Outstanding alumni

Alumni award trophy in front of a plain backdrop

Meet the recipients of the 2018 Alumni Association Awards of Excellence, exceptional individuals who are giving back to the University and the community.

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.


By Sophie Coupal and Michelle Hibler

Guy Laflamme

Alumnus of the Year

Guy Laflamme — From Ottawa the old to Ottawa the bold

Forget Sir John A and the Fathers of Confederation. What Guy Laflamme, just-retired Executive Director and Producer of the Ottawa 2017 Bureau, wanted to mark Canada’s sesquicentennial in the capital were giant robotic spiders, dragons, picnics on the bridge and underground sci-fi travel experiences.

Given free rein by Ottawa mayor Jim Watson when he took up the challenge of organizing a year of events that would rock Ottawa’s staid image, Laflamme (BASc ’83, MBA ’89) let his imagination loose in a 300-page business plan, written from his summer home in the Magdalen Islands.

“I had a chance to just go wild from an artistic standpoint and to apply all my knowledge as a business strategist,” he says.

Laflamme also drew from 25 years of experience in high-visibility marketing and production for the Department of Canadian Heritage, the National Capital Commission, and Casino du Lac-Leamy, among others.

His enthusiasm for the 2017 program “of things never before seen in Ottawa” was contagious: the $40M program of major events and festivities brought in $300M for the city. That success earned him a nomination to the Order of Ottawa and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario. RadioCanada and LeDroit named him “Personality of the Year” for his vision, boundless imagination, determination and energy — not to mention sheer guts.

The former professor at uOttawa’s Telfer School of Management is now set to rest on his laurels. “I’m going to become one of the country’s laziest people,” he says.

Catherine Cano

Meritas Tabaret Award for Alumni Achievement

Catherine Cano — Informing to advance democracy

No one can doubt the enthusiasm of Catherine Cano (BSocSc ’84), the president and general manager of the Cable Public Affairs Channel, better known as CPAC. “I adoooore my job,” she says as she attempts no less than the transformation of CPAC into a leader in education on democracy in Canada.

But this is just the kind of daunting challenge you would expect this trained journalist to undertake, given her meteoric rise to top-level positions in broadcasting in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere around the world, including a year spent in Qatar restructuring Al Jazeera’s English-language network. 

“I’ve travelled a lot, I’ve been to countries where people had nothing and were fighting for the right to vote. We are so lucky in Canada, but democracy is fragile: you only need to look south of the border to see evidence of that … so we need to stay well informed,” she said.

Today she’s working on exciting projects like Route 338, an impressive tool that teaches democracy. Such projects make the most of the creative, innovative mindset that has earned her a host of awards throughout her career. And she pursues her involvement in various organizations that defend human rights, freedom of the press and the empowerment of women.

The University of Ottawa can pride itself on having provided this Saguenay native, who was late to learn English, with what she calls a “gift from heaven”. “When I first arrived, I knew more about Europe than I did about the rest of Canada,” she said. “I was chosen for the House of Commons Page Program and I discovered a whole new country.”

Tony Durst

2018 Honorary Alumnus

Tony Durst — At his students’ service

After 50 years on the uOttawa campus, Tony Durst has finally “graduated.” The honorary alumnus award is the latest of many distinctions he’s received over his long teaching and research career. He holds it to heart “because it’s recognition of the work that I’ve done with students.”

Ensuring student success has been the driving force of Durst’s career, whether as professor, chair of the Department of Chemistry, or vice-dean of the Faculty of Science. That earned him Excellence in Teaching Award from the Faculty of Science in 1994 and 1998, followed by the university’s Professor of the Year Award in 1999. “I never felt that I had the gift of languages of the great professors,” says Durst, “but I could relate to students and they felt that it was genuine.” 

Durst, a Western University graduate, is the spark of many “first” at uOttawa — the Biopharmaceutical Sciences Program launched in 1999, for example, then unique in Canada. He also developed an innovative COOP program for the chemistry department, offering students eight months of work. This model subsequently became the template for all COOP programs in the Faculty of Science, and eventually for the whole university.

Durst also kindled the Faculty of Science’s Undergraduate Research Scholarships, designed to attract Canada’s top high school graduates to uOttawa. The six initial scholarships in 2000 have since grown to 16. The early alumni of the program, now in their 30s, are making major contributions to Canadian society. “That’s real legacy,” he says.

