2018 Alumni Association Awards of Excellence winners

Photo du prix d’excellence de l’Association des diplômés de l’Université d’Ottawa. | Picture of the University of Ottawa Alumni Association Award of Excellence

University of Ottawa alumni are changing the world through their professional contributions and dedication to their communities.

The Alumni Association recognizes our members’ outstanding achievements with the annual presentation of the Alumni Association Awards of Excellence. Established in 2011, these awards aim to recognize the talent, effort and influence of the University’s graduates — locally, nationally and worldwide — who truly defy the conventional.

Meet this year’s recipients. 

Meritas Tabaret Award for Alumni Achievement

Catherine Cano (BSocSc ’84): Informing to advance democracy

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Catherine Cano believes that all Canadians should have access to all the information they need to actively participate in democracy. And this (very!) enthusiastic president and general manager of the Cable Public Affairs Channel, better known as CPAC, is relentlessly driven to fulfill this mission, thanks to her endless creativity and impressive CV.

A journalist by training who has travelled the world covering events ranging from presidential elections to conflicts in the Middle East, Catherine Cano has worked in several high-level positions in broadcasting. She has been Editor-in-Chief of Radio-Canada’s television news division, president of RDI (Radio-Canada’s news network) and president of program development at CBC: the greater the challenge, the happier you’ll find this newshound, who has also worked as a media consultant and helped Al Jazeera restructure its English-language network.

Gifted with uncommon creativity and flair, Catherine Cano has been the driving force behind several cutting-edge digital projects, such as a Canadian adaptation of the Vote Compass and CPAC’s recent Route 338, an impressive tool to teach democracy that was created in partnership with the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

Her skills as a trailblazer and initiator have earned her numerous accolades, including two Geminis, the prestigious Michener-Deacon Fellowship and the Innovator Leadership Excellence Award from Women in Communications and Technology (WCT). The Women’s Executive Network (WXN) has twice named her to its annual list of Canada’s top 100 most powerful women.

Catherine Cano also volunteers with various organizations that defend human rights, freedom of the press and the empowerment of women, including Journalists for Human Rights and the International Women’s Forum.

Alumnus of the Year

Guy Laflamme (MBA '89)— From Ottawa the old to Ottawa the bold

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The uOttawa 2018 Alummi Award of Excellence caps an outstanding year for Guy Laflamme, just-retired Executive Director and Producer of the Ottawa 2017 Bureau. Named to the Order of Ottawa in November 2017, he also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario. RadioCanada and LeDroit named him “Personality of the Year.”

At Ottawa 2017, Laflamme’s mission was to rebrand Ottawa “from old to bold” during Canada’s sesquicentennial. His goal: “a program made up of things we’ve never seen, never experienced in Ottawa,” including dragons, giant spiders, and sky-high dining. A resounding success, the $40M program of major events and festivities resulted in a $300M economic impact for the city.

For Laflamme, Ottawa 2017 was the culmination of a lifetime in high-visibility marketing and production for organizations such as the Department of Canadian Heritage, the National Capital Commission, and Casino du Lac-Leamy.  For all these events “I needed to have good communication skills, but based on sound, solid, rigorous business principles,” he says. He credits uOttawa for having provided those.

“It’s not just my education,” he says. “My values, my deep sense of business ethics, my leadership capacities, I owe to uOttawa.” Laflamme followed a BASc in geophysics (’83) with a BComm and MBA (’89).

“Of all the dazzling things I’ve done,” he says, “I’m most proud of having been able to influence thousands of students” since he started teaching at age 16. Part-time professor at the Telfer School of Management for 15 years, Laflamme left his mark through the “Le Niger, c’est notre affaire” charitable campaign. He also reoriented the strategic marketing student projects to focus on local not-for-profit organizations.

Laflamme is now set to tackle what may prove to be his most challenging project yet: retirement. “After running at 1000 km an hour for the past three years, all I want now is a simple, healthy, balanced life.”

Commitment to the University

Jean Desgagné (BCom ‘86) Building future business leaders

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Jean Desgagné’s commitment to the advancement of youth, particularly students at the Telfer School of Management, is unwavering. “I’ve been very lucky and very successful in my career. When you have that kind of luck and success, part of the obligation is to pay a little bit back,” he says.

President and CEO, Global Enterprise Services, TMX Group, Desgagné (BCom ‘86) has held increasingly senior positions at some of Canada's leading financial institutions.

When he established himself in Toronto some 25 years ago, he found that “uOttawa didn’t have a profile here.” He set out to change that.

“I’ve worked very hard with the school to improve the profile of the university so that graduates have a fighting chance at capital market jobs in Toronto,” he says. Those efforts have included creating associates programs most everywhere he has worked. At TMX, the Associates Program started with 5 students and within 3 years has grown to 20.

A member of the Regional Campaign Cabinet for the University of Ottawa, Desgagné also contributed to the creation of the Telfer Financial Research and Learning Lab and was the first donor to its capital fund. A mentor with the Telfer Capital Markets program, he has served as judge at finance competitions over many years and spoken at numerous events.

