Top 40 Under 40

Part Three

by Deb Cummings, Office of Advancement, with files from Avenue Magazine


Nearly 400 people whooped it up at the sold-out Top 40 Under 40 gala, hosted by Calgary Avenue Magazine at the Jack Singer Concert Hall.

On Nov. 4, some 42 honorees (20 of whom have UCalgary connections) accepted their awards before a packed crowd of co-workers, families and special guests, following a private reception in which the honorees shared some of their funniest university memories with us. This generation of movers and shakers are doctors, artists, researchers, entrepreneurs and innovative nonprofit and civic leaders who still find time to give back and volunteer in their communities.

From guilty pleasures to favourite profs and spots on campus, discover more about each of the 20 impressive honorees with UCalgary connections in this three-part series.

In Part Three, you’ll meet: Louisa Ferrel, Umair Pervez, Dr. Deinera Exner-Cortens, Aalia Ratani, Dr. Shafeena Premji and Dr. Lauren Walker.

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Conrad Ferrel and Louisa Ferrel, Founders, True Büch Kombucha and True Incubator

Louisa Ferrel, BComm’04, and her partner, Conrad, are the creators behind the five-year-old company True Büch Kombucha, now sold through more than 500 retailers across Canada. Besides creating a best-selling fermented tea beverage that hit revenues of $1.6 million last year, they have recently launched another project, True Incubator, a non-profit business school that provides local entrepreneurs with the tools they need to scale their businesses.

What is one of the top lessons you learned at UCalgary? University is all about the life experiences you gain.

Any advice for new students? Have the time of your life in university and make lifelong friends.

If you went back to school, what would you take? I started out in Romance languages, so maybe I’d spend more time doing that.

Do you have a significant memory from UCalgary? More traumatizing than significant, but our Business Games Team was kicked off a WestJet flight en route to the games, and we all learned a lot from that mistake.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? I had a paper route at 12. Trying to collect money each weekend was a nightmare.

To what do you attribute your current success? Getting my CPA designation. I could talk for hours about why anyone should do this . . . and, sometimes, I do.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives? Fail at something.

What quirks do you have? Taking advantage of being an entrepreneur and wearing lululemon pants to most meetings.

What is the luckiest thing that has happened to you? My family immigrated here from Romania in 1994, so probably that.

Read more about Louisa in Avenue Magazine »

Umair Pervez, Manager, PwC Canada

Umair Pervez, 33, believes the key to success is resilience. With a background in psychology, technology and business, Pervez has been able to parlay his expertise into what he has dubbed the “fourth industrial revolution.” Committed to making Calgary a more resilient city, Pervez has worked with Syrian refugees and policy-makers, and teaches change-management courses at UCalgary.

Do you have any advice for new students? Make sure you involve yourself with school activities/clubs outside of the classroom. You will end up learning a lot!

If you went back to school, what would you take? Forensic science. I watched a lot of CSI.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives? Speak to people at the tail end of their lives. They give you a lot of perspective.

What do you wish you knew more about? The human brain and consciousness.

What are you watching or reading these days? I don’t read fiction and people usually scoff at the kinds of books I read for fun. I’m currently reading a book about technological disruption called Digital Vortex.

What is one of the biggest issues facing cities right now? The complex technological transitions that are impacting and changing the nature of work.

Read more about Umair in Avenue Magazine »

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Deinera Exner-Cortens, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Work and Department of Psychiatry, Cumming School of Medicine, UCalgary

Dr. Deinera Exner-Cortens, BSc’07, PhD, assistant professor in the Faculty of Social Work and Department of Psychiatry, has brought $1.3 million in research funding to UCalgary in the past five years. With a focus on developing programs that educate youth on how to avoid dating violence by forming healthy relationships, you’re more likely to find Exner-Cortens, 34, in communities than in a traditional lab. Since completing her PhD in 2014, her work has been published in 25 peer-reviewed publications and her research has been cited 950 times in other scholarly publications.

What do you miss about student life? Having learning be my main responsibility!

What is one of the top lessons you learned at UCalgary? Find out what you are good at and what drives your interest. I came in thinking I wanted to go to medical school, because that was one of the careers I was familiar with. But, after a few years, I realized I wasn’t very good at the things that were required for that job, and that it wasn’t my passion. Be okay with changing your goals!

If you went back to school, what would you take? That’s a tough one (as I feel like I am interested in everything)! I often think I would like to go to law school, as I am very interested in the way that law can advance positive social-policy changes.

Biggest regret? Not taking any time off to travel after graduate school before starting my “real” job. You don’t really get that time back, so, even if it seems tough at the time to prioritize travelling over all the other demands facing you at the end of grad school, I think it’s important to take that time to decompress if you can.  

A guilty pleasure? I love reading cheesy crime novels at night. It helps me separate myself from the stress of the day, and get immersed in another world before I fall asleep.

What quirks do you have? I have a lot of trouble with spatial reasoning, and still can’t really tell left and right apart. This doesn’t affect my job, but does make driving an adventure!

What is the luckiest thing that has happened to you? Getting my current job. The tenure-track market is tough, and I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten this position. It has allowed me to do a lot of great things and has given me the ability to really build my research program.

Read more about Dr. Exner-Cortens in Avenue Magazine »

Aalia Ratani, Engagement Manager, McKinsey & Company

Aalia Ratani, BSc (Eng)’08, 34, won a Top 40 spot for her ability to remove barriers for women in the workplace. Ratani says she wishes she’d appreciated the value of failure a bit more when she was at university. “It’s not the end of the world,” writes the woman who managed a $76-million capital-development program at Husky Energy before joining McKinsey. “And you can learn so much from it.”

