Congratulations to our 2020 Alumni Award recipients!
Across the globe, Waterloo alumni are making significant contributions to their industries, local communities and humanity at large. The Alumni Awards recognize these individuals and their efforts to build a better world.
Faculty of Arts
Paul Born (BA '87): Alumni Achievement Award
Paul Born grew up as the son of refugees that worked together to survive and then thrive. This experience is what made him deeply curious about and engaged in ideas that cause people to work together for the common good. Both of his sons (Lucas and Michael), his partner Marlene and even his 91-year mother in law are Waterloo alumni.
In the early days after graduating from Waterloo, Paul co-founded the Community Opportunities Development Association (CODA), a local community economic development organization to address issues of local poverty in Waterloo region and Guelph. Paul is the co-CEO and co-Founder of Tamarack Institute, a learning community with more than 34,000 active members that became Canada’s leading authority on issues of community engagement, collective impact, and community innovation. Vibrant Communities is a signature project of Tamarack, a collaborative campaign now active in over 400 cities in Canada, working together to reduce poverty, support youth and deepen community. Their work has been recognized nationally and beyond, including by the New York Times, as a significant contributor to reducing poverty for 1 million people in Canada and bringing poverty to the lowest level in Canadian history.
Paul is a large-scale community facilitator. He is the author of four books including two Canadian best sellers. He is a Senior Global Ashoka Fellow and was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2019.
Tara Hebblethwaite (BA '13): Young Alumni Award
Living with mental illness since childhood, Tara Hebblethwaite’s path to becoming a vocal advocate for mental health began with a life-changing moment in 2014, when she was a witness and 911 caller for a young man who died by suicide. With the support of grief counselling, Tara realized that seeing someone take their life was enough for her to stop losing any more days of her own life to mental illness.
She chose to continue her path of healing, and by 2016 Tara began to drive social change. Using her platform as a former Miss Oktoberfest, a role she was once ashamed to associate with mental illness, she became unstoppable in her community, sharing her story of hardship and transformation in a raw, vulnerable way. In 2018 Tara’s passion for mental health advocacy prompted her to leave her legal career and work with Lutherwood, a leading centre for children’s mental health. She is now an Employment Consultant, working to help barriered youth become skilled and employable. Tara is a 2018 recipient of the Rogers Women of the Year award for her advocacy. Her dedication and contributions are vital and worthy of high recognition, and support a community where no one lives in silence, shame, or takes their life because of mental illness.
School of Accounting and Finance
Pamela Steer (BA '94, MAcc '94): Alumni Achievement Award
Pamela Steer is the chief financial and corporate strategy officer at Payments Canada. As a member of the executive management team, Pamela has overall responsibility for overseeing the financial and corporate planning functions of the organization.
Pamela joined Payments Canada from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), one of the largest insurance organizations in North America, where she was the CFO and head of finance and employer services.
Pamela is a member of the City of Toronto’s Investment Board and sits on the board of Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto. In addition, she was appointed to the global advisory council for the Accounting for Sustainability Project (A4S) under the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation. She is a founding member of the Canadian chapter of the A4S CFO Leadership Network. She is also a founding advisory council member of the Institute for Sustainable Finance.
Pamela is a proud alumnus of Waterloo and a member of the School of Accounting and Finance advisory council. She is a CPA fellow, accredited as a chartered accountant and holds the Chartered Financial Analyst and Chartered Business Valuator designations. In 2019, Pamela was awarded Canada’s CFO of the year.
Dinesh Balakrishnan (BAFM '14, MAcc '14): Young Alumni Award
Dinesh Balakrishnan is the manager of operations (finance) at Calian Group Ltd. where he is currently managing the billing operations team and driving process improvements. Prior to joining Calian, he was the manager of business transformation at Softchoice in Toronto, where he had a critical role in the first-time SAP implementation, specifically focusing on revenue recognition. Dinesh obtained his Bachelor of Accounting and Financial Management and Master of Accounting from Waterloo in 2014 and earned his CPA, CA through Deloitte.
