The difference alumni make
By Michelle Hibler
The quality of its alumni speaks volumes about a university. In uOttawa’s case, that talk is about commitment, excellence, innovation and gratitude. Since 2011, the Alumni Association has recognized outstanding graduates through its annual Awards of Excellence. Meet this year’s exceptional individuals who are giving back to the University and the community.
For Outaouais entrepreneur Camille Villeneuve (BCom ’67), recipient of the Meritas Tabaret Award for Alumni Achievement, actions speak louder than words. A proud graduate of what is now the Telfer School of Management and recipient of a uOttawa honorary doctorate in 1996, Villeneuve credits uOttawa for setting his career on a solid foundation. “I can say without hesitation that uOttawa gave me the theoretical knowledge needed to succeed,” he says.
Villeneuve, the founder and president of Multivesco, has repaid the University richly over the years, striving to provide the students of today and tomorrow with valuable opportunities. His most recent gift to Telfer of $1.5 million in 2015 brought his donations close to $2 million.
“I had long dreamed of making an important gift to the University,” he says. “uOttawa gave me a sense of values, particularly integrity. These values are part of my life. It seemed completely natural for me to reaffirm my sense of belonging to the University as a donor, in support of its pursuit of excellence.”
A world-class scientist and innovator as well as a gifted leader, Sethuraman Panchanathan (PhD ’89) has devoted close to 30 years to harnessing innovation to improve lives. The 2017 Alumni of the Year says his PhD at the University of Ottawa “was the foundation for my work.”
Post-PhD, Panchanathan taught at uOttawa’s Faculty of Engineering before joining Arizona State University in 1997. He is now ASU’s executive vice-president for knowledge enterprise development, and chief research and innovation officer.
Panchanathan is particularly proud of ASU’s Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC), which he created “to see how my scientific curiosity could be useful for humanity.” The centre invents devices and tools for persons living with a disability.
“We’ve only just begun to explore the symbiotic relationship between man and machine, and its potential to transform human life,” he says. CUbiC’s flagship projects to assist the visually impaired have received prestigious honours, including the Microsoft Imagine World Cup.
In 2014, Panchanathan was appointed to the U.S. National Science Board, where he helps drive the U.S. national and international agendas for science and technology.
Scientific inquiry is Constance Nozzolillo’s (PhD ’63) passion. More than a quarter of a century after her retirement from uOttawa’s Department of Biology, she is on campus most weeks, attending lab meetings with former colleagues.
She recently returned from New Zealand, where she spoke on “Alternative Truths of Autumn Colour” at the ninth International Workshop on Anthocyanins. For the past 30 years, she has focused on anthocyanins, pigments that make a rose red and paint the town in oranges and reds each autumn. They’re also powerful antioxidants.
Nozzolillo attributes her distinguished career as a researcher, teacher and mentor to the grants, scholarships and family support she received as a student. She is paying it forward through the Constance Nozzolillo Scholarship Fund she established in 1997 to support promising, but financially strapped, uOttawa science undergraduates.
Students’ capacity to effect positive change is what inspires Faculty of Education professor Lisa Glithero (PhD ’15). Whether in the classroom or the community, her work centres on engagement and service. “My focus is to ensure that young people are not just striving toward certain careers, but are first and foremost active and engaged citizens,” she explains.
The recipient of the 2017 Award for Community Service, Glithero wears many hats: teacher, researcher, environmental educator, volunteer. “Together, it’s all my life work,” she says, “and where I feel I can best contribute to building a better world.” She feels that her efforts on campus are furthered by the University’s emphasis on community service, including through the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement.
“That’s one of uOttawa’s strengths,” she says. “It immediately lends itself to a richer learning, teaching, and research experience. It’s one of the things I love about working here.”
For Andrew Todd (BASc ’14, BSc ’14), the Young Alumnus Award is the latest of many distinctions. The competitive rower earned medals at Canadian and world rowing championships, as well as a bronze at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. He has also won the respect and admiration of professors and coaches.
The Thunder Bay native joined the uOttawa novice rowing team his first week on campus. By his second year, he was on track to join the Canadian lightweight men’s national team, with dreams of competing at the 2016 Olympics. Three days into training, however, Todd was struck by a bus. He was given a 50% chance of surviving.
Most would have thrown in the towel — but not Todd. While recovering from 10 surgeries over 28 months, he completed a demanding dual biochemistry/chemical engineering (biotechnology) degree program. And he continued to train, regaining his status as a world-class rower. “It’s the stubbornness factor,” he says. He’s now committed to set para sports on the same footing as able-bodied ones.
Todd is also focused on pursuing a medical career. That might bring him back to uOttawa, “where there will always be some of my best memories of rowing.”
This year’s Honorary Member of the Alumni Association, Bruce Lazenby (a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada), is the latest member of his family to be recognized by uOttawa: his wife and daughter are both graduates of the Faculty of Law and his son is a Telfer School of Management alumnus. Head of business development at The Regional Group of Companies, he was founding CEO of Invest Ottawa, where he saw uOttawa as a “talent fabrication facility extraordinaire.”
Lazenby is driven to defy the conventional by bridging the gap between business and the University, to the benefit of both. “The business sector tends to focus on itself,” he says, “as universities can also do. The interaction between the two is where the real opportunities are.” One way to link them is through co-op programs. “Good for business, they also raise the bar in education,” he says.
A strong proponent of integrating ideas and disciplines, Lazenby is on the dean’s advisory committees of both the Faculty of Engineering and Telfer, to ensure that engineering solutions make business sense (and vice versa).
“The importance of uOttawa to the city is not to be underestimated,” he says.