June 22, 2021

2020 Calgary Awards honour extraordinary Calgarians

UCalgary staff, alumni and donors among honourees
From left: Shelley Yongblut, Breanne Everett, Rahat Zaidi, John R. Lacey and Aamir Jamal
From left: Shelley Yongblut, Breanne Everett, Rahat Zaidi, John R. Lacey and Aamir Jamal

The University of Calgary is a university for Calgary, and so it’s no surprise to find staff, alumni and supporters among the winners of this year’s Calgary Awards.

The City of Calgary’s annual award program honours exceptional people who have made meaningful contributions to the city, helping it grow and prosper — even during a pandemic. For the UCalgary-connected honourees, this includes championing and driving advancements in arts and culture, education, commerce, and more.

UCalgary President Ed McCauley says the university is honoured to be a part of the award recipients’ journeys.

“The University of Calgary is proud to play a leading role in helping this city become a place where innovative ideas flourish and entrepreneurial thinkers thrive,” says McCauley. “The path forward for our city requires leaders like the 2020 Calgary Award winners, whose expertise and ingenuity not only enrich the community, but also inspire the same initiative and passion in others.”

The recipients were announced on June 21 under five major categories: Award for Accessibility, Community Achievement Awards, Environmental Achievement Award, International Achievement Award, and the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize.

Meet this year’s Calgary Award honourees with a UCalgary connection:

Shelley Youngblut, BA’85

Community Achievement Award | Arts

UCalgary alumna Shelley Youngblut is a collaborator, innovator, wrangler and tireless visionary to the benefit of Calgary’s arts and culture community. Youngblut has a unique talent for connecting and empowering artists, writers, musicians, actors and “ordinary” Calgarians to be extraordinary. Her commitment to the local arts scene and unwavering belief in others to create magic led Youngblut to her current role as CEO and “Creative Ringleader” of Calgary’s Wordfest.

She assumed the leadership of Wordfest in 2015 after a successful career as an award-winning magazine editor, pop-culture correspondent and author of three sports books. Since joining Wordfest, Youngblut has transformed it from a limited fall festival into a sustainable, growing, year-round event-producer. This achievement earned her the 2018 Rozsa Award for Arts Leadership.

In 2020, Youngblut and her team met the pandemic head on, quickly shifting Wordfest’s 25th-anniversary celebrations to the highly successful 25@25 online series, featuring weekly conversations with Canada’s top fiction writers. Always creating, Youngblut makes conversations and ideas come alive while inspiring, entertaining and illuminating audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Dr. Breanne Everett, MD’09, MBA’13

Community Achievement Award | Commerce

Dr. Breanne Everett is the president, CEO and co-founder of Orpyx Medical Technologies Inc. Orpyx manufactures a thin shoe insole with sensors that relay pressure, temperature and movement information to a smart device worn by diabetic patients, allowing them to self-monitor their foot health and adjust their behaviour to prevent injury. Everett, a UCalgary alumna who was nominated for the award by Dean Jim Dewald of the Haskayne School of Business, developed the product after seeing the burden that diabetic foot complications place on patients and the health-care system.

The success of this product prompted Everett to extend the Orpyx technology to non-medical applications including athletic performance optimization and injury prevention with the formation of Kinetyx Sciences Inc. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Everett co-founded HelpingAlberta.com, a group of volunteers working with community and industry partners to source critical personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers. 

The initiative quickly collected 350,000 pieces of PPE for the health field and raised almost $90,000 in direct donations to health-care facilities. Orpyx increased its manufacturing capacity to produce medical masks, with a commitment to provide more than 40 million masks to Alberta Health Services over the next two years. Everett is a medical visionary, with the unique foresight to merge medicine, business and technology, earning her international recognition. Her work ethic and desire to make life better for people on a global scale are evident in her continuous shift to address issues and innovate, create, influence and impact the community.

Dr. Rahat Zaidi, PhD

Community Achievement Award | Education

Dr. Rahat Zaidi’s role as professor and chair of Language and Literacy at UCalgary’s Werklund School of Education has given her the opportunity to be an international mentor and visionary among her professional colleagues and students. Many have witnessed and shared in her passion for social justice, equity and inclusion in her teaching and research.
Zaidi educates by example, promoting a classroom environment of trust and equity, emphasizing the importance of linguistic diversity and inclusive education. She prepares future teachers to become confident educators in their own multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual classrooms.