Outside of work, as the vice-president of young alumni, Dinesh works closely with the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) Alumni Association to plan and promote events and initiatives. He is a regular guest speaker and presenter at the SAF on the topic of personal branding, interview preparation and overall co-op readiness. He supports the SAF’s talented students through their co-op search, career coaching and as a SAF fellowship honouree. Leveraging his experience as a former professional headhunter, Dinesh continues to assist recent immigrants and alumni in their job search. Dinesh credits his achievements to the incredible and unrelenting support of his parents and his wife, an aspiring CPA herself, whom he serendipitously met at a networking event at CPA Ontario during his time as a professional recruiter.
Faculty of Engineering
PETRI K. OKSANEN (BASC '03): ALUMNI ACHIEVEMENT MEDAL, PROFESSIONAL ACHIEVEMENT
Soon after Petri Oksanen joined Francisco Partners' San Francisco office in 2005, he made an immediate impact with his analytical abilities, drive and willingness to learn.
One of Petri's nominators noted that during the first few years at the private equity firm, most associates or vice presidents will do well to complete one investment per year. “That Petri was involved with over 15 transactions over those initial years as an associate and vice president, with an outstanding track record to those transactions, reflects accurately on the disproportionate impact he has had,” he says.
Rising in the firm from investment associate to vice president and then principal, Petri was made partner in 2014 at 33, an age far younger than most partnerships are named in the private equity industry. Oksanen recently moved to the company’s London, England office to lead investments across Europe.
He says he came to Waterloo Engineering to gain a deep understanding of computer engineering, a passion of his since childhood. “That’s really where I started the path of combining deep technical understanding with the business, finance and economics perspective,” he says. “I totally believe I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t gone to Waterloo and for that I’m forever grateful.”
AMARINDER P. SINGH (MASC '92): ALUMNI ACHIEVEMENT MEDAL, PROFESSIONAL ACHIEVEMENT
Amarinder Singh’s pathway to success as an entrepreneur took him to several different countries before returning to his homeland of India nine years ago to launch a business that is improving dental health across the country.
Moving to Nigeria at the age of 12, Amarinder was just 15 when he started his undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering at the University of Ilorin. After completing his undergraduate degree in 1990, he worked for a year before travelling to Canada to begin a master’s in systems design engineering at Waterloo. Nominated for Alumni Gold Medal for outstanding graduate work, Singh graduated from Waterloo Engineering in 1992. Four years later, he completed a Master of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.
For the next 15 years, he worked throughout the U.S. and Canada in senior management roles at leading American and Canadian companies. He also ran a supply chain software company based in San Francisco and founded companies in the healthcare, education, procurement, cloud computing and computer software sectors.
In 2011, he returned to India with his wife and two young daughters to reconnect with family and open a company that would not only be profitable but have a social impact. After researching many possible areas of business, Amarinder decided to launch a chain of dental practices in India to provide oral care lacking in many parts of the country at the time.
Over the years, he has grown his business, called Clove Dental, to more than 350 thriving dental practices throughout the country. The largest oral healthcare company in Asia and eighth in the world, it provides free dental consultations to children in need of safe, clean, high-quality dental care. “Hard work and the education that you receive from Waterloo can get you to your professional achievements and your heights,” says Singh. “I’m so proud to have been a graduate of Waterloo and be associated with this great institution.”
STEPHANIE M. THOMPSON (BASC '01): ALUMNI ACHIEVEMENT MEDAL, COMMUNITY SERVICE
The same high level of commitment and energy Stephanie Thompson brings to her position as an engineering team leader at General Motors in St. Catharines, she also brings to her countless community service roles both on and off the job.
Passionate about promoting STEM, especially to girls, Stephanie has developed and helmed numerous initiatives with different groups to inspire young women to pursue education and careers in the field. She also has encouraged other professionals to become role models.
