Top influencers show UAlberta's indelible impact on province

UAlberta connections a common thread among Alberta Venture’s latest list of 50 most influential people.


(Edmonton) The people named to Alberta Venture magazine’s 50 most influential list make up a diverse group with a short list of characteristics they hold in common: passion, success, love for their province—and for many of them, a connection to the University of Alberta.

All told, two professors, a staffer and 14 alumni and friends of the U of A made the list of leaders who have made the most out of the opportunities the university and the province have afforded.

Lorne Tyrrell, ‘64 BSc, ‘68 MD, ‘72 PhD, famed virology professor in the U of A’s Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, made the list for his work on hepatitis. In the 1980s, Tyrrell reshaped the world of virology when he helped discover the first oral medication for hepatitis B, a viral infection of the liver that kills about 780,000 people around the world each year. In 2010, thanks to Tyrrell’s tireless work, the U of A launched the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology with a $25-million gift from the Li Ka Shing (Canada) Foundation—the largest cash donation in the U of A’s history.

“We have wonderful resources here,” said Tyrrell of the U of A in accepting the 2015 Killam Prize for Health Sciences. “The buildings we have now are as good as you’re going to find anyplace in the country. Our equipment is first-rate as a result of the Canada Foundation for Innovation. We have excellent graduate students. We have everything we need to see success. We also have tremendous support from the Government of Alberta to help to translate and commercialize discoveries to benefit patients.

“I really believe that we are in a golden age of research, because of the convergence of the sciences and the development of new technologies that can be applied to understand disease processes—we are seeing wonderful things happening in medicine.”

For the second year in a row, business professor Andrew Leach made the list for his singular ability to make energy issues understandable. An energy and environmental economist in the U of A's Alberta School of Business, Leach has lent his voice and knowledge in both mainstream and social media to become the leading authority on the province’s energy sector. 

Recently, Leach was asked by Premier Rachel Notley to lead a panel tasked with formulating a new climate change policy for the province.

Alissa Boyle, ‘12 BSc, is director of the award-winning DiscoverE, a student-delivered initiative of the U of A’s Faculty of Engineering that delivers accessible programs about engineering, science and technology to the youth of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. During her tenure as director, Boyle has helped DiscoverE earn a world-record three Google RISE awards for innovation and has introduced a girls’ coding club, as well as the world’s first coding MOOC (massive online open course) designed for and delivered by youth.

Boyle began working with DiscoverE as an undergraduate student and says she was hooked by the mission, the passionate team and the extremely creative environment.

"DiscoverE, the Faculty of Engineering and the university have provided me the opportunity to combine my academic background—molecular genetics—with my passion for community outreach and education.

"As director, I have had the opportunity to build relationships with colleagues across Canada and the globe while continuing my personal and professional growth."

U of A alumni making the list include Premier Rachel Notley, ‘87 BA; Gurvinder Batia, ‘87 BSc, “Edmonton’s wine guy” and owner of Vinomania; Colby Cosh, ‘93 BA, national magazine and newspaper columnist; Brian Ferguson, ‘80 BCom, CEO of Cenovus; Gil McGowan, ‘90 BA, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour; Samuel Oboh, ‘10 MA, president of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada; Larry Simpson, ‘80, BCom, vice-president of the Nature Conservatory of Canada; Teresa Spinelli, ‘96 BFA, owner of the Italian Centre shops; and Peter Tertzakian, ‘82 BSc, chief energy economist and managing director of Arc Financial.

A host of Alberta CEOs on the list who give up some of their time to serve the U of A include Paul Douglas, president and CEO of PCL Construction, who serves on the President’s Think Tank for the University of Alberta; David Ghermezian, CEO of Triple Five Group, who sat on the board of the Alberta School of Business’ Alberta Business Family Institute (2009–12); Hunter Harrison, CP Rail CEO, who received an honorary degree from the U of A in 2007; and Dave Mowat, president and CEO of ATB Financial, who sits on the Alberta School of Business’ Business Advisory Council and Devonian Botanic Garden

Alex Janvier, Aboriginal artist and most recently the Faculty of Education’s 2015 Artist in Residence, also made the vaunted list. Janvier, who served as a U of A art instructor in the late 1960s, received an honorary degree from the U of A in 2008.