Each year the UCalgary Alumni Association recognizes outstanding alumni who demonstrate innovation and excellence in their careers and communities. From artists and technology titans to doctors and entrepreneurs — this year’s cohort of six visionaries continue to inspire, inform and illuminate our world:
Vicki Adams Willis, BFA’72
This year’s Distinguished Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement is Vicki Adams Willis, the current founder-in-residence at Decidedly Jazz Danceworks (DJD) as well as the company’s former artistic director. Back in the ‘70s, it was Willis who helped establish UCalgary’s dance department to which, in 2013, she happily returned. That’s when the university approached Willis to start a dance program for patients with Parkinson’s (DPYYC).
“DPYYC has been my passion ever since,” says the city’s matriarch of dance. “I’ve returned to my teaching roots with a new challenge that excites me.”
Dr. Abdullah Saleh, MD, BSc’05
When Dr. Abdullah Saleh isn’t practising pediatric surgery, the recipient of this year’s International Career Achievement award is working on social enterprises.
Besides establishing the Office of Global Surgery, Saleh has also been involved in equipping refugees on the Burma-Thai border with vocational training, designing a cloud-based medical record for the largest slum in East Africa, as well as other international endeavours.
As for his view on international work, he says, “We need to approach the world with a willingness to listen more and talk less.”
Andrew Pearce, BSc’84, MSc’88
Think you’re squandering your life by watching a film 60 times? Not according to this year’s recipient of the Career Achievement award who has watched Star Wars “at least 60 times,” laughs Andrew Pearce, VP of Global Technology at DreamWorks Animation.
Considered a computer graphics trailblazer, Pearce’s software has been used in scores of movies, from Jurassic Park to the Matrix series. He explains his Aha! moment happened while at UCalgary.
“When I realized computer graphics could visualize worlds that were on the pages of books — it blew my mind.”
Dr. Ahmad Munawwar Helmi bin Salim, MD’10
After graduating with a degree in medicine, Dr. Ahmad Munawwar Helmi bin Salim returned to his home in Malaysia to be a general physician but soon found himself spearheading a massive flood-relief mission in 2014.
Since then, the recipient of the Community Commitment award has volunteered with Rohingya refugees and indigenous people across Malaysia and led a project that delivers clean water to underprivileged communities.
“The importance of volunteering was in the air when I was growing up. I don’t think I will ever stop.”
Jeff LaFrenz, BSc (Eng)’85, MSc (Eng)’88
What is so extraordinary about this year’s recipient of the Alumni Service award is his capacity to juggle volunteer commitments while leading a start-up venture.
While Jeff LaFrenz’s latest endeavour is VizworX Inc., a company that creates industrial applications using augmented and virtual reality, the serial entrepreneur has never stopped volunteering for UCalgary boards, committees and causes.
His motto? “Never stop learning and always be curious.”
Daria Venkova, BSc’18, MBT’19
It may have been the childhood spent in Siberia or the songs she sings at coffee shops — but this year’s honouree of the Early Career Achievement award, is most definitely a polymath.
Currently, Daria Venkova is the CEO of Creative Protein Solutions (CPS), a company that detects diseases across animal groups, but the 24-year-old is also a big proponent of hobbies.
“Today, my singing is something that sets me apart. It has also taught me a lot about public speaking — a highly transferrable skill.”
Please join us on Sept. 10th at 7 p.m. where we will toast this year’s Arch Awards recipients in an extraordinary virtual event. Register now!
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