As one of four members of the STEM Corporate Social Responsibility team at General Motors of Canada, Stephanie has been instrumental in creating partnerships and designing programs and workshops that promote STEM. She also expanded the GM STEM summer camp program by initiating a girls-only week at Dalhousie University. For over 10 years, she has mentored a FIRST team and is an executive member of the Girls in STEM council with FIRST.
In 2019, she created Women in STEM Experiences and STEMbySteph, two initiatives aimed at introducing young girls and women in the Niagara community to subjects such as robotics, environmental science, space science, electronics and chemistry through fun, hands-on workshops. Recently, Stephanie, who has been called a STEMpreneur extraordinaire, launched a series of STEM-based workshops called Women in STEM Experiences (WISE).
Two of her many other volunteer service roles include professional ambassador for the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering and team leader of the Women’s Build for Habitat for Humanity Niagara.
In December 2020, Thompson was named one of Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winners, a prestigious program that celebrates the achievements of women across Canada who advocate for workforce diversity and inspire tomorrow’s leaders.
MOHSEN SHAHINI (PHD '11), MICHAEL SILAGADZE (BASC '07): TEAM ALUMNI ACHIEVEMENT MEDAL
Mohsen Shahini arrived home from class one day in March 2009 to find his then-roommate Mike Silagadze had turned the living room of the apartment into an office, complete with computers and co-op students. Mohsen joked at the time that he didn’t have much choice but to join the fledgling startup and arranged to take time off from his doctorate.
It was Mohsen, an award-winning Waterloo Engineering teaching assistant at the time, who came up with the idea of developing an online teaching program to help engage students with interactive course materials, tools and assessment activities. After designing a prototype, the pair approached a few of their engineering professors for feedback. They came away with funding and sound advice, which they used to launch Top Hat Monocle, now known as Top Hat.
Eleven years later, the company’s learning software is used by thousands of professors in universities throughout North America to engage millions of students in online, blended and face-to-face courses. Now located in Toronto, Top Hat employs well over 400 employees, including Waterloo Engineering alumni and co-op students.
Last year, Mohsen took a leave from Top Hat and launched a startup called Kritik, which develops high-level critical thinking by enabling students to collaborate, provide feedback and analysis, and learn from each other.
Michael says the University’s strong belief, support and mentorship of entrepreneurship are unique and valuable. It provides “a really great model that encourages students to think broadly and apply challenging problems that are out in industry,” he says.
NEWSHA GHAELI (BAS '11): YOUNG ALUMNI ACHIEVEMENT MEDAL
When Newsha Ghaeli started working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study urban environments, she could not have imagined her research focus would quickly turn to analyzing human waste found in sewage. Armed with a Waterloo undergraduate degree in architecture, followed by a master’s in architecture from McGill University, Newsha joined MIT’s Senseable City Lab in 2014 to research city communities in new ways.
Her work pivoted soon after becoming a member of the lab’s Underworlds smart sewers team. She quickly became leader of a project that examines human waste found in sewers to pinpoint neighbourhoods with high rates of infectious diseases, illegal drug use, pollutants and even obesity.
Three years ago, Newsha co-founded and became president of Biobot Analytics, a Boston-based wastewater analytics firm that analyzes viruses, bacteria and chemicals excreted in urine and stools and collected in sewers to learn valuable insights into public health. Last spring, Biobot Analytics became the first company in the world to conduct wastewater analytics to trace COVID-19 outbreaks through the stools of infected individuals.
Mariana Matus, who founded Biobot with Newsha, says her partner has been instrumental in the success of the company, which has attracted over $6.7 million in venture investment, gained selection to the prestigious Y Combinator program in Silicon Valley, and secured U.S. government contracts. “In the US, a degree in architecture is not considered a technical degree, but Newsha consistently showed us how architectural education in Canada — and particularly at Waterloo — is not only an engineering degree, but one that equips its students with the skills to work effectively in interdisciplinary teams tackling societal problems,” says Matus.
Faculty of Environment
WANJIKU CHIURI (PHD '96): DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Dr. Wanjiku Chiuri grew up at the foot of Mt. Kenya where she developed a kinship with nature and witnessed the gender inequality that would fuel her desire to create change.
