Top 40 Under 40: Part 1

For 20 years, outstanding young civic-minded visionaries have been celebrated in the annual Top 40 Under 40. And, once again, it wasn’t only entrepreneurs and business leaders who were toasted at the Nov. 8 gala hosted by Avenue Calgary.

Although the Top 40 is often recognized as a who’s who of corporate Calgary, among this year’s honourees were many researchers, doctors, aid workers and charity founders with UCalgary connections. In fact, 21 of this year’s recipients have ties to the University of Calgary. We spoke to 20 of them in this four-part series.

Read on to meet this year’s crop of ambitious, talented professionals — who were eager to reminisce about their times on campus as well as share advice and wisdom. In Part One, you’ll meet: Vivek ShrayaAllison Onyett, BA’09; Dr. Kirsten Fiest, BSc’08, PhD’14; Dr. Kimberly Williams, MD’14; and Dr. Rita Watterson, MD’13.

Vivek Shraya

Vivek Shraya, 37, is assistant professor of creative writing at UCalgary, as well as a bestselling author, artist and musician. Dubbed “cultural rocket fuel” by vanityfair.com’s “In Conversation” column, Shraya identifies as transgender and has rocked our campus since the day she posted her course outline on Twitter. It went viral.

Do you have a favourite professor? The one at University of Alberta who told me that I was the worst writer in his class. He taught me about what kind of professor I don’t want to be.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives? Live in a different city than the one they grew up in.

What do you wish you knew more about? My body.

What are you reading these days? I just finished Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind, which I’d highly recommend.

If you went back to school, what would you take? Music or visual art.

Allison Onyett, BA’09

Allison Onyett, 32, BA’09, marketing director for the CORE Shopping Centre, confesses that one of her quirks is her fear of escalators. Surrounded by them at work, she still “hesitates every time” she gets on one, “especially in heels.”

Any advice for new students? Volunteer — sign up for whatever you can and build that resume. You learn so much volunteering, and the connections, even if they don’t seem to play a role in your life now, will prove invaluable in the future.

A significant memory from UCalgary? Oddly, U of C 101. So many people skip that first day, but I made lifelong friends on that day.

What is the luckiest thing that has happened to you? Career-wise, getting the internship at Where magazine when I was 24, because I had very little experience. I worked incredibly hard for very little pay, and I lived off Kraft Dinner for a year, but that one experience set me on the path to where I am today.

Dr. Kirsten Fiest, BSc’08, PhD’14,

Dr. Kirsten Fiest, 32, BSc’08, PhD’14, assistant professor in the departments of Critical Care Medicine, Community Health Sciences and Psychiatry, admits that her one regret was not taking a study-abroad program in her undergrad degree as “they get more difficult later on.”

What do you wish you knew more about? I wish I knew more about computer science and coding. I think it is such a valuable skill and it’s just plain interesting. One more thing to add to my to-do list!

What amazing thing did you do that no one was around to see? Any time I do an amazing parallel parking job, it seems that no one is around to witness it!

What is one of the top lessons you learned at UCalgary? The value of mentorship; specifically, how important it is to have peers and faculty to support you. Having a network of invested individuals to guide you in your career, studies and life is invaluable.

Any advice for new students? If you are interested in research, start early! In first year, find a lab where you can volunteer, look for summer student positions and pursue any opportunity to gain experience in research. This will come in handy for applications for scholarships, graduate school and medical school.

Dr. Kimberly Williams, MD’14

Resident physician in psychiatry, Dr. Kimberly Williams, 36, MD’14, shared a spot on the honour roll with fellow alumna Dr. Rita Watterson, 34, MD’13, whom she met in med school. In 2013, they founded Kolabo (Swahili for collaboration), a partnership between the Psychiatry department at UCalgary and a university in Tanzania. Their goal? To reduce the gap in mental-health training in the east-African country. The pair has returned to Tanzania three times to teach and, on their last trip, they trained nearly 300 medical students. We first spoke to Williams.

Tell us a funny memory from UCalgary. I broke my foot while teaching in Mwanza, Tanzania. When I was back at work, I was in a boot cast that some friends bejewelled. I remember walking around the ER and leaving small plastic rhinestones behind.

If you went back to school, what would you take? I have always been fascinated with stories — perhaps that is one reason I really enjoy working as a psychiatrist-in-training. I would take journalism!

Biggest heroes? The patients and their families that I get to work with. Those who live with a mental illness still face stigma and I see the courage it takes for them to seek support and treatment. They are often my biggest teachers.

Worst job? During undergrad, I was a catering delivery driver. This was actually super-hard! I was always rushed to get food to the right places on time. The stress didn’t lead to any type of gratification, so it wasn’t very fun.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives? Travel! Do it more than once and do it with your children. We are global citizens and the best education we can get is from learning through experiencing other countries and cultures.

Dr. Rita Watterson, MD’13

Watterson is a staff psychiatrist at the Mosaic Refugee Health Clinic, and maintains that student life taught her the importance of teamwork and the power behind a collaborative approach.

What was the worst job you’ve ever had? A Calaway Park ride operator.

What are you watching or reading these days? This is Us (Netflix) and The Whole-Brain Child [by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson].

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives? Travel to somewhere that makes you feel uncomfortable.

What is the most annoying question that people ask you? Can you read my mind?

What is the luckiest thing that has happened to you? I met my husband on the second day of medical school in the anatomy lab.

A guilty pleasure? Licorice. I would eat it for breakfast!

What do you miss about student life? I miss having my only responsibility being my learning!

Explore more

Top 40 Under 40: Part 2

In Part Two we interview: Dr. Tolulope Sajobi; Derek Luk, BN’07; Christina Hassan; Kye Kocher, BA’11; and Dr. Prism Schneider, MD’08, PhD’08.
Read Part 2 »

Top 40 Under 40: Part 3

In Part Three we catch up with: Corinne Ofstie, BA’05, BSW’12; Jason Kingsley; Matt Toohey, BA’05; Jerilyn Dressler, MSW’15; and Dr. Amy Metcalfe, PhD’12.
Read Part 3 »

Top 40 Under 40: Part 4

In Part Four, we chat with: Dr. Won Hyung (Andrew) Ryu, Tara Weber, MBA’17; Megan Zimmerman, 37, BComm’04; Jil Macdonald, BSc’08; and Amanda Rae Storteboom, BA’09.
Read Part 4 »

Out Now: Fall/Winter 2018

From intercultural classrooms and study abroad programs to career paths and life in Qatar — our international issue is here. 
Read the magazine »