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Dr. Michael Widener (BA, '07)


Dr. Michael Widener (BA, ’07) has received the 2022 Geography & GIS Early Career Distinguished Alumnus Award. He earned a Bachelor of Arts with highest distinction in 2007 and went on to complete a PhD from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2012.

Widener is a highly regarded health geography researcher currently serving as associate professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto with a cross-appointment in Epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

His research focuses on the relationship between the built environment, mobility, and health with current projects in two main areas: access to food and COVID-19 responses. Widener and his team work with a range of stakeholders, including governments, non-profits, and community organizations, to ensure that his research can help improve urban food environments and access to healthcare services.

Widener has skillfully adapted his existing research to consider how the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted equity deserving populations. Specifically, he is tracking how transit riders’ avoidance of public transit due to fears of virus transmission affects their ability to access healthcare. His research on COVID-19, urban built environments, and transit demonstrates a strong commitment to using GIS techniques to tackle social justice and equity issues.

Combined GPS trajectories in Toronto from Dr. Widener's Food Activities, Socioeconomics, Time-use and Transportation (FASTT) Study. Image courtesy of Michael Widener

Dr. Widener has credited our department on multiple occasions with sparking his interest in the relationship between the environment and health and in geography more generally, as well as giving him the confidence to pursue a career in academia. He proudly carries on this tradition as a teacher and advisor, mentoring several graduate students at any given time, supporting them through research grants and co-authoring papers with them. He has also connected with our PhD students at conferences and via social media, networking with them and introducing them to other scholars in the field.

Dr. Michael Widener is a top public health researcher whose work is making a strong local and global impact, thanks to his partnerships with city agencies, community members, and the geography scholarly community. The Department of Geography & GIS is incredibly proud of his achievements and public service and look forward to his return visit to campus on Friday, October 21st to accept this Early Career Distinguished Alumnus Award and present his research at our colloquium series: "Urban Food Environment Research: How time, movement, and (sometimes) big data are transforming the study of food shopping in cities" [event listing].