Experts and Judges

Paola Poletto

Expert & Judge

Director, Engagement & Learning, Education & Programming at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

As Director of Engagement and Learning at the AGO, Paola Poletto fosters creative experiences for learners of all ages now and into the future. With a focus on visual arts, material and digital culture, she enjoys bringing people and ideas together to imagine and present new sequences, movements and art. Paola is excited to help lead the AGO’s ongoing studio programs with children, youth, adults, older adults and multigenerational participants; support a range of access programs; engage volunteers through the Gallery Guide Program as well as oversee the expansion of the AGO x RBC Artist In Residence Program, research and workshop series for early career artists. Paola is the recipient of Canada’s Council’s John Hobday Award in Visual Arts Management (2017); the former Creative Director of digifest, Canada’s largest and longest running arts and design digital media festival (2000-8) and is currently pursuing doctoral practice-based research in The Creative School, Ryerson University, on mapping the roles of museums into the future.

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Dr. Audrey Hudson

Expert & Judge

Richard & Elizabeth Currie Chief, Education & Programming

Dr. Audrey Hudson was appointed Richard & Elizabeth Currie Chief, Education & Programming in 2020. Audrey joined the AGO in 2017; prior to this new role she was Associate Curator of Schools & Early Childhood Programs. During this time, Audrey has led strategies on school programs, delivered innovative early childhood programs, developed and increased partnerships with Taking ITGlobal, the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) and the Urban Indigenous Education Centre/Toronto District School Board.

Prior to joining the AGO, Audrey was an Assistant Professor at OCAD University and has been an active Art Educator and programmer for 22 years. She has developed and taught undergraduate and graduate level courses at OCAD University, Ryerson, and University of Toronto. Audrey has been an active mentor in community engagement including working with marginalized women at Sistering/Inspirations. Audrey is passionate artist, educator and researcher and serves on the Editorial board of the Art Education, Journal of the National Art Education Association. She has published numerous articles on art, social change, and education.

Audrey holds a PhD from University of Toronto/Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (UT/OISE) in Curriculum, Teaching and Learning; an MEd from York University and a BFA from OCAD University.

Lisa Sousa

Expert

Lisa is a communications and marketing professional with over 7 years of experience developing integrated marketing communication programs for a wide range of North American brands such as Skittles, Juicy Fruit, Adidas, KitchenAid, and Consonant Skin+Care. 

Currently, Lisa is an Integrated Marketing Planning Manager at Spin Master Ltd. where she works with a robust marketing team to build marketing communications for exciting toy brands such as Kinetic Sand, Hatchimals, and Paw Patrol. 

Lisa is a Ryerson University graduate, with a Bachelor of Arts from the ACS Program. She also has a post-graduate certificate from Humber College in Advertising Account Management. She has been participating in the SPROUT Case Competition since 2019.

Lisa Sousa
Robbert Clappterton

Robert Clapperton

Expert

Robert Clapperton is an Assistant Professor in the School of Professional Communications at Ryerson University. Robert earned his PhD in English Language and Literature with a Graduate Diploma in Cognitive Science at the University of Waterloo. He specializes in computational linguistics, rhetoric, social epistemology, and data analysis with an emphasis on the critical application of natural language understanding in a number of fields including education, politics, commercial, and social enterprise. Robert’s teaching focuses on the digital enterprise and communication research methods. Robert has developed a natural language understanding experiential learning platform for experiential teaching and practicing communication, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence. The platform is currently used by universities, corporations, and professional associations across North America.

Lois Weinthal

Expert

Lois Weinthal is a Professor in the School of Interior Design at X/Ryerson University in Toronto. Her research and practice investigate the relationship between architecture, interiors, clothing and objects resulting in works that take on an experimental nature. Her teaching explores these topics where theoretical discussions in seminars are put into practice in the design studio. She is editor of the book, Toward a New Interior: An Anthology of Interior Design Theory, co-editor of After Taste: Expanded Practice in Interior Design, and recently, Digital Fabrication in Interior Design: Body, Object, Enclosure, co-edited with Jonathon Anderson. Currently, she holds the position of Honorary Professor at the Glasgow School of Art and Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Arts & Creative Industries at Middlesex University London.

