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2018 Nominees

Women of Distinction Awards




Young Women of Distinction




Chelsea Mackinnon

Chelsea Mackinnon is a passionate advocate for the role of music in health care. She is committed to reducing isolation and loneliness in seniors through her research, education, employment, and volunteerism. She believes that intergenerational music interactions between youth and seniors not only improves the life of seniors, but also creates more cohesive, respectful, and collaborative communities. This level of commitment is enacted daily with enthusiasm, care, and genuine concern. She’s the total package: intelligent, competent, compassionate, and considerate. She’s solution-oriented, dedicated to evidence-based approaches to establishing the role of music in health care, and mature beyond her years. Chelsea is the ideal balance of think-listen-talk-act, a rare and winning combination that’s needed for innovative leadership in our community.


Shaarujaa Nadarajah

Known for her use of the phrase “Have Some Fire”, Shaarujaa Nadarajah is committed to getting more women involved in elected governance. She is a fourth-year Life Sciences student at McMaster University where she has been vice-president (administration) of the McMaster Students Union and president of McMaster Relay for Life. She is engaged in student life through her involvement with philanthropic clubs and student governance. She had a particular interest in increasing training for sexual violence prevention on university campuses and to break electoral barriers that existed for women, particularly those who come from marginalized and disadvantaged groups. Currently, she works at the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging on a project that aims to create an intergenerational space that bridges the gap between older adults and students.


Ushma Purohit

Ushma Purohit is a prominent leader on the McMaster campus who is a role model to many. As an avid intersectional feminist, Ushma founded the first Canadian chapter of the organization, She’s the First, which champions education of girls in low-income countries. Ushma’s sense of responsibility to alleviate social issues is also apparent through her extensive involvement with organizations such the Canadian Mental Health Association. As co-president of UNICEF McMaster, Ushma is supporting the creation of a safe and nurturing environment for children around the world. Ushma aims to combine her interest in health care with her passion for humanitarianism to contribute to the field of mental health at a local and international level. In particular, she hopes to advocate for underprivileged and marginalized populations.


Padmaja Sreeram

Padmaja Sreeram is an undergraduate student in McMaster University’s Bachelors of Health Sciences program who is passionate about health and social equity, action-oriented leadership, and active citizenship. She manages an intersectional feminist organization at McMaster University which advocates for, builds community within, and provides peer support to survivors of gender-based violence, women, transgender and non-conforming students. Her vision, integrity, and drive for social change motivates her to undertake a broad range of advocacy-based initiatives to promote gender equity and combat gender-based violence. Padmaja plans to service gender-oppressed patients as a physician and policymaker using anti-oppressive, anti-racist, and innovative intersectional practices to incite clinical and health system-level improvements in health inequities. She will join the University of Toronto’s MD program this September.


Maryam Vaseghi-Shanjani

Since Maryam Vaseghi-Shanjani immigrated to Canada in 2007, she has been expanding her role as an influential female through countless roles. In 2013, Maryam was recognized and awarded by the Iranian Women’s Organization of Ontario for her exceptional involvement in the community as a female youth leader. Since then, she has taken even a greater role as an advocate for gender equality and equal opportunities for women. As a member of the Hamilton community, Maryam has not only shown a deep understanding of community issues, but she has taken part in addressing them through innovative approaches. As a young scientist, she is driven to pursue her dreams and has been a role model and inspired other women to do so.


Arts | Culture | Design


Kristin Archer

Kristin Archer is the creator of I Heart Hamilton, which is a blog, radio show, and an enormous presence in Hamilton's social media scene. Kristin built up a significant following around the idea of being a tourist in your own city, and has used this huge audience to do much good for the city. She is a tireless supporter of local artists and entrepreneurs, particularly women in the arts. You'll find Kristin around the city, attending shows and then writing about them or interviewing the artists and performers on her radio show. Kristin is the past recipient of two Hamilton Music Awards and the Food4Kids Big Heart Award.


Jacquie Crossley

If dance is a universal language, Jacquie Crossley speaks it fluently! On the heels of earning a second chance at life, Jacquie opened Studio 12 and uses dance to inspire and encourage others, especially those struggling with challenges and anxieties. From a young age, Jacquie trained and competed in all dance genres and successfully completed her RAD ballet examinations. In 2005, she founded the Bishop Tonnos Dance Team — Canada’s first team to perform at Miami’s Orange Bowl half-time show. In 2008, she co-captained the Canadian National Tap Team, winning gold and bronze in Germany. In 2009, she tapped her way to So You Think You Can Dance Canada. Jacquie works at McMaster University and is a proud McMaster alum, earning an Honours B.Sc.Kin degree in 2012.


