Nov. 10, 2022

Class of 2022: Meet our fall 2022 President’s Award winners

Inspiring graduates recognized for academic achievement, leadership and contributions to community
Ebenezer Belayneh, Danica Chang, and Mackenzie Vaandering
From left: Ebenezer Belayneh, Danica Chang, and Mackenzie Vaandering.

The University of Calgary is pleased to announce the fall 2022 recipients of the President’s Award for Excellence in Student Leadership. The award was established in 2008 to recognize exceptional graduating students who have a record of outstanding academic achievement, leadership and significant contributions to our community.

Ebenezer Belayneh
Master of Public Policy

Ebenezer Belayneh’s leadership in the university community has been exemplary. The President’s Award for Excellence in Student Leadership recognizes his many contributions to improving student life at UCalgary, his strong academic performance and his research contributions.

During his time at UCalgary, Belayneh led over 23 unique conferences, networking events, and career development opportunities for students. This was accomplished through roles as president of the Global Development Society, department representative for the Faculty of Arts Students’ Association, and vice-president finance for the Society of Undergraduates in Economics. His contributions in these positions have helped hundreds of students develop professional skills and connect with alumni. 

Belayneh earned two First Class Honours degrees during his undergraduate studies, while securing numerous internship placements. These experiences allowed him to participate in panels to discuss his strategies on securing academic awards and experiential learning opportunities with other undergraduate students. His research on oilsands clean technologies was also published in the Canada Energy Future’s 2020 report, an authoritative publication on emerging energy trends within Canada. The Canada Energy Regulator also published his research on the development of renewable natural gas infrastructure across British Columbia.

On campus, Belayneh was also a dedicated champion for fostering Black excellence and inclusion within the academy. He strategically garnered over half a million dollars in combined funding from the Student Union’s Quality Money program and the Provost’s Office to expand the university’s two-course African Studies (AFST) minor program.

During Belayneh’s time as the chair of the African Studies Expansion Taskforce, he helped introduce five additional AFST courses and the hiring of a second AFST instructor, resulting in an increase in class enrolment by more than 450 students in the 2022/23 academic year.

As a member of the Faculty of Arts and Students’ Union EDI committees, Belayneh drafted several policy recommendations on how UCalgary can create equitable pathways for Black and equity-deserving students on campus. His anti-racism research and presentations have been embraced by the university’s senior leadership team and are currently being integrated into training materials by the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning.

Belayneh will continue to refine his specialization in energy and climate policy with Natural Resource Canada’s Energy Systems sector as an incoming member of their premier Policy Analyst Recruitment and Development Program.

Danica Chang
Master of Science, Medical Science

Danica Chang demonstrated academic excellence, exceptional initiative, and thoughtful leadership throughout her academic studies. Her many accomplishments in the classroom, lab, and in the community — including her advocacy for a more inclusive campus — make her an ideal recipient for the President’s Award for Student Leadership.

As a graduate student, Chang developed, organized, and moderated a weekly journal club for undergraduate summer research students, while collaborating with five research institutes at the Cumming School of Medicine. This experience then led her to take on a leadership role with the Clinical Cardiovascular Research Journal Club, helping graduate students practise how to critically evaluate cardiovascular health literature.

Chang was selected to serve as the voice of all trainees on the Libin Cardiovascular Institute Education Committee. In this role, she worked with a team of clinicians, researchers, and support staff to make recommendations to the Libin institute’s executive committee to ensure all educational activities align with the institute’s research plan.

Chang was also a peer mentor to undergraduate science students, a clinical research mentor, and was chosen to represent the graduate student body within the Chancellor Search Committee that selected UCalgary’s newest chancellor.

In addition, Chang served as the Chair of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance Subcommittee with the Graduate Students’ Association, where she was able to combine her personal experience with her passion for 2SLGBTQ+ advocacy. She was successful in leading a team of likeminded peers to organize inclusive events for all graduate students to ultimately foster a thriving environment for gender and sexually diverse individuals.

In the academic realm, Chang wrote five first-authored peer-reviewed papers and presented at numerous local, national, and international conferences. She has also received many awards for her research on female reproductive health in kidney disease, including three prestigious American Society of Nephrology Kidney STARS (Students and Residents) Awards in 2020, 2021, and 2022 and the highly competitive Canadian Institutes of Health Research Graduate Scholarship.

Outside of the university, Chang held numerous volunteer roles. They included preparing and serving meals at an emergency shelter, reading to children at a local library, caring for rescue animals at a shelter, starting a self-directed volunteer tutoring service for French immersion students, socializing with elderly individuals in long-term care, and mentoring girls who recently immigrated to Canada.

Currently, Chang is furthering her studies in medical school at the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, where she hopes to incorporate her clinical research experience, mentorship, queer advocacy, and passion for volunteerism.

Mackenzie Vaandering
Master of Science, Kinesiology Sports Medicine

Mackenzie Vaandering is academically strong, a UCalgary community leader, a generous volunteer in the greater community, and a Dinos athlete, team captain and coach.

During her time at UCalgary, Vaandering competed as a student-athlete for the Dinos volleyball team for six years and was team captain in her final year. She provided leadership through athletics to her teammates on the court while also building strong relationships with Dinos Athletics and the Canada West Volleyball community. Additionally, she took an active role in recruiting younger players by sharing her own experiences during recruiting activities.

Vaandering’s role as a Dino extended into mentorship. As a Dino peer mentor, she was paired with 10 first-year athletes for the 2020-21 academic year. She connected with her mentees bi-weekly and developed study groups and seminars. She also assisted with interactive workshops designed to develop academic skills in Dinos student-athletes. With Families Together, a Catholic Family Services program that partners with the Dinos, she built positive relationships and mentored at-risk youth, and guided other mentors on building positive relationships with their mentees.

As vice-president of communications with the Kinesiology Graduate Students’ Association, she was their primary spokesperson. Her role also involved organizing events that contributed to the student experience. 

As a participant in the Global Community Challenge YYC, she collaborated with an international team to develop an action plan for a community non-profit German language school to increase their online engagement and enrolment. She was also a graduate teaching assistant for an upper-level kinesiology course.

Vaandering was also a volunteer research assistant with the Alberta Children’s Hospital Paediatric Research team. In this role, she approached patients and their families for potential enrolment in research. Other volunteer roles held included an exercise leader with the Autism Aspergers Friendship Society, head coach of the Jr. Dinos Beach Program, and volunteer shopping companion with the Calgary Senior Resources Society.

Academically, Vaandering has four first-authored published research abstracts and presented her research six times while maintaining a 4.0 GPA during the course of her master’s degree.

Entrepreneurial UCalgary grads make an impact in health care, culture, law, business, the environment, and more. Read more stories about Class of 2022 students.

A note for soon-to-be UCalgary Alumni! As you prepare to transition from student life, we encourage you to check out our Life Kit for Recent Grads – custom built to inform you about the programs, benefits and services available to you as a member of the UCalgary alumni community.

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