Opinions & Features Workshop (Oct 26th)

Photo by Mariah Wilson

2020 Arch Awards go virtual and recognize outstanding alumni

By Sophia Lopez, September 23 2020 —

Co-host of CBC’s investigative unit Go Public and University of Calgary alumna Rosa Marchitelli was the master of ceremonies for this year’s 2020 Arch Awards on Zoom — six U of C alumni were recognized for their outstanding work in their field and praised for the contributions they’ve made to their community and around the world.

Dr. Ed McCauley president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary, expressed how proud he is of this year’s Arch Award winners, as well as U of C alumni as a whole.

“We are proud of all of you,” said McCauley, “and we are so grateful for your support and for your leadership.”

To start it off, the Early Career Achievement Award was presented to Daria Venkova BSc’18, MBT’19, a young woman who is one of the CEO’s of Creative Protein Solutions — a company that’s developing an enzyme technology to find diseases in cattle.

“I’m inspired more than ever to continue on this path I’m on as an entrepreneur, scientist, and artist,” said Venkova.

The Alumni Service Award came up next, the winner being Jeff LaFrenz BSc(Eng)’85, MSc(Eng)’88, an alumni whose main goal is to make university life better for future students.

“You don’t do it for the recognition,” said LaFrenz. “It’s something you do because it’s something you feel is going to make a difference.”

The next alumnus to be recognized was Dr. Ahmad Munawwar Helmi bin Salim MD’10, the Community Commitment Award winner, who after finishing his medical degree went back to his home country of Malaysia to be the chief coordinator of IMARET — the Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia Response and Relief Team — to provide medical relief, shelter and education for HIV/AIDS patients.

His motto, “If it’s not us, then who? If it’s not now, then when?” keeps him focused.

The Career Achievement Award winner Andrew Pearce BSc’84, MSc’88, was presented next. It was U of C’s diverse technological environment that allowed Pearce to reach his artistic dream, now working at DreamWorks Animation as the VP of Global Technology. 

“That would be enough for me,” said Pearce, “if they [the audience] saw my tiny little part of help in making these movies as being something that brought joy to the word.”

Dr. Abdullah Saleh BSc’05, a paediatric general surgeon and director of the Office of Global Surgery (OGS) at the University of Alberta, has helped people locally and internationally. His water filtration initiative, called the Kenya Ceramic Project, which provides access to clean water for people in East Africa, adds to the many reasons why Saleh was awarded the International Career Achievement Award.

“I’ve had to resist fitting the mould,” said Saleh. “I think if we can find a way of making ‘not fitting the mould’ easier for people, I think more people would be happier.”

Helen Sunderland BMus’87, MBA’92, the president and chair of the UCalgary Alumni Board of Directors, expressed how honoured she is to be a part of this community and praises the award winners for their service.

“While we celebrate their achievements today,” said Sunderland, “we also wish to recognize that for each of them, there’s much more to come in their story.”

The final recipient of the night was Vicki Adams Willis, BFA’72, the winner of the Distinguished Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement. Being the co-founder of Calgary’s first fully professional dance company, Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, one of the largest jazz dance companies in the world, Willis has created over 35 original productions. She continues to inspire and serve as a mentor for many dancers, especially through her creation of the first and only division of jazz dance in a Canadian university or college — here at U of C.

“There’s nothing quite like being in a studio full of dancers, discovering movement as a form of expression,” said Willis. “It’s been a life filled to the brim with immense joy and inspiration because of them.

The hope is that Arch Award winners have not only benefited our communities, but have opened doors for future alumni and inspired many to help build a brighter tomorrow. 

All the award recipients and alumni, McCauley said, “are a source of hope when we really need bright lights in our communities.”

The Arch Awards was one of more than 25 virtual programs taking place during Alumni Month. To see the full calendar of events going on until Sept. 30, take a look at the Alumni Month 2020 website


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