U of T students who crushed it in 2016

Photo of Stephanie Gaglione
Stephanie Gaglione, U of T's latest Rhodes Scholar, was one of many students who truly shone this year

It was a big year for University of Toronto students – they reached the Olympic podium, won Rhodes scholarships, designed cooling vests for labourers in the Middle East and marched at the head of Toronto's Pride Parade. 

U of T News looks back on some of our student highlights from this year, checking in with some students for their aspirations for the coming year.

Rhodes scholars

Stephanie Gaglione’s professors always knew she had a bright future. This fall, the chemical engineering major, rock climber and Varsity figure skater was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. The prestigious annual scholarship covers up to three years of postgraduate study at the University of Oxford. 

She joins James Flynn, Jessica Phillips and Kaleem Hawa, U of T students who won the scholarship last year and were set to begin their studies at Oxford this fall. Flynn is a political science student and former managing editor of The Varsity who wants to pursue a master's degree in social science of the Internet as well as a public policy degree, Phillips hopes to study penguins in Antarctica, and Hawa plans to study immunology and global governance and diplomacy, learning more about pandemic threats such as Ebola and SARS. 

“In the new year, I hope to continue learning and growing in my academic and personal life,” Flynn said. “I also plan to continue giving back to my community including people at the University of Toronto who have offered me so much guidance and support.”


Benson Cheung, who majored in history and political science, was one of five U of T students who were invited to the Undergraduate Awards summit in Ireland (photo courtesy of Benson Cheung) 

Five U of T undergrads travelled to the Emerald Isle to attend a summit with other bright young minds from around the world after being commended for writing insightful essays on topics like the American political climate after 9/11 through the lens of monster blockbusters and using modern data analysis to review an influential 19th-century linguistics book. 

Leah Brainin, Benson Cheung, Anna Deregowski, Anneliese Mills and Hilary Pang were invited to the Undergraduate Awards summit in Ireland after their essays made the top 10 per cent of submissions in their category. The awards recognize creative and outstanding undergraduate coursework.

In the coming year, Pang wants to organize a public policy campaign with the U of T chapter of the Heart and Stroke Foundation to reduce sugary marketing to kids. 

Future systems engineers

The National Academy of Engineering honoured two University of Toronto undergrads – Rachel Andrade and Clara Stoesser – with a first-place award for their video “Refugee Crisis,” which explored how systems engineering can be applied to the plight of refugees.

Stoesser, a fourth-year student in industrial engineering, and Andrade, a third-year student in media studies at U of T Scarborough, examined how engineers can help improve everything from conditions in refugee camps to supports for newcomers in host countries. 

Pride ambassador

In her late 20s, Jordyn Samuels has already worked with LGBTQ community groups for more than a decade. At 16, she volunteered at a community health centre, training in equity and anti-oppression. More recently, she has worked for a community development program at the Sherbourne Health Centre for queer and trans spectrum youth. 

In recognition of her contributions to the LGBTQ community, the equity studies and sexual diversity studies double-major was chosen to be Pride Toronto’s Youth Ambassador

“Oh my goodness, my mother is coming to the Pride Parade to watch me co-lead it!” she tweeted the day of the event. “What is the magic that is this weekend?”

Class of 2016

Clive Davies, a retired police officer, graduated from the history specialist program this year. He was 59 years older than his youngest classmates. (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Who can forget U of T's spring 2016 grad Clive Davies? A former Toronto police officer, he started studying history at U of T in 1977.

That’s when he took a break – one which lasted a quarter century. 

He stood out at Convocation this spring. But although he has graduated, he isn’t finished with school just yet - he plans to come back in January to take a language course.

“Since I’m going to Lisbon in June, I might try learning a little Portuguese,” he said.

For Mihil Patel, it was while he was at his grandmother’s bedside in India in her dying days, that he decided to become a doctor. She was able to say goodbye to her family thanks to the treatment she received. 

The U of T Scarborough student got one step closer to his goal after graduating last summer and receiving the John Black Aird award for the top undergrad at the university.

