Stellar staff celebrated with 2018 Principal’s Awards

The annual awards recognize exceptional performance by four individuals who work as administrative or support staff. Principal Suzanne Fortier will hand out the 2018 honours next week at Fall Convocation.
The winners of the 2018 Principal’s Awards for Administrative and Support Staff. (l to r): Claire Cooney, Rania Iliyan, David Grenon and François Miller.Neale McDevitt

Without the expertise and dedication of the University’s trades, clerical, technical and managerial staff, McGill simply could not function. Every year the Principal’s Awards for Administrative and Support Staff pay tribute to four people for their outstanding support of McGill’s teaching, research and service missions. (There’s also a team award. Read the Reporter’s interview with this year’s winning team.) Each individual receives $5,000. The Awards will be presented during Fall Convocation at Place des Arts on Monday, Nov. 26.

Individual awards are given in four categories: Management (M) and Excluded, Clerical, Technical/Library Assistants and Nurses, and Trades and Services. And the winners of the 2018 individual Principal’s Awards are…

François Miller (Management and Excluded)

François Miller says his three children were impressed he’s receiving an award from the Principal. His youngest, who is 5, asked, “Is it a medal like at the Olympics? Can I have it?”

As Director of the McGill Office of Sustainability (MOOS) in Facilities Management and Ancillary Services since 2015, Miller oversees a staff of seven people, and five or six student interns.

A graduate of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) Master’s program in environmental science, Miller has a threefold mandate at MOOS: implement the campus sustainability strategy, develop sustainability engagement programs, and oversee the stewardship of the Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF).

The SPF is one of the largest funds of its kind at a Canadian university, with almost one million dollars available annually for sustainability projects. Funds collected by the Students Society of McGill University (SSMU), the Post Graduate Students Society (PGSS), and the Macdonald Campus Student Society (MCSS), are matched dollar for dollar by the university.

His colleagues say Miller’s work has ingrained sustainability in McGill’s culture, helping McGill stand among Canada’s greenest universities. A recent example was the attention the University received when it announced—on World Water Day, fittingly—that, by May 1 of next year, it’s banning the sale of single-use bottled water on campus. McGill’s self-operated and contract food service locations sell an estimated 85,000 plastic bottles of water per year. To meet McGillians’ thirst, MOOS is overseeing the installation of 25 to 30 additional drinking fountains.

“I did a lot of interviews about getting rid of plastic bottles when that news broke,” says Miller modestly.

Rania Iliyan (Clerical)

Rania Iliyan’s formal title is Senior Administrative and Student Affairs Coordinator of the Orthopaedics Department in the Faculty of Medicine

But, as the middle person between the students and the people who oversee the demanding five-year training program, she says her real titles are “Mother to 27 Residents” and “listening ear” for Fellows and Staff Surgeons.

A graduate of Concordia’s human relations program, with a minor in psychology, Iliyan says she was drawn to McGill in 2009 because of its international reputation and quality of its programs.

She may use her award money to do one of her favourite things: follow and attend concerts by Beyoncé. Beyoncé, she says, is a role model for women who want to have a career as well as a family.

Born in Houston to a Palestinian family, and raised in Saudi Arabia, her dad was a chief petroleum engineer, and her mother a homemaker who encouraged her to pursue her passions.

Her colleagues say that Iliyan’s approachable personality, kindness and willingness to help, make the program run more smoothly than it ever has.

Iliyan, in part, says the best thing about her job is interacting with her team, and the respect and affection they have for each other.

“There are a lot of people who work hard and do really good work,” she says. “I felt really honoured that my efforts have been recognized by this award, and my family will be there to see it.”

In fact, so many members of Iliyan’s family wanted to attend that she requested extra tickets. Eight members of her immediate family, including most of her five siblings, will form a cheerleading section at Convocation. Several others will be watching online from far-flung locations.

Claire Cooney (Technical/Library Assistants and Nurses)

Laboratory coordinator Claire Cooney says there were nights when she and her kids, now both adults, slept on the floor of the Phytotron, so she could safeguard fragile research projects.

The Phytotron is found right below the greenhouse that sits atop the Stewart Biology Building like a green jewel at the corner of Penfield and Stanley. Researchers can grow organisms in the 34 carefully controlled chambers, which can replicate any environment on Earth, from the Arctic tundra to the Amazon rainforest.

Originally from Glens Falls, New York, Cooney arrived at McGill at the age of 17 and never left. She began working in the Department of Biology in 1988, after completing degrees in biology (BSc’75) and plant morphology (MSc’86).

“I fell in love with McGill the minute I set foot on the campus,” she says. “Walking where Rutherford and so many brilliant minds have walked, I found the people unpretentious and approachable.”

In 1993, Cooney spearheaded the complete elimination of pesticides in the Phytotron, marking a new era in environmentally friendly plant research facilities. Her pest control guidelines have been adopted by over a dozen research facilities in North America.

Her exemplary dedication, say her colleagues, has contributed to the successful completion of 1,500 research projects by more than 550 graduate students and professors.

David Grenon (Trades and Services)

David Grenon loves learning the new technology in his field. Grenon is an energy control technician in Building Operations, Facilities Management and Ancillary Services. He’s based in the Ferrier Building, where he and his colleagues monitor the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems of 135 McGill buildings, including student residences and the Mac campus.

A graduate in industrial electronics from CEGEP Ahuntsic, Grenon started working at McGill in January 2009. He says he enjoys collaborating and problem-solving with his coworkers on their two main focuses: providing safe and reliable energy to McGill’s buildings, classrooms, labs and animal habitats, and increasing the wellbeing of those who work and study in those buildings.

His colleagues say Grenon has helped McGill reduce HVAC costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars, at the same time moving the University toward meeting its greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2040. They describe him as one of the best building management technicians in Quebec, and the reference person for automation of systems.

“I am really interested in energy conservation, and take it very seriously,” says Grenon. “I try to conserve energy as much as possible, wherever possible. I even set up a system at my home to recycle the energy from the air-conditioning system to heat my pool.”

Grenon says his wife will take time off work to be at Convocation with their two children, aged 4 and 7, to see him receive his award from Principal Fortier. The award money will go to the children’s Registered Education Savings Plans, so that they can one day pursue studies in something they are passionate about.

If you would like to nominate someone, the next awards cycle for the Principal’s Awards for Administrative and Support Staff begins in Spring 2019.

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