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives? Travel the world — it teaches us so much.

To what do you attribute your current success? I have always focused on what makes me happy, and every decision I make is around that.

If you went back to school, what would you take? I’d finish my Spanish degree. I was in a rush to graduate quickly, so I only completed the first half of my degree before deciding to prioritize my engineering degree.

Any advice for new students? Don’t get too caught up in the academics — take time to find extracurriculars you’re excited about and build out your CV.

What is one of the top lessons you learned at UCalgary? The importance of getting things done and planning ahead . . . After a couple of all-nighters, I quickly learned the importance of prioritization and starting things early.

What do you miss about student life? It was a safe space to learn.

What is the luckiest thing that has happened to you? Having twins.

Read more about Aalia in Avenue Magazine »

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Shafeena Premji, Medical Director and Physician, Mahogany Medical Clinic and The Village Medical; Physician Lead, South Calgary Primary Care Network; Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine, Cumming School of Medicine, UCalgary

For 37-year-old Dr. Shafeena Premji, BSc’04, MD’10, the fourth time’s the charm; that’s how many times she applied to med school before being accepted. “Those refusals taught me to never give up in the face of setbacks,” Premji says. “Setbacks, disappointment and adversity have also taught me the importance of being humble and grounded in success!”

What do you miss about student life? The simplicity of that phase when my sole focus was to learn. I remember waking up many mornings, at 4 a.m., to study quietly. Those early hours were my favourite because the world was still and I would learn, understand and retain information the best.

Any advice for new students? Take every opportunity that intrigues you, excites you and challenges you! As [entrepreneur and motivational speaker] Jim Rohn says: “Don't join an easy crowd. Go where the challenge is great and the emotions are high. Go where the expectations are so strong that they provoke you, push you and urgently insist that you not remain in one place. That way, you will grow and change.”

To what do you attribute your current successTo an unwavering faith in God in every single aspect of my life.

What are you reading these days? My most recent read is The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma, who has been my inspiration as an author and life mentor since I read his first book, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives? Do something for someone who will never be able to repay you.

What do you wish you knew more about? I wish I knew more about how to cook and prepare nice home-cooked meals! As I was growing up, my head was always in the books and I missed out on the opportunities to learn from my mom and challenging myself with recipes.

What amazing thing did you do that no one was around to see? I took a leap of faith in November 2012, when I met my husband, Vishal, for the very first time at the Kingston, Ont., bus terminal. It was 1 a.m. and the terminal was empty. He was in Canada for the first time from the United Kingdom. We had been communicating via Skype and phone for a few months prior. The moment I met him was a moment I will never forget. He is my best friend, an incredible life partner, my forever love and the best daddy to our beautiful eight-month-old son, Giann.

Read more about Dr. Premji in Avenue Magazine »

Dr. Lauren Walker, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Oncology, Cumming School of Medicine, UCalgary; Owner and Clinical Psychologist, Walker Psychological Inc.  

Dr. Lauren Walker, BA’07, MSc’09, PhD’13, is a researcher and clinical psychologist who has developed groundbreaking programs to help patients suffering from cancer-related sexual difficulties

The triple alumna and faculty member loves to talk about “difficult subjects,” whether that’s sex, cancer, mental health and dying. Nothing is off limits — precisely why her favourite quote is “Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.”

The “beauty of that Mark Twain quote is that it works,” says the author behind 30 publications and 50 conference presentations. “I think everyone should do something (or many things) that scare the crap out of you . . . jump off a cliff, climb a mountain, sing in front of a crowd, give a speech, change your careers, have children, tell someone how you really feel — the possibilities are endless and also entirely idiosyncratic.”

What do you miss about student life?  The flexible schedule — you pretty much work all the time so you have to take breaks to go to the gym and see your friends and have a life, so you have to fit that all in wherever you can . . . and that can sometimes be in the middle of the afternoon.

What is one of the top lessons you learned at UCalgary? Study something that you care about as it will help keep your motivation sustained when the going gets tough.

Any advice for new students? Take as many diverse options as you can afford to. You may never get the opportunity for the same kind of breadth of exposure again in the future. The more you know about other fields, the better you can relate to other people.

Do you have any guilty pleasures? Eating out. I love getting together with friends and trying new places.

Did you have a favourite professor or a class? Dr. Deborah Dobson. She taught my undergraduate Clinical Psychology course. This class was the first chance in a four-year degree to get a taste for what I wanted to do for my career.  As a full-time clinical psychologist and adjunct professor, she had the best real-world examples that made the course content come alive.

What re you reading these days? Does Goodnight Moon count? I read that one several times a week. Joking aside, I recently enjoyed reading Educated, by Tara Westover. I couldn’t put it down.

What is the most annoying question that people ask you? Are you psychoanalyzing me right now? I mean at a dinner party, I just want to turn off work mode and enjoy myself like everyone else wants to.

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

We also salute Dr. Marco Gallo, Curtis Running Rabbit-Lefthand, Dr. Marshall Ross, Dr. Farida Saher. Although we were unable to connect with these Top 40 honorees about their UCalgary experiences, each of their profiles that appear in November’s Avenue Magazine speak volumes:

Dr. Marco Gallo — Assistant Professor, Departments of Physiology & Pharmacology and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, UCalgary

Curtis Running Rabbit-Lefthand — Executive Artistic Director, Indigenous Resilience in Music

Dr. Marshall Ross — Emergency Physician, Alberta Health Services; Clinical Lecturer, Department of Emergency Medicine, Cumming School of Medicine, UCalgary

Dr. Farida Saher — Pediatric Dentist and Owner, Dental Care for Children; Clinical Lecturer, Department of Surgery, Cumming School of Medicine, UCalgary