Marlaise Dawson

Marlaise Dawson is a vibrant, enthusiastic community builder and artist advocate. She was raised in the Netherlands and made Hamilton her home in 1974. With a background in international business administration and former government positions, she and her husband became trailblazers in the Hamilton art scene in 1995 when they purchased the historic Hamilton Bridge & Tank building and repurposed into artist studios and The Gallery on the Bay, featuring local and regional artists. As a leader, she has collaborated, mentored and celebrated numerous local, Canadian, and internationally recognized artists of visual art, literature, poetry, music, film, theatre, and local art schools. In film, she has produced one feature, four shorts, and theatrical productions featured in the Hamilton Fringe Festival.


Kamini Persaud

Kamini Jaya Persaud is completing her Honours Communication Degree at McMaster University. Throughout her undergraduate career, she has taken up many co-curricular activities related to her coursework in public relations and marketing. Primarily, through her work with the McMaster Association of West Indian Students (MACaws) highlighting the group as a platform for diverse activity with a charitable cause. At McMaster University, Kamini has left her mark through encouraging minority student leaders in her community to strive above and beyond within the student union passing on opportunities for growth and professional development. Kamini is optimistic that her strive towards community enhancement and youth engagement will not diminish, but only grow as she continues through her professional career.


Madeline Wilson

Madeline is the founder and president of Front Room Entertainment, an artist management and concert promotion company that combines her passion for music and the arts with her commitment to positive social change. Madeline is a proud Mohawk woman who was raised in Hamilton, growing up in the world of music and understands that music is an important force for connecting communities and enriching lives. Whether raising funds for important causes or showcasing the unique venues and musical talent in Hamilton, Madeline has made a significant impact. She is particularly passionate about recognizing the individual contribution made by musicians. Creating not-for-profit to assist with access to health supports and service is very much one of Madeline’s goals for the near future.


Business Leadership | Entrepreneurship


Erin Dunham

Erin Dunham was born in, lives in, and bleeds Hamilton. As an undergraduate, Erin studied English and writing at Western University before returning to Hamilton for her MBA at McMaster University. Erin’s passion for creative writing survived her business schooling, and she has two published novels. As the CEO of The Other Bird, Erin is one half of the creative team behind a group of restaurants designed to enthrall the taste buds of diners seeking interesting culinary experiences. The Other Bird’s restaurants include Rapscallion Rogue Eatery, Two Black Sheep, Black Sheep Snack Bar, The Mule, Burro Tacos, and the Arlington Hotel. Erin has two Bernese mountain dogs named Sampson and Bruce. She is a painter who loves to sit back with a big fat red wine and a cigar.


Sarah Sordoni

Sarah is an inspiring, compassionate, and successful business woman who is a role model to many, regardless of age, size, or ethnicity. She is an Honours graduate, obtaining her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Ryerson University. Sarah has grown her own dance studio from 50 students in two small rooms over a car wash to a 20,000 sq/ft indoor sports facility with classes in dance, gymnastics, martial arts, theatre, and adult fitness in only five years. She also offers PA day programs, summer camps, and birthday parties. Her successful business model now services thousands, and employs nearly 30. Sarah has the honour of creating Waterdown's first and only gymnastics facility, along with other innovative programs all at one convenient location.


Community Leadership


Miracle Chukwu

Miracle Chukwu is passionate about women’s wellbeing and empowerment through her volunteer and advocacy work at women organizations and other organizations in Hamilton. She is a member of the Status of Women Committee, WAWG Survivors Advisory Committee, and was on the board of directors at Hamilton Legal Clinic and the Women Housing Planning Collaborative Committee. She is in McMaster University’s Health and Aging program, and is the mother of a two-and-a-half year old son. Miracle is the founder of the not-for-profit organization Sisters Circle Canada. The Circle runs a free positive motivational support group for women, giving them the opportunity to gather and share ideas despite race, religion, age, sexual orientation, and social class. Her drive is to see women focus on their abilities and discover their strength.


