescue.  

Excellence in Undergraduate Academic Advising Medallion

Shannon Lapenskie

Shannon Lapenskie

An assistant BA degree program counsellor, Shannon Lapenskie has worked with numerous students as an integral member of the BA Counselling Office for 17 years.

Known as a caring, kind, competent and helpful professional, she draws upon strong interpersonal skills and on counselling and solution-focused interviewing abilities to help students plan for academic success.

Known as the “office encyclopedia,” she supports faculty, staff and students across 24 degree majors and 56 minors, drawing upon her intimate knowledge of often-complex program requirements and U of G academic regulations, policies and procedures. Shannon has provided invaluable contributions to admission and BA program committees to help improve decisions and processes and is considered a “go-to” person in the office for faculty members, department chairs and other senior administrators.

Shannon makes herself available to students even outside of her regular appointment and drop-in hours and, as a team player, accommodates queries from other office staff members.

University of Guelph-Humber Academic Advising Team

“A circle of care” is one description of the University of Guelph-Humber Academic Advising Team. Among its eight members, the team has a combined 66 years of serving individual students and supporting faculty and administrators.

Team members attend numerous student recruitment and orientation events, conduct classroom visits and workshops, and arrange non-traditional office hours for far-flung students.

They advise individuals in crisis and find solutions to ensure continued progress in varied programs. Through its “You Turn” program, the team focuses on “at-risk” first-year students, collaborating with various services from accessibility to counselling to peer tutoring to enable academic success.

UG-H academic advisers direct learning support peers, who offer numerous supports such as “Make the Grade” workshops on topics ranging from time management and test preparation to self-management and self-care.

The team has reduced student program withdrawals and academic probation, and ensured early interventions focused on student success.