UAlberta innovators recognized in Top 40 Under 40

More than half of Avenue Magazine’s latest list of young educators and entrepreneurs have ties to the University of Alberta.


Edmontonians with ties to the University of Alberta have, as in past years, made the Top 40 Under 40 list for doing good things in the community.

This year’s list of 40 recipients, compiled annually by 

Fostering communication across cultures

Creating positive experiences together is the key to global peace-building, Leslie Weigl believes, which is why she’s made an awareness of intercultural relations—how culturally different people communicate—her goal when she comes to work at the University of Alberta every day.

Weigl, who graduated in 2001 with a bachelor of arts, found herself staying on at the U of A to help develop an international environment campus-wide, particularly for International House, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2014. As global education co-ordinator, she works with a team to create opportunities for global learning through free lectures, workshops, performances, art projects and social gatherings, and by supporting student leadership development. Programming reaches not only international and Canadian students, but sometimes goes campus-wide and into the Edmonton community as well.

“What makes me happy is when people are connecting and sharing and being creative together—it can lead to so many surprises and great outcomes. When it comes to dealing with heavy global topics and working interculturally, it can be easy for us to forget that how we communicate can be taken in different ways,” Weigl noted. “Especially when people are under stress, they can’t think globally, they can’t see things from a broader perspective. It’s important to create environments where people can connect, feel comfortable sharing and so begin to see the world in new ways.”

To help the U of A’s richly diverse community connect, Weigl also designs training programs that use personal stories and discussion as well as intercultural theory to help people develop new insights on a personal level. “By linking to personal experiences and emotions, we try to get at some of the feeling of culture.” Communicating at a deeper level builds understanding that is crucial when dealing with global dilemmas such as radicalization, she noted. “Personal relationships help people defuse fear and see issues from a more effective, complex and compassionate perspective.”

Practising the art of medical design

Heather Logan has put her U of A bachelor’s degree in design and her master’s degree in rehabilitation science to work in the field of medicine, specifically for patients with diseases of the head and neck. Using computer software and 3-D printers, Logan, an adjunct assistant professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, designs models of patients’ heads to provide important blueprints for surgeons as they plan facial reconstructive surgery.

She discovered a fascination with medical design during her fourth-year practicum at the Institute for Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine, where she still works.

“I didn’t even know the field existed and I saw myself doing design in a way I never predicted, but I always knew I wanted to use my art and design skill and passion to help people.

“We use software to do all the planning so we can consult with different clinicians and create a treatment plan for that patient. Understanding the dental and the surgical perspective is important and allows me to create surgical cutting guides and drilling guides for a more predictable treatment for the patient. That’s a huge part of my job, and the best part is being able to work with all kinds of skill sets and specialties to make the patient outcome better,” Logan said.

Promoting full participation for all

Karen Slater, director of the U of A’s Steadward Centre for Physical and Personal Achievement, is also making life better for others. Growing up with a stepbrother and an uncle who faced physical and developmental challenges, Slater experienced the idea of inclusion from an early age. “It was natural to say, how can we make this work so that everyone gets to play? It seemed the right thing to do.”

That philosophy is reflected in the daily work of the Steadward Centre, a fully accessible fitness centre for more than 1,100 participants aged four to 84 (and up) based in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation. “Our work directly impacts individuals who are living with impairment and seeking a healthy, active lifestyle,” Slater said. “We learn what they are looking for and then we engage with researchers to work alongside participants to find better, meaningful ways for people to participate fully in the types of activities they are interested in.”

Faculties across campus—as well as other universities, hospitals and health organizations—collaborate with the Steadward on research, and teaching is equally important as students’ assumptions are challenged by the individuals who can offer the “lived experience” of coping with the everyday obstacles our society presents to people living with impairment. The Steadward Centre’s commitment is rounded out with community-based work to improve public spaces and educate everyone about accessibility.

Slater, who joined the centre a decade ago after earning her MA in adapted physical activity in 2005 from the U of A, is gratified by the culture of caring there. “It’s rewarding to have this environment where everyone works as a team—the individuals who use the programs, the researchers, the students who are learning together—versus a traditional top-down approach.”

Giving young people a voice

At 21, Claire Edwards is the youngest recipient on the Top 40 list and the only U of A student. And true to her passion for giving youth a voice, she’s a living example of her own philosophy. This fourth-year political science student has already made her mark in Edmonton, as a volunteer with the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, as chair of the City of Edmonton Youth Council and by spearheading a campaign calling for amendments to a bill that would have allowed school boards to reject peer support groups such as gay-straight alliances.

“The key to justice is self-determination, and youth should have some role in deciding what their communities and schools look like,” said Edwards. “The earlier we give young people a voice in the community, they more likely they will be active in their adult lives. All of us have a gift we are able to offer to our community; even young children have a role to play.”

Currently working as an intern in Washington for a reproductive justice organization thanks to the opportunity provided through the U of A’s Education Abroad program, Edwards says her passion for equality includes women’s rights—”there is connectivity with human rights”—and when she’s done her degree she plans to remain in Alberta.

“My dream would be to make a career out of doing good. There’s work to be done here in terms of human rights, and I want to be part of that.”

Edwards, who grew up in Edmonton in the heart of a fifth-generation Alberta family, is glad she opted to attend the U of A. “I’m proud to be from the U of A and I’ve had a wonderful experience.”

UAlberta alumni, staff and students on the Top 40 Under 40 list

  • Vivian Abboud, ‘99 BEd, ‘07MEd
  • Carri Boulton, ‘01 BA
  • Lauren Capozzi, ‘09 BsC (Kinesiology), ‘10 BSc
  • Jonathan Chan, ‘00 BMedSc, ‘01 MD
  • Sarah Chan, ‘03 BA
  • Dennis Cuku, ‘99 BSc (MechEng)
  • Claire Edwards (Student, Political Science)
  • Cameron Franchuk, ‘00 BSc (CiviEng), ‘02 MSc
  • Jennifer Grimm, ‘98 BCom
  • Gayla Grinde, ‘09 BA
  • Rohit Gupta, ‘02 BSc (CompEng), ‘06 MBA
  • Thomas Holmes, ‘05 BEd, ‘09 MEd
  • Amer Hussain, ‘04 MSc, ‘08 DDS
  • Miranda Jordan-Smith, ‘06 BA
  • Deirdre Lanigan, ‘09 LLB
  • Heather Logan, ‘09 BDes, ‘12 MSc
  • Sunil Nakai, ‘05 BSc(ElecEng)
  • Ryan Oland, ‘99 BMedSc, ‘00 MD
  • Mary Pinkoski, ‘99 BA, ‘06 BEd
  • Joe Raiche, ‘09 MD
  • Karen Slater, ‘05 MA
  • Lalitha Taylor, ‘05 BSc(Nutr/Food)
  • David Vonesch, ‘06 BSc (MechEng)
  • Lorne Webber, ‘08 BA
  • Leslie Weigl, ‘01 BA
  • Alexander Yeh, ‘00 BSc