Suzanne Lemaich L

A REALTOR® since 2008, Suzanne Lemaich L provides residential and commercial real estate services in Hamilton/Burlington. She is a 100% Club member averaging 20 transactions per year and an Accredited Senior Agent. Suzanne is a 6x Canadian, 2x World Women’s Snooker Champion, 2007-12 Canadian Billiards and Snooker Association president, founder of Women’s Snooker Association, and served as an international discipline committee member. In 1991 Suzanne founded Breakfast with Santa, a jointly operated program with Good Shepherd, and for 26 years it has been offering children a beautiful moment of joy receiving a gift of their choice from Santa. Suzanne volunteered with elderly care and heads up a local snooker league in her spare time.


Michelle Martin

Working for The Salvation Army Lawson Ministries Hamilton as coordinator of the Community Access to Transportation (CAT) program, Michelle has developed and implemented a program that has serviced over 200 Hamilton adults and transition-aged youth with developmental disabilities by teaching them to use the HSR safely and independently. She began developing the CAT curriculum in 2011, and by 2016 the program was granted permanent funding by the HSR. Michelle is continuously exploring ways to make the Hamilton community and the GTA more accessible to its most vulnerable groups and her efforts have been recognized by Accessible Transportation Services. As a devoted mentor, she is committed to helping others live out their potential.


Grace Mater

Throughout her years of public service, Grace Mater has been committed to collaborative approaches that enhance the lives of children and families in Hamilton. Through her leadership of the Best Start Initiative, Hamilton created a community-based planning approach that was recognized as best practice provincially. Grace led investment strategies that saw innovative approaches such as service provider networks and mobile child development services. She led child care expansion and modernization across Hamilton that dramatically reduced wait times for children needing financial assistance for childcare. Grace led the creation of the Children and Youth Charter of Rights which was recognized by the United Nations. Grace demonstrates how we work together to make Hamilton the best place to raise a child.


Claudette Mikelsons

Claudette Mikelsons has worked with newcomers in the employment and education sectors for almost 20 years. She is Regional Manager of Collège Boréal in Hamilton and Welland and the former director of the Centre Français de Hamilton. She has served her community as a school trustee and has been a member of boards in the francophone community as well as that of Workforce Planning Hamilton, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, and HIPC Council. Claudette has been a trailblazer in the francophone community. At the same time, she has been influential in the creation of significant partnerships to ensure the integration and success of newcomers in the city of Hamilton.


Carolina Ortiz

Carolina Ortiz has been part of the Colombian Refugees Association since its beginning and she is identified as woman leader in the Hispanic and refugee’s community in Hamilton. As a resident of Hamilton she is contributing significantly to support refugee’s claimants and newcomers in Canada. Most of her work has been done by key community initiatives, including the foundation and development of the Colombian Refugees Association where she has inspired other women to work together supporting the needs of refugees by providing direction and facilitating their access to essential needs such as shelter, food, value information to access to English classes or employment and other useful and free resources in the community with the objective of help refugee’s people to establish in Canada.


Vasie Papadopoulos

Vasie Papadopoulos was born and raised in Hamilton. She has over 12 years of experience in the public and private sectors working at GO Transit-Metrolinx and FSCO. She has worked as a political assistant to the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, Sheila Copps. She now works as the Fiscal Affairs Manager for Philip Morris International in Canada. For 14 years she has supported women’s rights and affordable housing. She is the Canadian Chapter Chair for Building Trust International, the Board Chair for Culture for Kids in the Arts, and a board member for Habitat for Humanity Hamilton. She is the founder of the volunteer organization OurWrite. She has degrees from the University of Ottawa, the University of Edinburgh, and is currently completing her executive MBA at Ivey Business School.


Sandra Stephenson

Sandra Stephenson is a partner in the firm ESB LLP in Hamilton and practices in the areas of estate planning and administration and corporate law. She likes working in these two distinct areas of the law because she can offer comprehensive support and advice to business clients. She is actively involved with several professional and community organizations including YMCA, the McMaster Alumni Association, the Hamilton Family Health Team, the Hamilton Community Foundation, the Hamilton Law Association, and the Rotary Club of Hamilton. In 2011, Sandra was inducted into both the McMaster Alumni Gallery and the Hamilton Gallery of Distinction.