Today, she is deputy vice chancellor of Academic, Research and Student Affairs and associate professor of Environmental Science in the Department of Earth Sciences at Laikipia University in Kenya, where she led the charge to create the first daycare for female students and staff.
Wanjiku also applies her expertise and knowledge to an impressive scope of consultancy projects, serving as a gender-mainstreaming expert and a gender trainer in various sectors including environment, agriculture and education.
Combining community development and academia has been a hallmark of her many successful initiatives, which include leading a tree nursery initiative, providing gender expertise to Roots, Tubers and Bananas, a food-security research collaborative, and supervising one of the most successful, nearly 100 per cent female, cooperatives in Kenya.
ERYN STEWART (BES '15): YOUNG ALUMNI INSPIRATION AWARD
Eryn Stewart is the founder and director of Indigenous Clean Energy social enterprise and vice president of Lumos Energy. She is the creator and director of the 20/20 Catalysts Program — an award-winning, interactive Indigenous clean energy capacity-building program, designed to support communities embarking on clean energy projects. To date, 20/20 has supported over 100 Indigenous clean energy champions on their energy journeys.
With the support of Gwich’in Council International and the Artic Council, Eryn is lead author of the Artic Sustainability Energy Toolkit, a best-practices guide for communities to develop their own community energy plans.
In partnership with Natural Resources Canada, Eryn is working to deliver the Indigenous Off-Diesel Initiative, supporting 15 off-grid communities with $1.3 million dollars each over the next three years to develop community energy plans and develop clean energy projects. Her work is creating a lasting positive environmental, economic and social impacts for hundreds of Indigenous communities all across Canada.
BARBARA TURLEY-MCINTYRE (MEB '14): FRIEND OF THE FACULTY IMPACT AWARD
Barbara (Barb) Turley-McIntyre is the recently retired vice president of sustainability and citizenship at The Co-operators Group Limited and the co-founder of Partners for Action (P4A), a research network bringing together government, business, academia and NGOs to address flood resiliency.
Now in its fifth year, P4A has raised public awareness and education and has informed government and other stakeholders on policy and flood management.
Even before creating P4A, Barb had established herself as a leader in corporate sustainability. She led The Co-operators to embed sustainability in all areas of the business, endorsing all 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and integrating nine of them into its official long-term goals.
Thanks in large part to Barb’s courageous and unremitting leadership, the company has been recognized as one of Canada’s Greenest Employers and has achieved top-10 rankings on Corporate Knights’ “50 Best Corporate Citizens” every year since 2010, with two first-place rankings, most recently in 2019.
Faculty of Health
JESSICA BONDY (BA '08, MA '13): ALUMNI ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
A community leader in housing and homelessness in Waterloo Region, Jessica Bondy serves at House of Friendship (HOF) as the housing services director. Through innovation, problem solving and partnerships, the HOF team recently piloted a visionary new “ShelterCare” model, by providing healthcare and housing supports within an emergency shelter environment. This program has gained national attention through the Globe and Mail and early outcomes include 75 per cent reduction of EMS visits, 50 per cent reduction in overdoses, 40 per cent reduction of serious workplace incidents, and increased housing retention.
Jessica’s ability to think critically, foster partnerships and make data-based decisions is rooted in her Waterloo education. Jessica sits on the Affordable Housing Strategy Committee for the City of Kitchener and the Housing and Homeless Umbrella Group regionally. She is also an active member in her church community.
Waterloo is special to Jessica. It’s where she met her husband Matt, where she donned, where she served as an orientation leader, and where she presented twice at the GARLS Symposium. When Jessica isn’t working or chasing her kids around, she’s trying a new recipe, cranking up country music, planning her next trip or enjoying a quiet dinner with her husband.
TINA CHAN (BSC '16, MSC '20): YOUNG ALUMNI AWARD
Tina Chan recently completed her Master of Science at Waterloo’s School of Public Health and Health Systems in the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Health Lab. Her research explored the relationship between avatars and players in a computer games for health, bridging the interdisciplinary areas of health, computer science, art and psychology.
