June 16, 2022

UCalgary community members honoured at prestigious Calgary Awards

Awards recognize excellence in community service, literature, academics, advocacy, science and preserving our history
Right: Madisen Hvidberg. Left column, from top: Turin Chowdhury, Barry Sanders, Alexander Greco. Right column: Lanre Ajayi, David Este, Jaspreet Singh
Right: Madisen Hvidberg. Left column, from top: Turin Chowdhury, Barry Sanders, Alexander Greco. Right column: Lanre Ajayi, David Este, Jaspreet Singh

Seven recipients of this year’s Calgary Awards have connections to the University of Calgary, and all are being celebrated for improving the lives of Calgarians and contributing to this city's enterprising spirit.

The university is proud to recognize members of our community who are helping to build our city, making it a great place to work, live and grow, says Dr. James Allan, PhD, UCalgary’s vice-president of advancement.

“Each member of this exceptional group of honourees is not only achieving distinction in their fields or among their peers, but they’re using their knowledge, skills and passion to transform the world around us,” says Allan. “Calgary’s success today and in the future requires the kind creative expression, research-informed problem-solving and forward-thinking outlook displayed by these recipients, and we’re thrilled to see so many UCalgary faculty, staff and alumni honoured by the Calgary Awards.”

Calgary Award recipients were announced during a ceremony on June 15 at the City of Calgary’s Municipal Building Atrium, with honours being handed out in 13 categories.

UCalgary is proud to have sponsored the Youth Award for the 14th consecutive year. This award is presented to a young Calgarian whose exceptional achievements have culminated in the recognition of, or improved, the quality of life in Calgary. Learn more about all of the Calgary Award recipients.

Meet the UCalgary community’s 2022 Calgary Award recipients:

Grant MacEwan Lifetime Achievement Award

Dr. David Este, PhD, professor emeritus, Faculty of Social Work

Dr. David Este's work on racism and anti-Black racism is considered groundbreaking in both academic and advocacy circles. Since joining the Faculty of Social Work in 1992, his research has tackled issues such as immigrant settlement and adaptation, HIV service needs, and underemployment and discrimination faced by women and youth. Este, PhD, has written six books along with numerous chapters and academic journal articles.

He has provided expertise, historical context and innovative solutions on a number of committees, including the Wood's Homes Research Advisory Committee, HIV Community Link and the United Way of Calgary Diversity Initiative. He collaborated on the documentary We Are the Roots: Black Settlers and Their Experiences of Discrimination on the Canadian Prairies (2018), which features excerpts from his interviews with descendants of the first settlers in Alberta.  

Este continually shares his passion for social justice by generously mentoring students. He has received numerous awards and nominations for excellence in teaching, as well as for community service and lifetime achievement. He has raised awareness and offered solutions to issues faced by refugees, immigrants and those impacted by racism, inspiring others to challenge inequities and make changes.

Education Award

Dr. Turin Chowdhury, PhD, associate professor in the Cumming School of Medicine 

As an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Department of Community Health Sciences, Dr. Turin Chowdhury, PhD, strives to improve unmet needs and access to health care for immigrants and refugees through the lens of equity, social justice and community development. He leads his program of research through efforts of equitable and empowered involvement of communities in research and knowledge-mobilization activities. Chowdhury is a founding member of Newcomer Research Network (NRN), which brings together UCalgary researchers from all disciplines who are interested in newcomer-related issues, along with community-based service-provider organizations, policy-makers and the grassroots community. NRN promotes a mutual and meaningful exchange of knowledge between the in-the-field experience of organizations and the methodological expertise of researchers.

Chowdhury has drawn upon his diverse research methodological and clinical training to further the field of health promotion, health education and health literacy. He also established RISE for Health, an initiative where UCalgary students partner with immigrant community youth to plan and implement health education programs. The participants learn about the social, economic and environmental determinants of health and use that information to become health and wellness ambassadors in their communities. Chowdhury is an inspiration to not only the immigrant and refugee community, but to all Calgarians for his dedication to a community-centric approach in providing equity-focused health and wellness education.­

Heritage Award

Madisen Hvidberg, MA’20, UCalgary alumna and PhD student

Madisen Hvidberg is part of a new generation of archaeologists who are using technology and digital tools to preserve our history in ways never imagined before. Completing her PhD in archaeology at UCalgary, Hvidberg’s focus is digital archaeology, creating three-dimensional photographs of heritage sites or objects. Digital heritage files can be used to monitor a site, share an object around the world or allow individuals to visit a site without physically travelling to the location. An example of this work includes a three-dimensional digital archive of the iconic Stampede Elm at the Calgary Stampede Grounds. Should the physical tree be destroyed or relocated in the future, the digital scans can help the tree survive virtually. This and other captures, such as the old Inglewood Bridge and the Blackfoot gallery at the Glenbow Museum, contribute to preserving Calgary’s history.

Hvidberg’s research is also helping to advance the use of digital heritage-preservation techniques for addressing social-justice issues. She currently plays a key role in a community-guided project focusing on the digital preservation of three residential schools still standing in Alberta. Using the digital models created from this research, she is working with Indigenous partners to develop lesson plans for teaching residential-school history in Alberta. Her contributions will help ensure this history continues to exist in the collective memory of Canadian society for generations to come.