Education Mentorship


Claire Arsenault

As the Athletics & Recreation Student Services Coordinator at McMaster University, Claire Arsenault provides Marauder student-athletes with the direction and support required to make informed decisions about their academic career while managing the various demands of being a varsity athlete. Most recently, Claire was the driving force behind the development of a women’s leadership program, providing female student-athletes with an opportunity to develop leadership skills and creating a positive space to share their experiences about being a woman in the world of sport. For Claire, the reward lies within the service itself – providing student-athletes with the tools necessary to achieve academic success, offering support to those who need it and most importantly, always placing the experience of the student-athlete first.


Dr. Lorraine Carter

Lorraine Carter, PhD is the Director of the Centre for Continuing Education at McMaster University. Since coming to Hamilton in 2015, she has made substantive contributions to the community through her shared leadership of a program called Leadership in Community Engagement for professionals who work in community contexts. Her work also involves working with diverse partners including but not limited to Hamilton Health Sciences, the City of Hamilton, Xperience Annex, Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, Hamilton Legal Clinic, and Hamilton Public Library. Lorraine has developed important new partnerships with various research institutes and faculties at McMaster, supported the development of nine new programs offered by the Centre, and provided leadership in positioning the Centre as a place of community and professional learning.


Dr. Kimberley Dej

Dr. Kimberley Dej is an associate professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Science at McMaster University. She is a consummate teacher, innovator, leader and science “whisperer” to many students and colleagues. Dr. Dej is genuine,collaborative, generous with her time, and willing to listen to students and colleagues alike. She exudes humility and a genuine love and passion for all things science. Dr. Dej is an outstanding teacher and mentor who ignites curiosity and passion in her students, and encourages them to chart their own career path while pursuing their dreams in STEM and STEAM fields. Dr. Dej’s passion for science inspires girls and young women in our community to achieve their full potential in fields predominantly dominated by men.


Anju Joshi

Anju Joshi is a remarkable educator and mentor whose breadth and depth of contributions over the past 33 years have helped to make Hamilton a more caring and inclusive community. Anju is an associate professor at McMaster University in the department of Health, Aging, and Society. She is a leader in the fields of gerontology, case management, resilience, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Her teaching extends beyond McMaster students to community members and health and social service professionals. Anju supports others to develop personal wellness and resilience by teaching yoga and meditation. She has served as a founding director of the Hamilton Council on Aging and is a board member of the Hamilton Community Foundation. Anju is a dynamic role model for her students and citizens in our community.


Carla LaBella

Carla LaBella (M.A., CAPP) is a professor of psychology in the School of Liberal Studies, Mohawk College. Her engaging and dynamic teaching style has attracted hundreds of people to her popular wellness series where she encourages participants to be mindful, practice self-care, cultivate self-compassion, and ultimately live their purpose. Her passion for building resiliency has led to the co-development of the college's first ever positive psychology course. She also has a strong commitment to community mental wellness as she serves as vice-chair for the Suicide Prevention Community Council of Hamilton and is a board member for the Hamilton Program for Schizophrenia. Aside from being a teacher, she is a mom to two active boys, and a partner to her husband.


Maureen MacDonald

Maureen MacDonald is a faculty member in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University. She is an internationally renowned researcher in the area of cardiovascular exercise physiology and has directly supervised over 100 undergraduate and graduate students since her appointment in 2000. Maureen has served as the Director of the School of Interdisciplinary Science at McMaster University and was recently appointed as the first female Dean of Science. She continues to interact regularly with graduate and undergraduate students and plays an active role in their day to day training despite the demands of a busy administrative schedule. She is a mother to three teenage boys and is actively involved in the community.


Cheryl Paterson

Cheryl Paterson is an elementary student success teacher with the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board. Throughout her career, she has taught various grades from Grade 1 to university level courses. Cheryl has inspired both students and fellow colleagues to find their passion and inspiration in education through real world experiences and connections to community organizations. Her dedication to education also inspired her vision to establish the SAGE program, HWDSB's first Program of Choice. In addition to being a passionate educator, Cheryl is an activist and humanitarian who seeks out opportunities to support citizens in our community. Her extensive work with organizations such as Longer Table, Hamilton Out of the Cold, the Terry Fox Run, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation reinforces Cheryl’s commitment to Hamilton.