Looking back, Durst says he didn’t start out to become a teacher.

“It was serendipity,” he says. “Life presents all kinds of opportunities and I tell students not to be afraid to take them because you want to have an enjoyable and rewarding life — and be active way beyond 65,” he says. “I hope I’m an example of that.”









Sylvie Bigras

Community Service Award

Sylvie Bigras — Lots to give

Sylvie Bigras (BPhysEd ’79; MPhysEd ’80) clearly has a lot to give. An expert in communication, hosting and voice-overs, she can speak six languages. She is recognized as a builder of Canadian sport, and has worked at 15 Olympic Games, four Pan Am Games and three Commonwealth Games. She is currently communications manager for the Canadian team at 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast.

Community engagement is part of her DNA. She’s stopped counting the many events and organizations she has volunteered for over the years, including the Snowsuit Fund, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Hockey Canada Foundation and the Volleyball Nations League.  She appreciates the help she has enjoyed during her career and now is very pleased to mentor the youth who work with her.

And then, there are the Gee-Gees. In large part, it’s thanks to Sylvie’s work and the many dogged hours she put in as a student athlete arguing her case to the Sports Services director that the women’s volleyball team became an official varsity team, which won a silver medal nationally in 1980. Sylvie is still actively involved in the program as a volunteer, donor and enthusiastic spectator. 

“We are so lucky as Canadians. I think it’s important to give back,” she says by way of explanation for giving generously of her time. “Someone who doesn't do anything for others misses out on a many, many things.”

Jean Desgagné

Commitment to the university

Jean Desgagné — Banking on Telfer’s graduates

“I don’t think I’d get in anymore,” says Jean Desgagné (BCom ’86) of his alma mater, the Telfer School of Management. If not, it’s partially his fault.

President and CEO, TMX Global Solutions, Insights and Analytics Strategies, Desgagné (BCom ‘86) had his mind set on a banking career when he joined uOttawa. He pursued it at some of Canada's leading financial institutions in Toronto.

Early on he was disappointed to find that “there were no alumni from the business school around town.”

He set out to change that by giving uOttawa students opportunities they might not otherwise have.

“At the time I graduated,” he says, “there really weren’t any banks recruiting on campus for significant head office jobs, capital market jobs — the type of jobs I was interested in.”

“That’s why I’m so engaged with the university. I’ve worked very hard with the school to improve the profile of the university so that graduates have a fighting chance.”

Desgagné has done that by developing associates programs at most everywhere he has worked.  “The trick is to expose students to the ecosystem so they can build a career.” He has also sat on boards, judged competitions, mentored students, and spoken at numerous Telfer events. One of the creators of Telfer’s Financial Research and Learning Lab, he was also the first donor to its capital fund.

The Desgagné/Soden Family Scholarship Fund he and his wife endowed helps female commerce students break through gender barriers in finance.

“I’ve been very lucky and very successful in my career,” he says. “When you have that kind of luck and success, part of the obligation is to pay a little bit back.”

Gwen Madiba

Young Alumni Award

Gwen Madiba Moubouyi — Passion in the service of others

Gwen Madiba Moubouyi (BSocSc ’08, MSocSc ’12) is a project-driven individual who is also gifted at networking. One of her contacts knows someone, who knows someone else, and before you know it, she’s creating a showcase that brings together top names from the world of hip-hop to raise funds for a performing arts centre in Nunavut.

Despite her young age, this project manager with the Native Women’s Association of Canada is already a seasoned entrepreneur and activist. For the past decade, she has organized numerous projects and fundraising activities that combine her passions for fashion, hip-hop and dance with her deep desire to help others, especially women and children. So it came as no surprise when the Mandela Legacy organization selected her as an ambassador.

Back when she was studying sociology, Gwen organized the first Black History Month gala at the University of Ottawa. She is very proud of this achievement, which has served as a springboard and inspiration for many people. It was also where former chancellor Michaëlle Jean met former president Allan Rock for the first time!

Gwen is especially grateful to the University of Ottawa for its support over the years.

“The University gave me access to resources and key individuals who have played a significant role in my life. uOttawa gave me the tools to both dream and make my dreams come true,” she said.


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