YWCA Women of Distinction Awards recognize extraordinary leaders and changemakers

From a current student to a 1982 graduate of the medical school to an activist who has guest lectured here, McMaster has been a part of the story for many of this year’s winners. Upper row, left to right: Sashaina Singh, Jelena Vermilion, Ada Tang. Lower row, left to right: Pat Smith, Ahona Mehdi, Kennishia Boahene, Kim Jones.

McMaster students, graduates, staff and faculty received YWCA Women of Distinction awards at Thursday night’s gala.

The annual event celebrates changemakers whose tireless work and leadership is creating meaningful change.

McMaster community members were also out in full force in support of women in leadership.

A group of smiling people sitting around a round table at an event.
Provost Susan Tighe, in the centre, with faculty and staff members at one of the many tables with McMaster community members at the YWCA Women of Distinction Awards 2024. (Photo from Susan Tighe) 

Provost Susan Tighe presented Woman of Distinction Jelena Vermilion her award.

Here are this year’s winners McMaster affiliations, and their YWCA citations:

Pat Smith — Lifetime Achievement Award | McMaster graduate, 1982

circular headshot of 1982 grad Pat Smith Dr. Pat Smith lives out the values of choice, service and mentorship, as a provider of abortion care and medical assistance in dying (MAID), as an educator, advocate and community leader. As a medical student in the 1970s, Smith helped plan the first meeting of abortion providers in this country. She went on to lead abortion programs across Hamilton and to offer exceptional training and mentorship, often in the face of opposition and violence. More recently, Smith  led the development of MAID programs in this community. A gifted builder of bridges, Pat continues to weave together care and self-determination in her health care leadership.

Ahona Mehdi — Young Trailblazer Award | Political Science student

Circular headshot of political science undergrad Ahona MehdiAhona Mehdi is a 21-year-old community organizer, an undergraduate student at McMaster University and the Education Coordinator/Co-Executive Director at the Disability Justice Network of Ontario (DJNO). From 2019-2020, they were a student trustee with the HWDSB, where they exposed issues of racism, oppression and policing in education. Through DJNO, they work to support racialized and disabled youth who are disproportionately impacted by targeted punishment in schools. Committed to addressing the housing crisis, Mehdi also sits on the Steering Committee of the Hamilton Encampment Support Network. Mehdi has a strong commitment to dismantling all forms of oppression, creating networks for youth to connect, co-learn, heal, and reimage.

Sashaina Singh | Senior Manager, Office of Community Engagement

circular headshot of Sashaina SinghSashaina Singh is committed to making Hamilton better by working in partnership with diverse community members. She accomplishes this as the Office of Community Engagement Manager at McMaster University, and in various external roles where she leads, advocates, and advises on community-engagement and equity work. Singh gives back to the community both in her 9-to-5 job and in a multitude of ways off-campus as well. With a focus on social justice and equity, Singh fosters university relationships with diverse Hamilton communities to advance interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral research, interdisciplinary education, and service partnerships. These partners include neighbourhood groups, antipoverty advocates, social service and health organizations, and city staff. Singh challenges people to think differently through her anti-racist and anti-oppression teaching.

Ada Tang | Associate Dean, School of Rehabilitation Sciences

Circular headshot of Ada TangAda Tang is a physical therapist, Associate Professor and Assistant Dean (Rehabilitation Science) in the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster University. Dr Tang and the MacStroke Canada research team she leads are focused on the impact of exercise on cardiovascular health, fitness, and function in people living with stroke. Dr. Tang’s research incorporates important considerations of sex, gender, and other variables related to recovery after stroke. She mentors a large group of trainees, including undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students, always with a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion, along with environmental sustainability. Her work has been recognized nationally and internationally. Dr. Tang’s name is synonymous with leadership in neurological rehabilitation in individuals with stroke.

Kim Jones | Professor, Chemical Engineering

Circular headshot of Engineering Professor Kim JonesKim Jones (She/Her) is an innovative, trailblazing Chemical Engineering professor at McMaster University and Chair of the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering (ONWiE). Under her leadership, the proportion of women engineering students in Ontario has grown from 21 per cent to 26 per cent; McMaster’s first-year engineering class is 43 per cent women. Jones guides collaborative outreach that reaches over 20,000 students per year and she shares her inclusion research and best practices with the community, including Engineering Deans and professional engineers to #MoveTheDial. This Engineer, Changemaker and EDI Champion extraordinaire is an outstanding mentor, teacher, and role model committed to ensuring women and non-binary folks of all ethnicities pursue and reach their full potential in male-dominated Engineering and STEM professions.

Kennishia Boahene | Graduate

kennishia boaheneKennishia Boahene (She/Her) is a Ghanaian-Canadian woman who was born and raised in Hamilton, and she is the System Equity Officer for the Hamilton Wentworth Catholic District School Board. Her positive impact is evidenced through her social justice work and youth advocacy within educational institutions and the broader community. She believes education is most powerful when it is used towards the betterment of others. Boahene  is a 2021 Ontario Community Changemakers recipient and serves as President of the African Caribbean Cultural Potpourri Inc (ACCPI). Boahene  was a past ACCPI scholarship recipient and now proudly leads the organization which has awarded 300+ scholarships to African and Caribbean youth to date.

Jelena Vermilion | Guest lecturer

circular headshot jelena vermilionJelena Vermilion (She/Her) is the Executive Director of the Sex Workers Action Program (SWAP) Hamilton; is a trans-femme full-service sex worker, porn performer, and activist of almost a decade, who lives with disabilities. She has limited experience being incarcerated, being homeless, working outdoors and on the street, and as an undocumented migrant in the US. She has been featured in several national media outlets speaking about the decriminalization of sex work. She provides professional training and public speaking engagements for organizations, businesses, and educational institutions who wish to affirm the rights and dignity of sex workers. Notably, Vermilion  was an expert witness in the R v. Boodhoo case, a constitutional challenge to certain sex work laws in Canada.