Outstanding Workplace


Alectra Utilities

Alectra Utilities is shaping the future of energy as we know it. Our mission is to be the energy ally that our customers expect us to be. We are equipped to discover the possibilities of energy conservation and new technologies for enhancing the quality of life of our customers, nearly one million families and businesses across the Greater Golden Horseshoe area. Alectra Utilities was created through the merger of four progressive and innovative electricity distributors, each with histories steeped in pioneering firsts, groundbreaking achievements, and memorable milestones, who came together for a common goal — to be a single trusted ally in the rapidly changing world of energy.




Jenny McEwen-Hill

Jenny McEwen-Hill is a mother of three and a dedicated physiotherapist living and working fulltime in Hamilton. Jenny is committed to empowering her patients and ensuring the best care for all. She demonstrates proven leadership in the application of evidence-based care that benefits local practitioners, students, and rehabilitation professionals abroad. Jenny contributes to research initiatives, publications/posters, and teaching assignments that progress the interdisciplinary field of pediatric rehabilitation. As a community volunteer, Jenny developed the Able Sail program for individuals living with disabilities in Hamilton. She works tirelessly to support the program and demonstrates her innovation by co-creating a novel dockside lift, named “The Jenny” in her honour. Jenny is unfaltering in her drive to change lives, and she succeeds!


Pearl F. Veenema

President and CEO of the Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation, Pearl also serves on the Board of Trustees for Children’s Miracle Network, the Mohawk College Foundation Board, and the MacKay CEO forum. As a former nurse, Pearl finds daily inspiration from the patients and families whom she has engaged with as part of The Foundation’s work. Grateful for the support of individuals, corporations, and foundations, Pearl takes pride in sharing the impact that donors make in enabling often urgent and life-altering care for patients. Pearl is a Fellow of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP) and is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE). She has received the Harold J. (Si) Seymour Award from AHP in recognition of a career that reflects excellence in fostering volunteerism and philanthropy.


Dr. Jill Wiwcharuk

Dr. Jill Wiwcharuk has a long history of working with marginalized populations both in Canada and abroad. Before her career in medicine, Jill spent time working with children of leprosy sufferers in India and homeless individuals in Holland. She is currently the lead physician of the Shelter Health Network where she focuses on homelessness, poverty, addictions, and mental health. Jill also works at a local methadone clinic and as an ER physician in the Brantford General Hospital.


Science | Technology | Trades


Karen Bird

Dr. Karen Bird was born in Hamilton and raised in rural Flamborough. She is now Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at McMaster University. Her award-winning research focuses on ethnic and gender diversity, intersectionality, and the political representation of women, Indigenous groups, and immigrant-origin and ethnic minorities in parliaments around the world. Recently, she co-founded at McMaster the Academic Women’s Success and Mentorship (AWSM) Committee, which organizes a high-profile, pubic speaker series of female leaders as well as advocates for recruitment, retention, and success of female faculty members. She has also played a leadership role in YWCA Hamilton and McMaster University’s EXCLerator Report in recent years.


Kathy Lerette

Kathy Lerette is the Senior Vice President of Business Transformation at Alectra Utilities, created through the merger of Enersource, Horizon Utilities, PowerStream, and Brampton Hydro. She is responsible for the successful delivery of Alectra’s integration plans and organizational effectiveness. A certified engineering technologist, Kathy has led engineering, operations and construction divisions. She has been a champion of continuous improvement and initiatives that drive increased levels of performance throughout her 35-year electricity industry career. Kathy currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the Electricity Human Resources Canada Board and is representing the Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists on a three-year project to address barriers that contribute to the under representation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).


Dr. Karen Mossman

Dr. Karen Mossman is the Associate Vice-President (Research) for McMaster University and former Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences. She was recruited to the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at McMaster University as an Assistant Professor in 2001, and now holds the title of Full Professor. Dr. Mossman has made seminal contributions to the understanding of how cells sense viral infections, and in turn, how viruses evade detection by host cells. More recently, her efforts have also focused on development of “oncolytics” — therapeutic viruses used to fight cancer. Dr. Mossman is a passionate advocate for woman in science and in the local community — where she current serves as President of the Rotary Club of Ancaster AM.


Life Achievement


Anju Joshi
Kathy Lerette
Claudette Mikelsons
Jenny McEwen-Hill
Sandra Stephenson
Pearl F. Veenema