Top 40 Under 40

Part Two

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 Two, we chat with: Kelly James, Nabeel Ramji, Dr. Fareen Zaver, Catharine Bowman and Emily Marasco.

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Kelly James, Knowledge and Research Advisor, Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST)

Some of us collide into a moment that’s so cataclysmic, it’s nothing less than life-changing. Precisely what happened to the now the 30-year-old Arts grad (Development Studies and Economics), who still remembers attending the event for Engineers Without Borders as a UCalgary student. Someone there told a story of a friend in a developing country who had to choose between buying antibiotics and putting food on the table.

“I decided I couldn’t accept that was the reality for others and I couldn’t do anything but work toward promoting health and promoting equitable development around the world,” James says.

Since then, the alumna who went on to take earn her master’s degree in public health in London, UK, has worked with NGOs and non-profits to improve the quality of lives by boosting the knowledge around clean water and sanitation. She now divides her time between CAWST’s offices in Calgary and those in various African countries.

What do you miss about student life? I miss being part of a community that was centred around learning! Even though I’ve stayed friends with many of my past course-mates, nothing compares to getting to see them every day!

If you went back to school, what would you take? If I went back to school I think I would do something more creative, like costume design, or study film… or maybe something in the sciences, like marine biology. This answer changes daily… actually, hourly.

Biggest regret? When I started university, I didn’t realize how many amazing jobs are out there, or that there are a million ways to find success. I thought success meant becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. I think I wasn’t creative enough to realize that if you can think of it, it exists as a job. Had I known this earlier, I likely wouldn’t have ended up doing something much different than I am now, but I would have spent less time worrying about meeting that narrow version of “success.”

Biggest heroes? I have a lot of heroes in the public health world; like Paul Hunter, Val Curtis, or Elizabeth Pisani. But I also have a lot of hometown heroes that should be celebrated. I am lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing people, but I am particularly inspired by Dal at The Coup, Erin at Fair Trade Calgary, Roni of Roni’s Kitchen. Each of these ladies are building community around ethical consumer decision making in Calgary.

A guilty pleasure? I love terrible TV. I could happily spend hours watching reality shows. Survivor is on Season 39, and I am still just as hooked as I was when I watched the first season.

To what do you attribute your current success? Curiosity, passion, persistence, and an incredibly supportive network of family and friends.

What are you reading these days? A line in the River by Jamal Mahjoub.

What is the most annoying question that people ask you? When I explain that my work brings me to a number of countries in West Africa, I often get asked questions along the lines of “Isn’t Africa dangerous?” It is surprising the misconceptions and generalizations people make about the continent, and more surprising still is the number of people that still think Africa is a country.

Read more about Kelly in Avenue Magazine »

Nabeel Ramji, Manager, Strategic Atlantic & Real Estate Finance, Strategic Group; Accessibility Infrastructure Specialist, Riddell Kurczaba Architecture Eng. Interior Design Ltd.; Cofounder, Bricolage

Thirty-three-year-old Nabeel Ramji, BComm’08, believes in luck. Adopted by Canadian parents at six months old, Ramji was diagnosed with a rare form of cerebral palsy that prompted the adoption agency to give his parents the option of returning him to his birthplace, Pakistan. They didn’t. And fate intervened once again when he met Erin Shilliday, the other co-founder of the non-profit, Bricolage Calgary. “The day I met Erin, I was supposed to meet her colleague, but she couldn’t attend the meeting that day, so Erin attended instead,” Ramji writes. “And the rest is history.”

What is the Pedesting app? It’s a Google Maps-style app that we developed at Bricolage that displays accessibility barriers in Calgary. If you’re not expecting a curb or stair to pop up on your route, it can throw off your entire day.

If you went back to school, what would you take? I think I’d take law as the topic has always interested me, even during my time as an undergrad student. Whether it is in your personal or professional life, I have learned that negotiation plays a significant role on how things evolve, so I would love to build those skills.

What is one of the top lessons you learned at UCalgary? How to be resilient and also how to work in collaborative teams. While the classroom setting provided a great foundation for acquiring knowledge, I learned how to be resilient by seeking out answers to questions or problems that were not necessarily taught in the classroom. This ultimately helped me bring a collaborative approach to team projects.

What do you miss about student life? A flexible schedule and being able to meet new people with diverse backgrounds with relative ease and on a consistent basis.

Any advice for new students? Be open-minded and take time to have as many conversations with diverse individuals as possible. With the amount of misinformation that is out there on many topics, it is important to build empathy and understanding of different perspectives, which can result from having conversations with others who are different from you.

What are you watching these days? I’m currently watching The Good Doctor. It is a fascinating show, as it is about a surgeon who has autism, but yet is thriving in the community in which he works, lives and plays. I’m very passionate seeing more diverse representation in the arts, so I enjoy watching the show from this perspective.

Read more about Nabeel in Avenue Magazine »

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Fareen Zaver, Emergency Medicine Physician and Clinical Assistant Professor, Cumming School of Medicine, UCalgary

Dr. Fareen Zaver, MD, 34, confesses that perseverance and the “inability to take no for an answer” are attributes that helped her get to where she is today.