Zaidi’s research carries impact both locally and globally. Her most recent project examined how schools and refugee parents can optimize engagement to best meet children’s learning needs. Through interviews and focus groups localized within an Alberta school, she revealed the challenges refugee families face including language barriers, literacy limitations, access to technology and a general lack of understanding of how the Canadian school system works.

The impact of her research has inspired change among educational stakeholders and helps to inform best practices within the education system. Zaidi’s academic investment in tomorrow’s education is transforming the way educators view their classrooms and she is making a substantial commitment to advancing multilingual literacy, social awareness, safety and inclusion.

Dr. John R. Lacey, PhD, Hon. LLD’19

Community Achievement Award | Grant MacEwan Lifetime Achievement

UCalgary donor Dr. John Lacey is globally recognized as a champion of innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurial spirit in the field of science and energy sustainability. Nominated for the Calgary Award by Werklund School of Education associate professor Dr. Nancy Marlett, PhD, Lacey is a petroleum engineer by trade and enjoyed a successful career in the energy industry, including four decades as an international consultant.

While consulting with countries starting out in energy exploration and development, Lacey established global recognition of Canada as a nation with broad competence and expertise in the petroleum industry. His breadth of knowledge spans energy, science, business and technology, making him a sought-after consultant for governments, major industry, global financial institutions and commercial investors.

In his retirement, Lacey continues to devote his skills, finances, time and love of science and the arts to initiatives at home and abroad. Lacey has been a passionate supporter of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) for nearly 30 years, serving as chair of many fundraising initiatives and providing business expertise to restore financial stability to the organization after near-bankruptcy in the early 2000s. In 2008, Lacey and his wife established the Naomi and John Lacey Virtuoso Programme, bringing in the world’s greatest musicians to perform with the CPO and teach master classes at the Mount Royal University Music Conservatory and UCalgary’s music program.

In November 2020, Lacey received the Order of Canada for his dedication to international business leadership, mentorship of the next generation and philanthropy in support of the arts. Lacey is known for his honesty, integrity, hard work and, above all, a commitment to community and the common good.

Dr. Aamir Jamal, PhD’13

International Achievement Award

Dr. Aamir Jamal is an established international scholar, researcher and activist at UCalgary’s Faculty of Social Work. A transformational leader and global expert in gender justice, girls’ education and human rights, Jamal was nominated for the International Achievement Award by UCalgary research assistant and student-athlete Sarah Thomas, BSW’20. Jamal has produced a significant body of research that has informed policy and practice for national governments and international agencies, most notably inspiring a movement for gender justice and girls’ education across northwest Pakistan.

Born and raised in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, Jamal truly understands the complexities and dynamics of Pakhtun society. His book, The Gate Keepers: Engaging Pashtun Men for Gender Justice and Girls’ Education, initiated critical dialogue surrounding the need for men’s involvement and activism in gender justice issues in the region. In Calgary and across Alberta, Jamal is involved in several action research projects with Calgary’s ethno-cultural communities, engaging men and boys in violence prevention, healthy relationships and building stronger communities.

He is the founding president of the Canadian Association for Children’s Education in Pakistan, an active board member of the Calgary Pakhtun Association, and a committee member for the Alberta Men’s Network for Violence Prevention. A regular keynote speaker for academic institutions and community groups, Jamal’s perspectives are often sought by national and international media outlets. His work has contributed to a shift in local attitudes and cultural perspectives by involving communities directly in addressing gender-based violence and promoting social justice and transformation via formal government and societal approaches.

UCalgary sponsors youth award

For the 14th consecutive year, UCalgary sponsored the Community Achievement Award for Youth, which is presented to a young Calgarian whose exceptional achievements improved the quality of life in this city.

This year, the award went to Curtis Ruttle, who brought inclusivity to Calgarians with vision loss. Legally blind himself, Ruttle has first-hand experience with the accessibility challenges that come with vision loss and has become a champion for people with visual impairments. In 2020, Ruttle received a grant and sponsorships to research, develop and launch Alt Route, a Calgary skate park project to create safe, accessible and inclusive skate parks for those with visual impairments.

Ruttle’s volunteer work extends to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s monthly Buddy Group and children’s summer camps and the Young Leaders Program, where he is an active speaker. He volunteers his time as an advocate, mentor and leader to support the sight-loss community.

Ruttle is a role model and uses his leadership to encourage youth to take an active role in making spaces accessible for all Calgary youth. Through his efforts, Ruttle is bringing to the forefront conversations about inclusion, changing the perception of sight loss and inspiring a new generation of changemakers within the sight-loss community. In his own words, “you don’t need sight to have a vision.”

See the complete list of the 2020 Calgary Awards recipients here.