The force behind the U-Pass

Aubrey Iwaniw, the environmental projects coordinator, in her office in the Davis Building. edward cai/the medium

Few people know Aubrey Iwaniw as the person who brought the Mississauga Transit U-Pass to UTM. Even fewer know that she’s the Department of Geography’s environmental project coordinator and the driving force behind many student and campus environmental projects. “In total I work directly with about 90 students over the academic year,” she says. “I enjoy it.”


Iwaniw came to UTM from her rural community in Woodstock, Ontario as an undergraduate forensic science student in 1999. “I used to watch a lot of Quincy, a forensic crime show, and thought it was really cool. I volunteered with the paramedics while I was in high school because I wanted to be behind the scenes and see things that were hidden in everyday life,” she says. Iwaniw soon switched to and finished her bachelor’s in environmental management after taking the first-year environment course. “I didn’t know environment could be a career. I had thought it was just about nature hikes and recycling!”


Today, Iwaniw picks project ideas for “ENV232: Environmental Sustainability Practicum”, a required second-year course she coordinates with geography professor Monika Havelka. The course splits 28 undergraduate students into seven groups that work on community and campus-based projects. “Last year was one of our major projects: to improve the water fountain infrastructure on campus. The project’s aim was to couple the recent push to go water bottle-free with support to stay water bottle-free. The students in the course presented a report about student opinions of things wrong with the infrastructure to the administration which directly resulted in increasing the hydration stations,” she says. “It was a perfect storm of pressure in that area and the students were really proud to see it come to life.”


Iwaniw also coordinates and provides ongoing support to the students of the Green Team, a group of 20 to 30 Work-Study students who work on institutional waste reduction, alternative transportation, and litter campaigns on campus. “It is different now. When I was an undergraduate student, my club worked really hard to bring environmental awareness to students. It was tough, though. That was a time before the movie An Inconvenient Truth, and these things were not popular,” she says.

In 2004, Iwaniw started the U-Pass conversations with Mississauga Transit to introduce a cheap alternative to driving to campus. At the time, only 10 to 20% of students took the bus. Research had shown more people turn to public transit if it was cheaply available. “The administration and the student union sat around the table with transit authorities for almost three years, and we got our first U-Pass in 2007,” she says. “It is monumental what has come about. This year, almost 90% of students stood in line to pick up their pass, and the buses go full. The transit authorities have been so fantastic in reacting to our needs every fiscal year to give us more buses and more routes.”


Off-campus, Iwaniw is part of the Toronto longboarding community and a competitive downhill mountain biker. “This summer I broke my left humerus and nicked my nerve when I did a bike jump incorrectly. It was debilitating. My priorities shifted,” she says. “I was good at my job but maybe wasn’t so good at being kind to myself. Before the accident, I used to be emotionally depleted coming back from work. But now I have work and then something to look forward to afterwards.”

This year, Iwaniw finished her work towards a master’s degree in planning. She wants to get accredited with the Ontario Professional Planners Institute. “Once that happens, I don’t know what to do. I didn’t have a plan for all these things that have happened in the last seven years. But I’m not scared that I don’t have a plan—I’ve been okay so far without one,” she smiles. “I just try to stay true to my morals, to what I think is right, and let that guide me.”