Helping disability advocate Kathleen Forestell graduate this fall and walk across the stage at Convocation Hall to receive her master's degree in counselling psychology was her guide dog, Tiffany, a two-year-old black Labrador retriever.

“I’m going to very proud to walk across the stage with her,” she says. “I want people to see, ‘Yes, we’re here, and yes, you can do this, too!’”


Horizon, the solar car designed, built and raced by the University of Toronto’s Blue Sky Solar Racing team races across Missouri at the American Solar Challenge 2016 (photo courtesy of Blue Sky Solar Racing)

Racing innovators

University of Toronto's Blue Sky Solar Racing team won a bronze medal in the American Solar Challenge – an eight-day, rally-style solar car race. The event, which is divided into four stages, covers 3,178 kilometres through the American Midwest.

Horizon is an eighth-generation vehicle at U of T. It made the trip with an official time of 62 hours, 11 minutes and three seconds, powered only by electricity generated from sunlight.

​Indigenous Students of the Year

Audrey Rochette and Atik Bird are top students, but that isn’t the only reason they earned the President’s Awards for Indigenous Student of the Year in December. Both have contributed to their Indigenous communities. Rochette has made a difference through her leadership in the Native Student Association and by organizing on-campus screenings of Indigenous films with the imagineNATIVE film and media arts festival. Bird was recognized for her work with at an Indigenous women's shelter in Toronto.

Scholars & Activists

Three U of T PhD students were among the 15 winners of the Trudeau Scholarship, widely regarded as the most prestigious doctoral award for the social sciences and humanities in Canada. The scholarship provides an annual grant of $60,000 for at least three years.

Christopher Campbell-Duruflé, who was an observer at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21), hopes to use the scholarship to study a new emphasis on reporting and review mechanisms to compel states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ido Katri has been a trans community advocate for a decade. He told U of T News he wants to use the scholarship “to bring those marginalized voices to the forefront of current and future public debates.”

Cynthia Morinville uses documentary filmmaking and photography to tell the stories of informal workers who extract rare metals from discarded electronic waste.

“Whenever you ask questions about environmental sustainability, you have to start with social justice and equality,” she said.


Chizoba Imoka, a PhD student at OISE, received the Clarkson Laureate for Public Service award for her work with Unveiling Africa (photo by Johnny Guatto)

After Chizoba Imoka moved from Nigeria to Alberta, she learned that many Canadians had misconceptions about her native country and Africa. As an undergrad at the University of Alberta, she started Unveiling Africa, an organization to counter misperceptions about Africa and a platform for African youth in diaspora to contribute to the continent’s development. 

Now a PhD student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and junior fellow at Massey College, Imoka received the college’s highest honour in January – the Clarkson Laureate for Public Service – for her ongoing work with Unveiling Africa and for spreading awareness about the importance of diversity at Massey.


Adam Sheikh’s eureka moment came watching a video of Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame put on a costume from the movie Aliens at a comic convention. The vest was meant to keep the actors cool under their heavy costumes. 

Why not put that concept to work elsewhere?

He and fellow U of T students started the non-profit, Aegis, to equip construction workers in the Gulf region with vests to keep them cool despite the sweltering heat. Last summer, Aegis tested the vests in Qatar with migrant labourers working on infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.

“In a one-month period, the number of workers who had high blood pressure dropped by 50 per cent,” Sheikh said.

And finally...the Olympians

Trampolinist Rosie MacLennan, a U of T alumna and master’s student in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, won Olympic gold for the second time at the Rio 2016 Games.

Rosie MacLennan, a U of T graduate who is now a master's student in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, competed at the Rio Games (photo by Sandy Nicholson)

The three-time Olympian became the first Canadian summer athlete to defend an individual Olympic gold medal. She was the only Canadian gold medal winner at the London Games in 2012. 

Fellow KPE student and Varsity Blues swimmer Kylie Masse won the bronze in the 100-metre women’s backstroke. Masse earned praise from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Twitter.

Do you have a favourite student story from 2016? We’d love to hear about it! 

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