Why the TTC's Angela Gibson founded a scholarship right after graduation

July 26, 2023 by David Goldberg - A&S News

Angela Gibson’s father passed away before he could watch his daughter cross the stage at Convocation Hall, so she honoured his memory with an Arts & Science scholarship.

“He would have been so proud,” says Gibson, A&S alum and current head of strategy and foresight at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).

Shortly after earning her master of science in urban planning in 2003, Gibson founded the Thomas Luther Panton Scholarship for Black and racialized students in the same program.

“I didn’t want to wait 20 years into my career; I wanted to do something immediately because I felt like the program needed that injection of diversity and recognition,” says Gibson, who started working in her field straight out of school.

“I wasn’t making a lot of money in a junior position, but I wanted to inspire others to give back. You don’t have to be a millionaire to make a difference.”

Gibson’s gift has helped many students excel professionally and personally. Joanna Ilunga-Kapinga was a recipient in 2021, working full-time while studying for her master’s degree. The scholarship ensured she wouldn’t have to compromise her ambitions.

“As a Black student pursuing an urban planning degree, this award enabled me to focus on my studies and alleviate my financial burdens,” says Ilunga-Kapinga, who had already earned her honours bachelor of arts in 2019 as member of New College.

“I’d like to express my heartfelt appreciation for the donor’s generosity and support,” says Ilunga-Kapinga, now a senior advisor with Infrastructure Ontario. “I felt like my hard work and dedication was acknowledged, and it motivated me to push even harder toward my academic goals.”

Gibson grew up in the United Kingdom and completed her undergraduate degree in the United States, but saw boundless opportunities for aspiring city planners at the University of Toronto.

Angela Gibson.
Shortly after graduating from U of T, Angela Gibson founded a scholarship in honour of her late father. Photo: Jason Akinrinsa.

With access to world-class engineering and planning professors, the same experts designing solutions for one of North America’s largest cities, Gibson recognized the advantage of being immersed in a bustling testbed of urban issues. It all prepared her for life after graduation.

“I wanted to see if I could help develop cities and communities that empowered people like me,” says Gibson. “It shouldn’t matter where you come from; the right transportation system can level the playing field and grant access to equal opportunity for all.”

Gibson has extensive experience with planning in the Greater Toronto Area, having worked with Durham Region, York Region and Metrolinx before taking on her current role with the TTC in 2020.

As a key leader overseeing Canada’s busiest transit system, Gibson has supervised several initiatives related to digital connectivity and accessibility, including a longstanding push for fare integration across the GTA and a pilot project for Wi-Fi on buses.

Now, Gibson is tackling her biggest challenge yet. The number of recorded violent incidents on the TTC were up 46 per cent in 2022, with offences against customers and employees peaking in January 2023. As an experienced urban planner, Gibson as part of a larger team coordinates with other entities and ministries to uncover underlying causes and propose solutions for a safer future.

“It’s a tough issue,” says Gibson. “At-risk groups in Toronto aren’t getting the resources they need right now and the consequences of that are playing out on the TTC. We are all figuring out how we can do our best to produce collaborative, holistic fixes.”

Urban planning is an uphill battle. Some of the problems we started tackling 30 years ago still aren’t fixed. But no matter where she works, Gibson says her goal is to leave an organization transformed and empowered. It’s part of her personal philosophy, inspired by her time with Arts & Science.

“I had so many good opportunities at U of T,” says Gibson. “I have fond memories of this institution and it’s served me very well.”