Top 40 Under 40

Part Two

By Deb Cummings, Office of Advancement, with files and photos from Avenue magazine

Although the Top 40 is often recognized as a who’s who of corporate Calgary, among this year’s 48 honourees were many researchers, doctors, teachers and tech entrepreneurs with UCalgary connections. In fact, 27 of this year’s recipients have ties to the University of Calgary. 

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 Two, you’ll meet: Dr. Rahim Kachra, MD’10; Jen Woods, BA’04; Dr. Ilyan Ferrer, PhD; Patrycja Vaid, BN’06, MN’15; Dr. Michael Roumeliotis, PhD; Ashley Tedham, BA’07, and Dr. Man-Wai Chu, PhD.

Dr. Rahim Kachra

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Rahim Kachra

Clinical associate professor of medicine; director of Teaching Innovation and director of the Internal Medicine Clerkship, Undergraduate Medical Education, Cumming School of Medicine, UCalgary

When Dr. Rahim Kachra, MD’10, chose to specialize in internal medicine, he predicted he’d always be challenged. Little did he know that one day he’d organize the teaching of more than 600 local physicians who were working on inpatient COVID-19 medical units, create virtual education programs for medical students during said pandemic, and get married, all in the same year. 

Why did you choose to pursue a master’s in education from Harvard, after you had completed medical training? I have always been attracted to the idea of learning with and learning from those who are outside of my niche area. While my interests are in medical education, I felt that I could find “analogous inspiration” from those in parallel education settings.

What were some of the biggest challenges in developing virtual education programs during the pandemic? While we supplemented the traditional in-person learning environment with virtual content pre-pandemic, we have never needed to rely solely on virtual strategies. One of the biggest challenges was iterating quickly to find the best models for educational delivery within the compressed timelines of our MD program. 

What have you, personally, missed most during the pandemic? The six-hour round trip to catch an Oilers game with my dad. 

If you were to go back to school, what would you take? The answer to this question depends on the day of the week. Sometimes, I believe I wouldn’t have done anything differently, as I feel lucky to have had the experiences and opportunities I had. At other times, I wish I went into acting…  

What are you watching these days? Premier League football/soccer (Liverpool!). 

What’s one of your guilty pleasures? Mishkaki and mogo (my favourite East African meal).

What do you miss about student life? I miss how simple life felt; whether it was or not is a different question! We knew we had to work hard, but we were also able to find time to enjoy the ride.  

Any advice for students or new grads? Know who you are, know what you bring to the table, and believe in yourself, even when it’s really hard to do so (actually, especially when it’s really hard to do so).

Jen Woods

Co-founder of Tiny Footprints

Four years ago, two friends since high school, Jen Woods, BA’04, and Kristina Oriold, decided to form Tiny Footprints — a group for those experiencing pregnancy and infant loss — after Oriold lost her own daughter. Since then, the duo has raised nearly half a million dollars, but it’s the community they’ve built that’s most meaningful.

When you think of Tiny Footprints, what are you most proud of? The sense of community that keeps growing every year — a safe space where women and families feel less alone through their journeys of grief. The connection piece is the most valuable; knowing we have helped even one person through this heartache makes it all worth it.

What have you missed most during the pandemic? Not being able to hold our committee meetings in person. The committee is an incredible group of women connected through a common goal. That physical presence of sitting around a table together or a simple hug is so valuable in healing and connection.

Favourite university class? Sociology of Sport.

Where did you hang out on campus? Lots of foggy fun memories at the Den.

Do you remember any extraordinary lectures or professors? My dad, Professor Ian Rounthwaite. Not as my professor, but he was the best editor for my assignments. Plus, he would always buy me lunch. Thanks, Dad! 

What is the most satisfying thing about your job today? Knowing that we are helping so many people, and doing it alongside my best friend, Kristina Oriold, and an incredible group of women. 

Where do you hope to take Tiny Footprints? We want to see Tiny Footprints grow nationally and have a chapter in each city/town. Pregnancy and Infant Loss is all too common and these programs need awareness and funding everywhere. 

Jen Woods

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Ilyan Ferrer

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Ilyan Ferrer

Assistant professor, Faculty of Social Work; associate member, O’Brien Institute for Public Health, both UCalgary  

Dr. Ilyan Ferrer, PhD, has parlayed his childhood observations into an academic specialization known as social gerontology. An author, recognized expert, researcher and professor, Dr. Ferrer is also the first Filipino-Canadian to receive a tenure-track position in social work in Canada.