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Dr. Zhixi Zhuang

Expert

Dr. Zhixi Zhuang is a Registered Professional Planner and an Associate Professor at the School of Urban and Regional Planning. Her research focuses on ethnocultural diversity, migration and cities, and ethnic place-making. Specifically, she explores the lived experiences of immigrant and racialized communities, their strategies for cultural recognition, and negotiations for social, economic, and political inclusion. Her research addresses the impacts of global migration on municipal policy and governance, and sheds light on equity-based approaches to planning with diversity. One of her research outputs is a 25-minute documentary entitled “Globurbia: Suburban Place-making Amidst Diversity” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODBnO0v_hpk).

Rahma Hilowle

Judge

A passionate higher education professional, Rahma is a graduate of the University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She received a Master’s Degree in Education in Social Justice Education. Before that, she attended York University and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Rahma’s area of expertise is education and community development in programs implementing social justice, equity and inclusion. She currently works at Ryerson University, as a Student Liasion Administrator, in the Faculty of Arts Student Experience Centre.

Rahma Hilowle
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Josel Angelica Gerardo

Judge

Josel Angelica Gerardo is a current MA Student in Political Science at the University of Toronto with research interests on the intersectionality of gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity in international relations, an alumni of the Politics and Governance program at X (Ryerson) University, and an Operations Administrator at the Faculty of Arts Dean’s Office. She is passionate about creating dialogues and innovative practices to increase Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility institutionally for equity-deserving groups. As a young scholar, she was involved in multiple research and local community projects including research on gender and race in politics, Dimensions Pilot Program and the Young Workers Rights Hub.

During Josel’s time at X University, she was an avid student leader as the former President and VP Events of the Society of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (SASSH), and other leadership positions around the university working closely with and for undergraduate students. With these experiences, she became the recipient of the X University-wide Dennis Mock Student Leadership Award, Marion Creery Award, and Women Champions of Diversity Award after 3+ years in student government and leadership. One of Josel’s first leadership journeys was being appointed as SPROUT Logistics Associate and worked on this competition for the next 2 years. She’s excited to be back for the 4th time consecutively, but this time, as a judge!

Rudhra Persad

Expert & Judge

Rudhra is a Mentoring Facilitator with the Tri-Mentoring Program at X University for the past 10 years overseeing more portfolios than he can remember. Recently, Rudhra listened to students in the Faculty of Arts and in collaboration with RLAS and student leaders, launched a pilot BIPOC peer mentoring program exclusively for Arts students. Rudhra is regularly consulted on best practices in mentoring by staff at other institutions and community organizations. He does so while navigating his ADHD and other learning differences. Rudhra is also a current student in the Faculty of Arts finishing up his undergraduate degree in the Arts and Contemporary Studies program.

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Feven Tesfamariam

Expert

Feven Tesfamariam is a communications and marketing professional with a background in corporate and nonprofit environments. Feven holds a B.A. in Communications Studies from York University, focussing her studies on mass media and technology and their relationship to social and cultural practices. She also has a post-graduate diploma in Public Relations and Corporate Communications from Seneca College, where she explored theory and practiced execution. She has worked in digital marketing at Whirlpool Canada and as the National Communications Coordinator at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. Currently, she is the Marketing, Communications and Public Relations Officers at the Ryerson Image Centre; Ryerson University’s on-campus art gallery, research and collections centre.

Sumit Bhatia

Expert

As Director of Innovation and Policy at the Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst, Sumit heads the Catalyst Cyber Accelerator, Canada’s first Cybersecurity specific business accelerator for start-ups and scaleups, as well the Catalysts SMB initiatives including the creation and launch of Simply Secure, a cyber awareness and readiness program specifically designed for small and medium businesses across Canada. Sumit also leads the Catalysts work with the Cybersecure Policy Exchange, a national policy and research enterprise dedicated to advancing effective and innovative public policy in cybersecurity and digital privacy. Sumit brings over 20 years of experience as a business strategist and a digital transformation change agent. As an entrepreneur, Sumit led two technology start ups through the lifecycle of research to commercialization. He has helped develop applied research and knowledge mobilization frameworks at large academic institutions including, leading the development of multiple emerging technology diploma and degree programs. Sumit sits on Ryerson University’s Research Ethics Board and holds a Bachelor of Honors in Economics and Finance from the University of Toronto and a Masters in Digital Media from Ryerson University.

