Dec. 6, 2023

4 UCalgary leaders receive 2023 Immigrants of Distinction Awards

Scholar Janaka Ruwanpura, student Yvette Yao, alumni Puneet Mannan and Iman Bukhari honoured
Immigrants of Distinction
Janaka Ruwanpura at the Immigrants of Distinction Awards ceremony with his son, Seniru, his wife Senani, and President Ed McCauley. Immigrants of Distinction Awards

They stand out among their peers for their accomplishments and impact on the world. Now, four leading members of the UCalgary and immigrant communities — a scholar, a medical student, an energy transition leader, and a community-building entrepreneur — have received prestigious Immigrants of Distinction Awards.

In recognition of their impact on both the immigrant and wider Calgary communities, the recipients are Dr. Janaka Ruwanpura, UCalgary vice-provost and associate vice-president research (international); Yvette Yao, a second-year student in the Cumming School of Medicine; Puneet Mannan, a Haskayne School of Business graduate and associate director of the Energy Transition Centre; and alum Iman Bukhari, BCS’12, a CEO and community activist.

“These awards will come as no surprise to those who know these four individuals,” says President Ed McCauley, who joined community, government and non-profit leaders attending the Immigrant Services Calgary gala in a celebration of the award winners and finalists.

“The contributions they make every day in each of their spheres of influence have lifted others, improved the quality of life in our city, and served as beacons of inspiration for their peers and families.”

Dr. Malinda Smith, vice-provost and associate vice president research (equity, diversity and inclusion), who also attended the gala event, says, “The remarkable commitment of Janaka, Yvette, Puneet and Iman to excellence in everything they do is reflected in their exemplary community engagement and service. They remind us of the difference each of us can make when we pursue our highest aspirations and work for the public good. I believe the ripple effect of their inspired vision and concrete actions for change will positively impact future generations by creating inclusive pathways for others to follow.”

The Immigrants of Distinction Awards are dedicated to the remarkable contributions immigrants and refugees have made to create a strong and prosperous Canada. The annual awards ceremony recognizes how Calgary’s mosaic of ethnicities, languages, cultures, and talents enriches and positively shapes our communities.

Janaka Ruwanpura: Lifetime Achievement Award

Dr. Ruwanpura, PhD, is a leader at UCalgary renowned for his contributions in the fields of internationalization, construction engineering and project management.

Born in Sri Lanka, Ruwanpura arrived in Canada in 1997 as an international student. Now a distinguished academic leader, researcher and mentor, he was named one of Canada’s Top 25 Immigrants in 2022 by the online magazine Canadian Immigrant. His forward-thinking leadership in internationalization has resulted in UCalgary receiving six excellence and innovation awards, showcasing the institution's enhanced intercultural capacities and its positive impact on teaching, research, and student experience.

Ruwanpura’s additional esteemed roles include Canada Research Chair, director of UCalgary's Centre for Project Management Excellence, and memberships in prestigious institutions such as the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Construction in the U.S., among others. As a licensed engineer, professional quantity surveyor, and a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Ruwanpura has excelled in his field. A professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering, he has authored more than 180 technical papers, mentored 100-plus graduate students, and developed 30-plus best practices and tools, including commercialized products and tools.

“Receiving this award is not just a personal milestone; it feels like a shared victory for every journey that began with a dream and a daring heart,” Ruwanpura says.

“It’s a profound reminder that our diverse experiences and stories as immigrants are not just threads but the very fabric that strengthens the tapestry of our community. This honour goes beyond individual recognition — it’s a tribute to the resilience, innovation, and rich cultural contributions of immigrants who help shape the vibrant landscape of our society.”

Yvette Yao

Yvette Yao

Yvette Yao: Youth Achievement Award

Originally from the Philippines, Yao is in her second year at UCalgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, aiming to be the first doctor in her family. Before coming to UCalgary, she graduated magna cum laude with dual majors in molecular and cell biology and public health from the University of California at Berkeley and worked in research at Stanford.

Yao is a leader in the community locally and globally, co-founding the Calgary Asian Medical Students Association and facilitating exchange programs with the Canadian Federation of Medical Students. She was a recipient of the UCalgary Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Student’s Union Violet King Engaged Scholar Award earlier this year. Her global health efforts include launching a hand-washing curriculum for Filipino street children and facilitating research exchange programs.

“I am truly honoured to be recognized by Immigrant Services Calgary as one of this year’s immigrants of distinction,” Yao says. “I am thankful to my parents for their selfless sacrifices and unwavering support, which paved the way for my current achievements. This recognition serves as motivation for me to continue working on my passions as a future physician to help create a better, healthier world.”

Puneet Mannan

Puneet Mannan speaks at the opening of the Energy Transition Centre in November 2022.

UCalgary files

Puneet Mannan: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Award

Puneet Mannan, MBA, Eng, originally from India, arrived in Canada in 2001 and is a pioneering leader in Calgary's innovation ecosystem. He spearheaded the creation of Canada's first Energy Transition Centre, a global model for addressing net-zero emissions by 2050, and now serves as the centre’s associate director. His leadership brought together government, industry, and academia, fostering nearly 40 energy startups. His contributions in establishing the centre as a global centre of excellence and fostering STEM talent exemplify his profound impact on Calgary's community. 

Iman Bukhari

Iman Bukhari

Avenue Magazine

Iman Bukhari: Achievement Under 35 Award

Iman Bukhari, BA’12,  immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in 2000. At just 19 years old, she founded the grassroots not-for-profit Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation (CCMF) to improve race relations and help create a more equitable, understanding Calgary. CCMF’s work in the anti-racism sphere — which includes an online resource hub for kindergarten to Grade 12 teachers — has won multiple awards. For her tireless work and lasting impact on Canada’s fight against racism, Bukhari was named Top 40 under 40 in 2022 by Avenue magazine.

- With files from Immigrants of Distinction Awards 

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