We know your field of research is “anti-oppression gerontology,” but what, exactly, does that mean? It’s where aging, immigration, labour and care intersect. Growing up in Montreal in the ’70s with parents who came there from the Philippines meant I saw many of the things I now research as a scholar.

How has COVID-19 impacted your day-to-day work with marginalized groups? While I continue to see folks virtually — in fact, I participate in more meetings online than I ever had, pre-COVID — ways of interaction and relationship-building are completely different. This reality has forced me to rethink about personal and professional relationships during times of “social and physical distance.” 

What have you, personally, missed most during the pandemic? I miss spending time with chosen family and friends in other provinces [and] parts of the world. My brother and his partner gave birth to their son, and I find myself thinking about holding the little being for the first time. I miss holding and sharing space for family and friends who are not in my local bubble. 

Any advice for students or new grads? In the field/job/community, your ways of relating to others, as well as critical thinking and accountability, are far more important than a 4.0 grade point average. 

Who are your biggest heroes? I’m grateful and appreciative of my parents (Chito and Avelino), who left the Philippines during the violent Marcos dictatorship. While I’m careful not to romanticize or tokenize their experiences of immigration, settlement, sacrifice, racism, resilience, resistance, etc., they’ve offered me important lessons on how to be a better person.

Patrycja Vaid

Clinical Nurse Specialist, Acute Pain Service, Alberta Health Services (AHS)

Known for ripping down silos, Patrycja Vaid, BN’06, MN’15, attributes her obstacle-free worldview to her feisty Polish mom. Not only did her mother raise two daughters, alone, she did so while simultaneously studying nursing and English. Today, Vaid is known as a trailblazer who has boosted health-care education, allowing Calgary hospital patients wider access to advanced pain treatments.

What sparked the change that you initiated in 2011 that led to nurses being able to administer low-dose ketamine infusions for pain control? Ten years ago, it was not uncommon for patients to be prescribed hundreds or thousands of milligrams of opioids. As we now know, when someone uses opioids regularly for prolonged periods of time, they develop a tolerance. The nursing practice of administering analgesic infusions such as ketamine was historically obstructed by a cardiac-monitoring requirement which was not based on any evidence, and, unfortunately, patients were suffering as a result. I worked with a number of amazing individuals from various disciplines to lift the restrictions and the ketamine low-dose infusion protocol was piloted at Foothills in 2011. The analgesic infusion protocols have been expanded across all four adult hospitals in Calgary. To make education on analgesic infusions education more accessible to AHS staff, I recently converted the theory into an eModule. AHS adapted the protocol provincially and other centres across North America have asked to use it to implement similar practices.

What have you missed most during the pandemic? I’m a very spontaneous person and I miss being able to drop by and visit with a friend or loved one in various settings. That is truly what I long for the most when the COVID blues hit. 

If you were to go back to school, what would you take? Physics. I was lazy in high school and decided that chemistry and biology were enough. I wanted to sleep in, so I chose to take a spare. I now wish I had taken physics!

What are you watching or reading these days? Whatever that will take my mind off pandemic reality, but is light-hearted. I just finished binge-watching Mrs. Maisel and now I’m hooked on Schitt’s Creek

A guilty pleasure? Naps! I have a two- and four-year-old who have never liked to sleep through the night, so I try to catch up on sleep by napping with them on weekends — although recently they’re making it hard as they’re both fighting hard to lose their naps.

Patrycja Vaid

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Michael Roumeliotis

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Michael Roumeliotis

Adjunct associate professor, Department of Oncology, Cumming School of Medicine, UCalgary; CEO, Okolo Health

Thirty-seven-year-old medical physicist Dr. Michael Roumeliotis, PhD, has demonstrated that new approaches in cancer treatments can be more effective for patients and more cost-effective for the health system.

We understand that Okolo Health makes brachytherapy more accessible to patients, but what, exactly, is brachytherapy? Brachytherapy is a type of radiation therapy that has been used for many years to treat cancer patients. It is an ideal treatment option for some cancers as we are able to place the radioactive material directly in the tumour volume, meaning we can spare more healthy tissue. It is most commonly used as a standard of care treatment for prostate and gynecologic cancers. 

What is rewarding about teaching? Teaching provides an opportunity for students to connect the impact physics in medicine and innovation has on improving patient care.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? Improving treatments and technologies that have a measurable impact on patient outcomes and experience.

Has your research led to any savings for the health-care system? My team developed a method to deliver a five-day treatment for early stage breast cancer that limits toxicity. The method has become a standard of care in Calgary and its success has saved Alberta’s health-care system approximately $1.3 million already. 