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Sarah Brigel

Sarah Brigel

Expert & Judge

Sarah Brigel is a 2016 Ryerson graduate from the Faculty of Arts, Environment and Urban Sustainability program. During her studies, she focused her research on food security, gender politics, and equity and inclusion. Sarah has worked in the urban agriculture space coordinating markets to increase food access, community gardens, and tending to gardens to increase local food access. Sarah is currently the Operations Coordinator at the Social Ventures Zone at Ryerson University, a campus based incubator that supports student and community led social enterprises. She loves working with people who want to make an impact and hopes to move into the social financing space one day.

Adam Chaboryk

Expert

Adam Chaboryk is a digital accessibility consultant and web developer with a passion for building inclusive experiences. He is currently employed as an IT Accessibility Specialist at Ryerson University. Adam enables the Ryerson community with the resources and guidance to create a more inclusive digital environment for all learners, faculty, staff and the general public. Adam also leads the development of Sa11y, an open source accessibility checker designed for content authors.

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Jenna Jacbson

Expert

Dr. Jenna Jacobson is an Assistant Professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, Retail Management. She is also a Research Fellow at Ryerson’s Social Media Lab. Her research analyzes the use and implications of digital technologies in society—with a focus on social media, branding, and digital retailing. She has published in top academic journals (including International Journal of Information Management, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, and Journal of Product & Brand Management), and regularly appears as an expert in the media. She received her PhD from the University of Toronto, Faculty of Information.

Laura MacKinnon

Judge

Laura MacKinnon is the Career Education Specialist supporting Faculty of Arts students and alumni with the Ryerson Career & Co-op Centre.  An alumna of Ryerson herself, she’s passionate about helping students discover the power of their Arts degree as they build their career for life.  

An experienced educator, prior to Ryerson she worked for national youth-serving organizations, including DAREarts and Outside Looking In, leading innovative leadership development, mentorship and career education programming for Indigenous young people.

She has facilitated hundreds of arts-based workshops and forged cross-sector partnerships with organizations including the Royal Conservatory of Music, the National Ballet of Canada, the Toronto District School Board and the Canadian Opera Company.  She is an experienced public speaker and trainer and has presented at the Stratford Festival, OISE and the Economic Club of Canada. 

A lifelong artist and arts enthusiast, she sings in a community choir, enjoys taking dance classes and watching musical theatre.

Laura MacKinnon
Heather Willis

Heather Willis

Judge

Heather Willis is a proud graduate of Ryerson’s School of Disability Studies, and has a post-graduate diploma in Disability Studies from the University of Leeds. Born in Toronto, Heather has been an accessibility advocate since she was a teenager growing up in an institution for disabled children. In the decades since, she has served on numerous committees and boards dedicated to the equity and the full inclusion of persons with disabilities. In 2010, Heather joined Ryerson University as the inaugural Accessibility Coordinator, now in the Office of the Vice President, Equity and Community Inclusion. She leads Ryerson’s accessibility initiative, “ACCESS RYERSON”, with the goal of identifying, removing, and preventing accessibility barriers for all members of the Ryerson community.

Michael Carter

Expert

Michael Carter is a scholar in the field of Digital Media and Digital Cultural Heritage, with an extensive twenty-four-year, award-winning professional career in the 3D and 2D computer animation and visual effects (VFX) industries, with over 500 hours of broadcast TV production.

He is a 2015 Team Award recipient for the Ryerson University President’s Blue and Gold Award of Excellence, in the design, development, and implementation of the Master of Digital Media program. His research focuses on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Culture, both from the perspective of the enculturation of data and in the formation of pre-cultural markers within AI itself.

The use of Virtual Archaeology to enhance Art and Archaeological research, as well as the deployment of robotic systems within hazardous archaeological sites. Additional research is in the DNA of 3D points within virtual objects and the representation of providence and provenance data as an actor-network. Michael holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology (Archaeology) from Western University, a Master’s in Education from the University of Toronto, two post-graduate diplomas in Computer Graphics and Computer Animation from Sheridan College and an Honours BA in Anthropology and Visual Arts from the University of Western Ontario.

