George Vari Innovation Conference 2018: Meeting an Astronaut

I had the honour of serving on the organizing committee for the 2018 George Vari Innovation Conference (GVIC) as the Vice President of Corporate Relations. Named in honour of the late George Vari, a civil engineer and education supporter, GVIC is a student-run conference that provides an academic and professional platform for students to share their ideas and passion for innovation. November 1st to November 3rd saw three fun-filled days of workshops, competitions, parties and even an appearance from former astronaut Chris Hadfield!

A big aspect of corporate relations for GVIC was acquiring items from our partners to fill a box each of our student delegates would receive upon arrival. Thanks to the generous help of all our partners such as the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), we successfully were able to give each delegate more than 20 items including snacks, earbuds and transit passes for unlimited travel during the conference.

A delegate box wrapped in custom pink GVIC-branded wrapping paper.

The entire night before the conference was spent wrapping all 144 delegate and speaker boxes.

The first day of GVIC saw the arrival of our delegates at the Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel. The opening keynote was delivered by 15-year-old entrepreneur Riya Karumanchi. Through the DMZ at Ryerson University, Karumanchi developed her company Smart Cane. Smart Cane merges GPS navigation with the white cane to better aid the blind and visually impaired.

Riya Karumanchi speaking on stage at the Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel.

Riya Karumanchi, the youngest member of the Social Ventures Zone at Ryerson University, speaking in front of the delegates. (George Vari Innovation Conference)

The second day had a number of technology-based workshops on drones, artificial intelligence, robotic prosthetics, and augmented reality.

Delegates interacting with the Microsoft HoloLens.

Delegates interacting with the Microsoft HoloLens. (George Vari Innovation Conference)

And of course came the time for the main attraction: Chris Hadfield. At the Mattamy Athletic Centre, Hadfield spoke about his life’s journey to become the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station (ISS). His presentation drew many laughs from the audience, my favourite moment being when he mentioned while you can’t see the Great Wall of China from space, you can see Ontario Highway 407!

Chris Hadfield pouring water from his glass onto the stage.

Chris Hadfield demonstrating on stage how water is a lot less entertaining on Earth. Water on the ISS forms into spheres. (Julianna Perkins)

He ended the presentation by bringing out his guitar and playing his song Is Somebody Singing along with his famous rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

It felt wonderful as I was taken back to that same feeling I felt when I was 12 years old and watching the videos that Hadfield posted from space of him just having fun doing everyday tasks in zero gravity.

The GVIC delegates and VIP ticket holders then eagerly awaited to get their picture taken with the man himself and get a signed copy of his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. After more than four hours of crowd controlling and allowing all the delegates to go first, I finally got the chance to ask him the burning question in my mind: what he thinks of people who believe the Earth is flat.

Chris Hadfield and I posing for a picture.

Chris Hadfield and I posing for a picture.

We wanted to end off GVIC with a bang. GVIC Vice Presidents of Events and WhyRyerson’s very own, Ankita Roy, thought what better way than a Midnight in Paris themed gala at Palais Royale. Speeches were delivered by Michele Romanow of CBC’s Dragons’ Den, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science Tom Duever, and Helen Vari, the widow of George Vari. A surprise came to everyone when the RSU announced on stage that they were presenting us with the Fall 2018 Best Conference award.

The GVIC executive committee being given the Best Conference award by the RSU.

The GVIC executive committee receiving the award from the RSU. (George Vari Innovation Conference)

There is so much more about GVIC that I didn’t write about here so please watch the wrap-up video of the entire conference provided by the Ryerson Engineering Student Society!

What came out of six hard months of planning was unbelievable. GVIC managed to bring together students from not only three different faculties at Ryerson but from other universities across the province! To me, the biggest reward from all this was seeing the numerous delegates take to social media to praise us, the organizing committee, for delivering such an unforgettable experience. GVIC 2018 was without a doubt the best experience I have had since coming to Ryerson.

I would highly recommend every student attend GVIC in the future.

Signing off,


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