Omar Danta is this year’s recipient of the Veronika Czerneda Staff Award for Outstanding Service.
A “meticulous worker” a “rare gem” and a “creative problem solver”: these are just some of the many phrases W Booth School of Engineering Practice and Technology (SEPT) staff and faculty members use to describe Omar Danta. It came as no surprise when Danta was announced as this year’s recipient of the highly prestigious Veronika Czerneda Staff Award for Outstanding Service.
The Facilities Manager was presented with the award during the Annual State of the Faculty Address in October. Created in memory of Veronika Czerneda, Administrative Co-ordinator in the Faculty who passed away in July 2000, the award recognizes a member of staff who has made an outstanding contribution to the Faculty of Engineering.
“[The Veronika Czerneda Award] has remotivated me to continue to oversee the operations and provide support the way I have been all these years.’’ Danta says, reflecting on the significance of the award.
One thing is certain; Omar Danta’s contribution to the Faculty has been significant. His employment with McMaster dates back to 2009 when he assumed the role of BTech Laboratory Manager in the McMaster-Mohawk College Partnership. It was during this role in 2009 that his team received the McMaster University President’s Award for Outstanding Service for their lead in the rapid setup and expansion of the BTech program in the then, newly constructed Engineering Technology Building.
“As an engineer, Omar is wired to solve problems.’’ says SEPT Manager Michele Vaz who has worked with Danta in various capacities since 2016. She continues, “He particularly rose to the occasion during the pandemic. While members of the W Booth School worked from home, Omar and his team were the first back on-site to ensure that virtual labs ran smoothly. They worked to troubleshoot and upgrade spaces to accommodate the new structure of learning and also delivered work-from-home equipment to countless staff members to ensure efficiency.”
SEPT Director Brian Baetz notes Danta’s “selfless dedication to solving myriad challenges for our laboratory and IT infrastructure in the Booth School.”
Unsurprisingly, Danta describes troubleshooting as one of his key motivators at work, seeing every day as a new learning opportunity.
“Sometimes there is a new problem that has come up that I have not encountered or anticipated, and I am asked to resolve it.” he says.
“It may require me to learn about the item or system that is having the problem and come up with a solution using my past troubleshooting experience with something that may be similar.”
While Danta’s success as an engineer is evident, graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering Degree from McMaster in 2002, and then a Bachelor of Applied Technology Degree from Mohawk College in 2007, few know that he also served in the Canadian Forces- Reserves.
Between 2001 and 2015, Danta led in various roles in the 2814 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corp including Training Officer (2003-2007) and Commanding Officer (2007-2009).
“My greatest military accomplishment was serving as Commanding Officer of my cadet unit which granted me the rank of Captain. In most cases, it is the highest position that a part-time officer in the Cadet Instructors Cadre (CIC) can achieve.” Danta says, reminiscing on his military experience.
“But the fun was on the weekend exercises where I got to participate in implementing a junior officer’s exercise training plan with those eager cadets.”
Danta credits his military experience as preparation for his current role as Facilities Manager. “As the Commanding Officer of my unit, I had 5 other CIC officers, 30 to 50 cadets and many training assets under me that I was responsible for…. as the Supply Officer I had to order and maintain supplies and assets and ensure every asset was accounted for. All these past duties are what I currently take care of as Facilities Manager.”
In 2014, Danta received an honourable Canadian Forces’ Decoration for twelve years of military service with a good record of conduct.
Danta’s time as a leader did not end with his military career, as Brian Baetz observes, Danta “truly cares about creating a quality learning environment for our students.” in his role as a Facilties Manager.
One person who can testify to this is Jan Boer, Technical Support Specialist in SEPT, who as a student, worked closely with Danta before becoming a direct report of his.
“I have worked with Omar on and off since 2016 and full time since 2018 where he was first a mentor and then a supervisor.” Boer says, “Omar has also helped maintain and build up the classrooms to ensure the best experience for our students and staff while keeping up with the technical support staff to ensure their success.”
When asked about his own inspirations or mentors, Danta describes Dr. Ishwar Singh as an ‘impactful mentor’ during the Process Automation Program at Mohawk College.
“It was Dr. Singh, while as Associate Director for BTech, who gave me the opportunity to first work in the School in 2008 as a lab instructor and then as a Lab Manager.’’ he says; “I would not be here if it was not for his continued support all those years.’’
What’s next for Danta? The Facilities Manager is keen to pursue further education.
“I would like to undertake further studies if our department reaches a consistent operating point. If our department continues to be on a path to growth, then I will be working on those new projects to expand our facilities to meet that growth.”
In typical Danta fashion, he continues to consider the best interests of the School.
“I hope to help nominate my technical staff for the [Veronika Czenerda] award in the future as they have all contributed greatly in the areas they oversee and have been a big help to me.”