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Dr. Lauren Kirshner

Expert

Dr. Kirshner is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English. She received her PhD from the Joint Program in Communication & Culture at York-Ryerson University and an MA in English in the Field of Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. Her creative work and research creation projects use storytelling to examine how women experience gender, sexuality, mental health, work, and family.

Dr. Kirshner’s creative publications include a coming-of-age novel set in the 1990s, Where We Have to Go, which was a finalist for the City of Toronto Book Award. Her short fiction, memoir, feature writing, literary reviews, and interviews have appeared in literary journals and popular publications across North America including Hazlitt, Carousel, ELLE CANADA, THIS, The Globe and Mail, PRISM, and Room. Her current non-fiction project examines how American popular culture represents women sex workers in a neoliberal economy and in light of ongoing feminist debates.

In addition to her creative work, Dr. Kirshner is involved in research creation projects that focus on arts for social justice. She is Founding Director of Sister Writes, an intersectional creative writing and publishing program that strives to empower women through workshops, mentorship with acclaimed Canadian writers, public arts events, and literary magazines. In 2018, Sister Writes was the recipient of an Arts Bridges Award for Remarkable Achievement in Community Arts. Dr. Kirshner’s other initiatives, including an intergenerational oral history program, have won the support of various arts councils and foundations, and her Young Authors Project was a finalist for the 2013 Ontario Minister’s Award for Innovation in the Arts. 

In addition to her research, Kirshner teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in creative writing and magazine production, and actively works with students on White Wall Review.

Claire Cornacchia

Judge

Claire (she/her) is in her fourth and final year of the Arts and Contemporary Studies program, completing her Option in History. She is passionate about storytelling through historical analysis and has conducted research on topics related to global development, decolonization, and transnational perspectives. She currently serves the Faculty of Arts student body as the President of the Society of Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (SASSH). Claire has participated in various programs offered by the Faculty of Arts and the SASSH, such as VAST, the Young Workers Rights Hub, and SPROUT, and is looking forward to taking part in SPROUT this year as a judge. Claire participated in the first ever SPROUT Case Competition back in 2019, and continued on to serve as the Conference Chair the following year. She is excited about the opportunity to engage with the innovation ideas of this years participants and wishes everyone the best of luck throughout the competition.

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Pegah Kargar

Expert & Judge

Pegah Kargar is the founder and CEO of Repaint History. A pioneering company in the art world aligned with the United Nations 2030 Sustainability Goals, Repaint History was founded in 2018 to tackle the existing gender gap in the art world and advance the career of contemporary women and non-binary artists by focusing on providing access to resources & services, funding and community as well as working directly with museums and galleries globally to increase the representation of women artists in the art market. Pegah has extensive background in marketing, product management and digital strategy and she is a mentor and board member at various women-led organizations.

Natasha Chawdhry

Judge

Natasha Chawdhry (she/her) is currently a Masters student in Political Science at York University, with research interests in Gender, and Women’s studies, Media Representations of women in the Global South, and the politics of International Human Rights. She is currently employed at Ryerson International within the Global Learning Department, where she works as the Global Learning Assistant. She also supports veteran broadcaster Mary Ito’s podcast CRAM, as a research assistant. 

Throughout her time at X University, Natasha has spent time dedicated to enhancing the student experience through, most memorably her role as Vice President Operations in the Society of the Arts, Social Sciences and humanities (SASSH). Having spent 4+ years involved in student affairs, and experiences, she was the recipient of the Program-Wide Dennis Mock Award for Politics and Governance in 2021.

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Max Irwin

Expert & Judge

Max is a recent graduate from Ryerson and graduated in Spring 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. He is now working as a Management Consulting Associate at Grant Thornton LLP in Toronto. His experience of working with various businesses and project management, coupled with his Arts education allow him to identify organizational barriers in high-growth organizations and work to implement strategic solutions. His interests in organizational behaviour, behavioural science, as well as personal and corporate development lend themselves to a people-centred approach to organizational growth.

During his time at Ryerson, Max was very involved in student life at various levels. Holding positions on both his Course Union as well as the Ryerson Students’ Union. Most notably, Max served two consecutive-terms as the President of the Ryerson Liberal Arts Society. The experience he has gained from his involvement on-campus and in the Faculty of Arts has directly impacted where he is today.