What are the measurable advances that you hope to see in your field of expertise? Technological infrastructure that is designed to inform future patient treatments by applying large-scale retrospective patient information and outcomes.

Ashley Tedham

Executive director of the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award –  Canada (Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunavut)

As if revitalizing the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award wasn’t enough, Ashley Tedham, BA’07, also volunteers with the Rotary Tom Jackson Stay In School Program and Dress for Success Calgary, and she sits on the board of directors of CAUSE Canada — a non-profit organization that works with people living in extreme poverty in developing countries.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, which helps youth develop into adulthood, has been around since the 1950s, so what are you doing that is so different? When I learned that the award had been used effectively in the prison system in South Africa, and embraced by Nelson Mandela, as an approach to intervention and rehabilitation, I felt [it] could be used more broadly in Canada as a tool for community development. So my small, but mighty team set up a pilot project to work with youth in the justice system in Calgary, Edmonton and Yellowknife. We have now served 125 youth in the justice system, with over 36 having received a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. I continue to be motived by the great amount of opportunity that still remains for the award to be used to empower young people across Canada, regardless of their circumstance.

Why are you so motivated by social justice issues? In 2007/2008, I was given the opportunity to live and work in Sierra Leone. The depth of the suffering experienced in Sierra Leone, especially by its women and children, continues to haunt me. It forever changed how I saw the world and motivated me to pursue a career in development. I believe that we are called to serve others in this life. I used to think this was best achieved by working within the United Nations on an international scale. I have learned from experience that often the most transformational developments take place on a communal level. I believe that the work we are doing, in particular, within the justice system has been greatly impactful in the lives of the young people we serve and their communities.

Any advice for students or new grads? Don’t compare yourself! You are on your own unique journey and, no matter where you end up, it will be full of purpose and beauty. Another great piece of advice I received from a professor during grad school in Switzerland was, “Know when to put down the books, pick up a glass of wine and have an interesting conversation with the people around you.” 

What do you miss about student life? I miss having the time to engage in those impromptu conversations around a glass of wine or cup of coffee. I miss sitting in coffee shops for hours reading, thinking and writing about the state of things. I miss the adventure, the travel and the unnerving uncertainty of it all that pushed me to take on new challenges and explore.

A guilty pleasure? I have one that started during my bachelor’s degree at the U of C: watching Grey’s Anatomy. I haven’t missed an episode in 15 years. I know it’s shameful, but what can I say . . . they are family now. 

What are you watching or reading these days? Well, with the new season of Grey’s Anatomy being postponed, I have had to resort to other alternatives. But, seriously, I’ve become a big fan of podcasts and Audible books, because it lets me multitask. Like I said above, I miss that aspect of student life that provided opportunities to sit in a coffee shop and just read. A few of my favourite podcasts at the moment are Unruffled, for parenting tips; Live Awake and Becoming Wise, for the spirit; The Daily and The Economist, for current events; and Radio Lab and TED for entertainment and inspiration. 

Ashley Tedham

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Man-Wai Chu

Jared Sych, courtesy Avenue magazine

Dr. Man-Wai Chu

Associate professor, Werklund School of Education, UCalgary

Sometimes, it’s the assessments that prevent students from learning, says Dr. Man-Wai Chu, PhD, whose research at UCalgary has focused on breaking the status quo by transforming tests and exams into a series of engaging exercises (think a video game).

What do you like about teaching? The classroom is so dynamic that there is truly never a dull moment in the classroom. One day, I might tend to a student who is hung-over after an 18th birthday celebration, while the next day I might be asked some very thought-provoking questions. I get to learn so much from my students every day.

What do you wish you knew more about? Everything! The more research I do into one area, the more I realize that I do not know enough about all areas. I think this is why people say we need to be lifelong learners.

If you were to go back to school, what would you take? I would take all the same courses whether I loved or hated them, because each one taught me about my strengths and interests.

Who are your biggest heroes? My mom. She has been an inspiration my whole life! Even now, as I prepare to be a mother (my baby is expected to arrive mid-December), I hope to inspire my baby the same way my mother inspired me. There is something magical about my mother in the direct and indirect ways that she taught and shaped me.

What do you miss about student life? I feel like I’m still living the “student life.” Having been a student for so many years helped me prepare for the social distancing measures brought on by the pandemic because I was already well-versed in working at home in my PJs all day and non-stop snacking while I write.

Meet more of the Top 40 Under 40