You grew up in Calgary, yet you got your medical degree in the Caribbean. Why?I didn’t get in to the U of C, which is what prompted me to study in the Caribbean and then later move to Washington, D.C., where I completed my residency and then I spent a year at the Mayo Clinic. That’s where I built an online education curriculum for emergency medicine residents [now used in 10 countries].

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives? Travel to as many places in the world that you can and immerse yourself in the local experiences while you are there. Eat food like a local, listen to local music and dance, sit in a local establishment and people-watch; it is fascinating how much you will learn.

Who are your biggest heroes? His Highness, the Aga Khan for his compassion, tolerance and untiring work to improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable populations and uphold human dignity. Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her determination, perseverance through much adversity and her untiring fight against gender discrimination.

If you went back to school, what would you take? Fashion and design thinking.

Any advice for new students? Don’t sign up for all the clubs and activities to check the boxes you need for your next application/job/degree. Sign up for things that excite you, that speak to your passion and that allow you to make a real difference.

What do you miss about student life? I miss the cycle of working hard and playing hard, as well as the camaraderie of campus life.

Read more about Dr. Zaver in Avenue Magazine »

Catharine Bowman, Student, Bachelor of Health Sciences, UCalgary; Researcher; Board Director, Alberta Lymphedema Association

Catharine Bowman, 21, expects to graduate with a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree in 2020. Toiling as a research student at UCalgary since she was 14, one of Bowman’s funniest memories happened over a Skype interview with her research supervisor, Dr. Pierre-Yves von der Weid, PhD. She remembers being petrified that she might have to stand up during the call because, “despite sporting formal wear from the waist up, I was still wearing my pajama bottoms from the night before!”

Why, as a teenager, did you become interested in researching a treatment for lymphedema? I saw my mom struggle with lymphedema and wanted to do something about that. Then, when I was 14, I read about the anti-inflammatory compounds in lupine flowers and wondered if they could be used to reduce the swelling of lymphedema. I started writing to scientists across Canada and got connected with Dr. Pierre-Yves von der Weid and then moved to Calgary in Grade 11 so I could start my research.

What will you do when you graduate? I hope to pursue an MD/PhD.

Who are your biggest heroes? Joan Didion and Michelle Obama. These women are strong leaders with a profound ability to understand human connectivity and experience. I find their ability to facilitate connection and understanding (both internal and interpersonal) extremely inspiring . . . and a skill I hope to develop as I continue to grow.

To what do you attribute your current success? To whom! I will always be grateful for my mentors, family and supporters. Without these people, I would have never been able to pursue the opportunities that were made available to me from a young age. Mentorship (whether inside or outside of a family context) is a powerful tool through which we can empower young people to achieve meaningful goals. By looking beyond someone’s age — rather, seeing their abilities and potential — a mentor can have a huge impact on a young person’s life . . .  I know my mentors have and continue to play a critical role in my success and growth for this reason (amongst many others).

What are you watching or reading these days? I am watching Season 15 of Grey’s Anatomy and I’m reading Blue Nights by Joan Didion. But I’m also super-keen to read Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead.

What is the most annoying question that people ask you? “But, really, how tall are you?”

What amazing thing did you do that no one was around to see? Anytime I do a great job parallel-parking my vehicle, nobody is around to see it!

Read more about Catharine in Avenue Magazine »

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Emily Marasco, Program Evaluation and Planning Specialist, Schulich School of Engineering, UCalgary

Before triple alumna Dr. Emily Marasco, BSc (Eng)’11, MSc’13, PhD’18, became a program evaluation and planning specialist at UCalgary’s Schulich School of Engineering, she was a sessional instructor and researcher. Whatever her role, the 30-year-old has never strayed from her desire to boost creative interdisciplinary thinking, whether that’s through STEM programs, outreach sessions, Beakerhead projects or teaching modules.

What is one of the top lessons you learned at UCalgary? That it’s all right to fail. Learn from your mistakes and improve your preparation for next time.

Any advice for new students? Talk to your professors and learn about the undergraduate research opportunities on campus. You’ll be amazed at the innovative ideas that result from integrating your extracurricular passions with your studies.

If you went back to school, what would you take? I would love to take some courses in creative writing, linguistics, and Greek and Roman studies.

A significant memory from UCalgary? My first introduction to the university was as a kid through the Mini University camps. I’ll never forget my first dissection, learning stage makeup and playing games at lunch.

To what do you attribute your current success? Taking advantage of opportunities, networking and luck!

What quirks do you have? I prefer to eat multicoloured candies, like Skittles, in rainbow order!

What are you currently watching or reading? A Tangled Web by L. M. Montgomery, and eagerly awaiting the release of [streaming service] Disney+!

When you’re not practising engineering or teaching, what else do you enjoy? I’m a jewellery artist and music teacher, and a new mom.

Read more about Dr. Marasco in Avenue Magazine »