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Arbor Awards celebrate OISE’s outstanding volunteers

October 15, 2019


Nine members of the OISE community were recognized with Arbor Awards on October 10 for their outstanding volunteer service.


Each year, OISE's Mentorship Program pairs hundreds of students with an experienced alumni mentor who provides them guidance and support in finding success in their field. Mentors and mentees are carefully matched according to their field of study and expertise, interests, learning styles and program goals – and behind every successful pairing is Xin Wang, Director of Treasury Analytics at CIBC and dedicated OISE volunteer.

Two years ago, the computing expert who holds two PhDs, designed a unique software program that leverages natural language processing, graph theory and optimization techniques to sort through hundreds of mentor and mentee profiles and create the best possible matches. Last year, at just a click of a button, Wang’s innovative program generated over 250 high quality mentorship pairings.

Before he came along, matching was done manually by a committee of volunteers that included Wang's wife, Celina Cheng. When Wang saw how time-consuming and arduous the process was, he was inspired to help.

“We all know manual processes are inconsistent and prone to error. With my programming background, I knew I could help automate the process and facilitate stronger matches. Putting my knowledge to work and giving back to the community in this way has been very rewarding,” said Wang, who continues to volunteer his time enhancing the mentorship program. 

Wang's contributions were recognized last Thursday when he was presented with a University of Toronto Arbor Award by President Meric Gertler at a ceremony at the Carlu. The annual award recognizes volunteers who have generously lent their time and talent to the university.

Wang was joined by eight other OISE award winners, including The Honourable Gillian E. Roberts who spent over a decade volunteering at OISE’s Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study (EJICS) where her children attended school.


The Honourable Gillian E. Roberts with fellow Arbor Award winner Xin Wang. 

As president of the Parents’ Association, Roberts overhauled the group’s constitution and statement of purpose, ensured that that every voice was heard and welcomed dozens of new families into the school. She also coached both her children’s soccer teams until they took up baseball instead.

Roberts, a judge of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario, says she is motivated by a deep sense of community responsibility instilled in her at an early age by her parents.

“Growing up in my house, you could never stand by while someone else worked. You had to pitch in,” she said, noting that when she went on sabbatical at work, she used it to give even more time to the school. 

Roberts remembers the time her family spent at EJICS as some of the “happiest” of her life and attributes this to her volunteerism.

“My mother had a saying for everything, but one of her favourites was you get out of things what you put into them. I believe the more you are involved at EJICS, the richer your experience will be. I met some incredible people volunteering at the school who I hope to have as friends for the rest of my life,” she said.

Here is the full list of OISE’s 2019 Arbor Award recipients:

Valerie Gow has been a member of the Parents’ Association at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study since 2011. Gow volunteers to support literacy education, and is a lead planner of many Institute events, including its annual library fundraiser, graduation and lunar new year celebrations.

Kenneth C. Hoffman is Chair of the OISE Alumni Association’s Calgary Chapter. Hoffman’s skills in event planning and brand advocacy have increased alumni outreach, recruitment and fundraising in the region. As chair of the OISE Alumni and Friends Reception at Congress in 2016, he helped make the event a rousing success.

Awad Ibrahim is Chair of the OISE Alumni Association’s Ottawa Chapter where he coordinates regional alumni events and support programs.

Wakako Ishikawa has been an OISE Alumni Association Committee Member since 2003. She has helped plan numerous events at OISE, including alumni reunions, open houses, and the annual R.W.B. Jackson Lecture. Her energy and passion have bolstered the OISE’s alumni recruitment and engagement efforts.

Sofya Malik is Chair of the annual OISE Alumni and Friends Leadership Series, a lecture series produced by and for OISE alumni. She served on the OISE Young Alumni Council from 2016 to 2018, is a member of the OISE Alumni Association Board, and serves as the OISE representative on the College of Electors.

Nikoletta Papadopoulos is an OISE Alumni Association Committee Member, and currently the group’s Treasurer. She volunteers on the Mentorship Program Committee, has served on the College of Electors since 2016, and is a frequent contributor to alumni reunions, lecture series and social events.

Gillian E. Roberts has been deeply committed to the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study for more than a decade. As a past President of the Parents’ Association, she overhauled the association’s constitution and statement of purpose, and welcomed dozens of new families into the school community.

Kristen E. Thomson is a member of the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Parents’ Association and has volunteered to support the Alumni Echo Newsletter, events, trips and class programs. She has donated auction items, raising thousands of dollars for the Patrick Harvie Arts Fund and the Diana Rankin Muncaster Tuition Support Fund.

Xin Wang has provided tremendous support to the OISE Alumni Association Mentorship Program, where he has created an innovative data-matching system, pairing hundreds of students with alumni mentors. He is also a gracious supporter of the Lunar New Year Celebration event.