Youth Award

Alexander Greco, Grade 12 student at Western Canada High School and UCalgary research intern

Through his fascination with robotics, Alexander Greco is a leader, innovator and advocate for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for young people. His award-winning robotics team has represented Calgary at regional tournaments and world championships through FIRST Robotics, a global program that challenges students to design and build complex, custom-fabricated robots.

Greco was appointed to serve on the national FIRST Robotics Canada Youth Council in 2020. Through his Council work in 2021, he created resources and organized initiatives to make Canada’s robotics community more diverse and inclusive. At a young age, he began conducting advanced academic research at UCalgary, where he has worked hundreds of hours in three computer science and mechanical engineering labs since Grade 9. His research experience at the university and support from his mentors led him to being chosen for a prestigious NASA internship last summer, representing Calgary among a group of talented interns from across the world, one of only two Canadians selected.

He has created impactful opportunities for youth underrepresented in STEM through I/O LABS Youth Development Society, a non-profit organization he founded in 2019. Over the past three years, he has created innovative online resources, hosted inclusivity-focused local and national coding competitions, and launched free robotics and computer programming summer camps for disadvantaged and Indigenous youth. Alexander has shared his passions for robotics, academic research and non-profit work to make our world a better place and improve the lives of others.

International Achievement Award

Dr. Barry Sanders, BSc’84, PhD, DSc, UCalgary alumnus, director of the Institute for Quantum Science and Technology

Quantum science will soon transform our current approaches to computing, information-transfer and security communication. As an internationally acclaimed researcher and scholar, Dr. Barry Sanders, BSc’84, PhD, DSc, has showcased Calgary as the hub for cutting-edge quantum research. He promotes international collaboration and creates opportunities for international students to conduct research in Calgary. He has been a speaker at many prestigious international forums and has presented at NATO workshops on terrorism in Moldova and cybersecurity in Estonia. He has also taught summer programs in countries such as Brazil, Pakistan, India and Morocco. Sanders is particularly interested in supporting developing nations; he believes innovation and scientific cooperation will help transform these nations.

He is a frequent visitor at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS). Through AIMS, Sanders teaches quantum computing in Rwanda. He also holds a Visiting Advanced Joint Research professorship at India’s Raman Research Institute. He has taken a keen interest in promoting women in STEM, adding his own research funding to support PhD programs for female students from conflict-affected countries in Africa, where systemic gender bias in higher education is still prevalent. Sander's remarkable accomplishments in quantum science and his strong connection to Calgary has helped develop our city’s image as a global centre for high-tech research, technology and innovation.

The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize

Dr. Jaspreet Singh, PhD, 2006-07 writer-in-residence, University of Calgary Distinguished Writers Program

In 2008, Dr. Jaspreet Singh, PhD, made a pact with his mother. He would gladly give her the go-ahead to publish her significantly altered translation of a story from his book, if she promised to write her memoirs. After she died in 2012, Singh decided to take up the memoir she had started. My Mother, My Translator is a deeply personal exploration of a complex relationship. It is a family history, a work of mourning, a meditation on storytelling and silences, and a reckoning with trauma — the inherited trauma of the 1947 Partition of India and the direct trauma of the November 1984 anti-Sikh violence that Singh experienced as a teenager.

Tracing the men and especially the women of his family from the 1918 pandemic through the calamitous events of the partition, the memoir takes us through Singh’s childhood in Kashmir with his grandparents in Indian Punjab to his arrival in Canada in 1990 to study the sciences (his PhD is in chemical engineering), up to the closing moments of 2020, as he tries to locate new forms of stories for living in a present marked by another pandemic, COVID-19, and the climate crisis.

Community Advocate Award (Individual)

Lanre Ajayi, alumnus

As a multidisciplinary artist and community advocate, Lanre Ajayi uses his talents to educate and engage Calgarians. He came to Canada in 2015 from Nigeria and made Calgary his home. His desire to create a platform to showcase his new surroundings was so strong that he invested his own time and resources. He started a YouTube channel called My City Speaks to Me, creating stories about Calgary's people, showcasing businesses, and promoting festivals. He founded the Ethnik Festivals Association, with artist mentors running art-related programs for youth and adults such as filmmaking, fashion design and songwriting. Through the association, Ajayi also produced festivals featuring local and international Afro-Canadian talents, for all Calgarians to engage in.

Ajayi also engages himself in events and issues affecting Calgarians. To show support to postal workers making deliveries during the COVID-19 pandemic, he started wiping down community mailboxes in his neighborhood. His actions were recorded and posted on social media, inspiring other Calgarians to take on the challenge. He also produced a documentary in tribute to Calgary cab drivers, who provided an essential service during this time. In 2021, Ajayi organized and hosted a debate for the mayoral candidates of the municipal election, which was held at the Central Library with nine candidates in attendance. Ajayi's volunteer contributions speak volumes about his passion for connecting Calgarians through art and culture, resulting in him being named as one of the Top 25 Canadian immigrants for 2021.

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