Her passion-project turned social venture, Panic, Anxiety, and Stress Support (PASS) Inc., founded during her undergraduate career, has distributed over 50,000 products for mental health awareness to local and international communities — from indigenous communities to high schools in South Korea. As a social entrepreneur, she has been invited as a keynote in Ontario schools, given a TEDxUW talk, and has appeared in media outlets like BBC, Maclean’s and the World Economic Forum.
In her second life, she is a digital illustrator and game developer who is passionate about the arts. She currently holds a user experience research position with Ubisoft Entertainment Montreal, one of the largest games studios in the world, and plans to leverage her industry and entrepreneurial experience to study digital interactions and human wellbeing through academia in the future.
Faculty of Mathematics
JOANNE MCKINLEY (BMATH '00, MMATH '02): J.W. GRAHAM MEDAL IN COMPUTING & INNOVATION
Joanne is a director of software development at Google. She co-founded the Google Waterloo office in 2005 as one of the first developers of mobile Gmail. For years, Joanne led the delivery of mobile Gmail across multiple generations of mobile platforms, co-authoring over a dozen software patents. Most recently she assembled a team of 40 software developers to build the next generation of tools for large-group communication in Google Workspace. Joanne is passionate about championing and developing female leaders in technology. A role model for work-life balance, she has earned multiple promotions while working 32-hour weeks.
Joanne holds a Bachelor of Mathematics and Master of Mathematics in Computer Science from Waterloo. She is mother to 3 school-aged children, enjoys running and plays in three flute ensembles.
Faculty of Science
PETER RAAPHORST (BSC '72, MSC '74, PHD '76): DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI AWARD
Peter Raaphorst earned all three of his physics degrees from Waterloo. While at Colorado State University, he was team leader for his postdoctoral research on cancer treatment that used a combination of heat, radiation and drugs. Peter joined Atomic Energy of Canada in 1979 as section leader and continued his research on multimodality cancer treatment. Later in 1985, he became head of Medical Physics at the Ottawa Hospital and modernized radiotherapy and imaging, and was appointed as full professor in Physics at Carleton University and in Radiology at University of Ottawa. Peter also held an appointment to Henan Tumour Hospital China. He became founding director of the Ottawa Medical Physics Institute (OMPI) which spanned both universities, Health Canada, National Research Council and Atomic Energy, with strong ties to industry.
Peter supervised 21 postgraduates and OMPI and graduated over 100 postgraduates. He has published 235 papers, received $3.5 million in research funding and has given numerous international presentations.
Upon retirement in 2005, Peter was awarded the prestigious Ottawa Life Sciences Council Life-time Achievement Award and later the Gold Medal Life-time Achievement Award by the Canadian Organization of Medical Physics. In 2018 he was elected to the Wall of Fame in Renfrew Collegiate High School.
Peter continues to be active in mammography and Bone Mineral Density QC and national policy. His volunteer work also includes raising money to help refugees and acting as head of finance in his local church.
TERESA MACLEAN (BSC '08): YOUNG ALUMNI AWARD
Teresa graduated from Waterloo in 2008 with a degree in biochemistry and biotechnology. Currently, she is an attorney at Morrison & Foerster LLP in Palo Alto, California. Her practice focuses on the litigation of intellectual property disputes and complex commercial matters. She has litigated cases involving a range of technologies, including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, biologic drug products, communications and other high-tech industries. She is actively involved in pro bono and social justice initiatives, representing clients in asylum, housing and prisoner civil rights matters.
While at Waterloo, Teresa was active in chemistry club, and conducted research in Dr. Thorsten Dieckmann’s laboratory. She received her Master of Science in Molecular Genetics and her Juris Doctor from the University of Toronto.