In 2009 Desgagné and his wife endowed the Desgagné/Soden Family Scholarship Fund for female commerce students. “While I applaud all the work that going on to get women in senior roles,” he says, “I’m acutely aware that we need to get the pipeline going at the beginning.”

“It’s a win- win for the students, for the school, and for me,” he says. “I can look back and say I did something good here.”

Young Alumni Award

Gwen Madiba Moubouyi (BSocSc ’08, MSocSc ’12): Passion in the service of others

Photo of Gwen Madiba

Multitalented alumna Gwen Madiba Moubouyi is an entrepreneur, designer, model and activist. A native of Gabon, she had yet to celebrate her 30th birthday when she was included in the Women’s Executive Network’s list of Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada and in Next Big Thing Magazine’s list of young black people who inspire. 

To explain her unconventional career path, Gwen says “I let my passions guide me,” explaining that she fuses her love of fashion, dance, and hip-hop with her deep commitment to social engagement, mutual assistance and the rights of women and children. 

Even as a university student, Gwen was making waves, creating the first-ever Black History Month Gala at the University of Ottawa, now a landmark event on campus. The following years saw her engaged in a whirlwind of awareness-raising campaigns, fundraising and projects such as I ACT, a youth empowerment network she co-founded to promote volunteerism and intercultural exchange, and I AM FASHION, an initiative that uses fashion to help boost youth self-esteem. 

Named an Ambassador for the Mandela Legacy organization, she also made her mark in 2016 by organizing the first Mandela Legacy Awards at the Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau. Among the 200 people in attendance at this gala were celebrity award winners, such as supermodel Naomi Campbell and NHL defenceman P.K. Subban, as well as lesser known but equally noteworthy award winners who have excelled behind the scenes. 

Gwen now works as a project manager with the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), where she continues to leverage her passions in the service of others.


Community Service Award

Sylvie Bigras (BPhysEd ’79; MPhysEd ’80): Lots to give

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Sylvie Bigras is a much in demand communications professional. The fact that she can host a question period in four languages — she understands six! — doesn’t hurt. Neither does the fact the she has hosted many prestigious events, like state dinners or Nelson Mandela’s honorary citizenship ceremony.

Currently communications manager for the 2018 Commonwealth Games and owner of her own communications firm for more than 20 years, Sylvie has applied her skills to no fewer than 15 Olympic Games, four Pan Am Games and three Commonwealth Games.  As communications manager for the Vancouver Games, she helped to highlight the achievements of Canadian athletes and fuelled the pride of an entire country, work that won her mention on the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity Most Influential Women list.

Known for being generous with her expertise, Sylvie has volunteered for numerous organizations and events over the years, including the Snowsuit Fund, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, the Hockey Canada Foundation and the Volleyball Nations League.

When she’s not busy mentoring the next generation of sports communications officers and administrators, the ex-Gee-Gee regularly attends uOttawa women’s and men’s volleyball games, and is involved with the volleyball program as a volunteer and donor.  She was also inducted in the Gee-Gees Hall of Fame in 2016 as a builder.

Honorary Member of the Alumni Association

Tony Durst – Dedicated to student success

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This year’s Honorary Alumnus, Tony Durst is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences.

Durst jokes that Ottawa held a grand party the day he joined uOttawa on July 1, 1967, fresh from post-doctoral work in Munich and at Harvard after a PhD at Western University. In the years since, he has taught organic and medicinal chemistry to more than 15,000 students, directed almost 60 MSc and PhD theses, and mentored some 30 post-doctoral fellows.

Along the way Durst has picked up more than a dozen awards and recognitions — for creating the Chemistry Department’s Coop program, for establishing the Faculty of Science’s Undergraduate Research Scholarships, for philanthropy, and for lifetime achievement. In 1980 he also received the Chemical Society of Canada’s Merck Sharpe and Dhome Award for outstanding contributions by an organic chemist under the age of 40. In 2013 he received the Queen’s Jubilee Medal.

For Durst, the creation of the Biopharmaceutical Sciences Program in 1999, “may well be my major contribution to Canadian science since it gives graduates an excellent background in both medicinal chemistry and molecular biology.” As the key architect of the program, he served as its director for more than 10 years.

For his students, what really counts is his dedication to their success, manifested by his Excellence in Teaching Awards for the Faculty of Science in 1994 and 1998, followed by the university’s Professor of the Year Award in 1999. “I think the students all recognized that I had their best interests at heart,” he says.

Still mentoring master’s students, Durst is deep in research to refine a botanical anti-anxiety medication. “We’re now in the process of getting permission from Health Canada to do human clinical safety trials,” he says. 

Looking back, he says he’s “had some fantastic students.” Those he’s most proud of are not “the really brilliant students — they succeed on their own. There are a few students that I feel I made a difference in their life. I gave them an opportunity, I supported them, and they’ve come through incredibly well. Those are the priceless ones.”

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