School of Pharmacy
FARZAN DADFAR (BSCPHM '13, PHARMD '19): ALUMNI ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Farzan Dadfar graduated in 2013 from Waterloo's School of Pharmacy and now manages NKS Health, a unique pharmacy located in the Greater Toronto Area that provides specialized therapies for chronic autoimmune conditions.
Farzan is truly passionate about advancing the profession of pharmacy and improving access to high-quality pharmaceutical care for patients requiring specialized therapies. He has distinguished himself in the pharmacy profession as an emerging leader in the field of biologics. Farzan has participated as an expert on numerous advisory boards and public panels and has made an important contribution to the education of pharmacists by sharing his expertise.
While making these important contributions to the profession, Farzan also supports the next generation of pharmacy students. He has a strong interest in education and is dedicated to mentoring pharmacy students through the School of Pharmacy’s co-operative education program. Farzan earned his Doctor of Pharmacy in 2019 and is currently pursuing his Master of Business Administration at the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management.
Conrad Grebel University College
SARAH KATHLEEN JOHNSON (BA '07, MTS '08): DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI SERVICE AWARD
Sarah Kathleen Johnson, theology scholar and church leader, was named Conrad Grebel University College’s 2020 Distinguished Alumni Service Award winner because of her inspiring creativity, thoughtful dedication and unique contributions to the Mennonite church. Currently working toward a Doctor of Philosophy in Liturgical Studies at Notre Dame, Johnson is also a visiting fellow at the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre. Johnson took on leadership roles in the development of Voices Together, the new Mennonite hymnal, and helped to develop Together in Worship, a website to support Anabaptist leaders with free online resources. She continues to participate in the Grebel community through guest lecturing, leading workshops and writing in The Conrad Grebel Review.
St. Paul’s University College
ALISON JACKSON (BA '97, MACC '97): DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI AWARD
In recognition of an exemplary career, dedication to profession and service to community
Alison Jackson joined EY Canada in 1998, became a partner in 2007 and has served as managing partner of the EY Calgary office since 2019. Alison leads by example and is responsible for both office culture and market strategy. Alison has significant experience in mergers, acquisitions and divestitures, business transformation and risk, governance and taxation. Her knowledge and skill in these areas position her well to lead EY Calgary, as her city and province look for innovative ways to diversify their economies.
Beyond her professional career with EY, Alison is a life-long learner and has demonstrated a deep commitment in service of community. She has completed several executive education programs at the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University, the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University and the London School of Business, in addition to completing the Directors Education Program with the Institute of Corporate Directors. Alison has served on the boards of St. Paul’s University College, the Ontario Association of Triathletes, the Calgary Public Library and the United Way Calgary and Area. She is currently on the Advisory Council of the Simpson Centre for Agricultural and Food Innovation and Public Education at the School of Public Policy in the University of Calgary.
SEYNI MBAYE (BES ‘17): YOUNG ALUMNI AWARD
In recognition of leadership, volunteerism, and commitment to development
Seyni Mbaye is a graduate of International Development (INDEV) and obtained a Master of Development Practice at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota.
He has devoted his young career to tackling international development issues such as education, agriculture, water and sanitation, and entrepreneurship in Africa and the Americas.
Seyni works in Senegal as the program officer for Results for Development. He supports the African Collaborative for Health Financing Solutions (ACS) project on the design and implementation of the monitoring and evaluation portfolio of core and regional activities.
At Waterloo, Seyni was highly regarded for his leadership and entrepreneurial approach. He volunteered as the vice-president, finance for the Student Association of International Development and was also a GreenHouse innovator in residence. His GreenHouse experience proved valuable during his INDEV field placement with the Ungweru Organization in Malawi where his focus was youth entrepreneurship.
At the Humphrey School, Seyni volunteered as a board member for the International Student Advisory Board, was vice-president of the Public Affairs Student Association, and was the director of programming for the Council of International Graduate Students for which he was recognized with the Mestenhauser Award for Excellence in Campus Internationalization.
Seyni is co-founder and president of the Senegalese School of Success, an association that assists Senegalese high school graduates access higher education institutions all around the world via mentorship programs and capacity-building activities.