Arch Awards

Nominate a UCalgary graduate who inspires you for the UCalgary Alumni Association’s highest honour!

Nominations now open!

It’s time to once again recognize our changemakers — the risk-taking and trailblazing alumni who’ve sparked meaningful change close to home and around the globe.

Arch Award recipients are leaders and innovators. These UCalgary graduates have shown excellence in their profession and work as champions for the betterment of their communities. Make sure they get the recognition they deserve.

Nominate a peer, colleague, friend or former classmate for one of our six 2019 Arch Award categories:

  • Early Career Achievement: recognizes professional accomplishment or creative leadership in any field by an alumna/us aged 30 or younger. The award honours recent graduates whose career success has brought distinction to themselves and credit to the university. Learn more>>


  • Alumni Service: recognizes a graduate whose philanthropy and/or volunteer commitment has served to advance the University of Calgary and its alumni. The award honours those who have improved the lives of fellow graduates and future alumni. Learn more>>


  • Community Commitment: recognizes a graduate who has made outstanding and significant contributions to their community through their professional or volunteer service. Learn more>>


  • Career Achievement: New for 2019, this award recognizes a graduate whose leadership and accomplishments have had a positive impact in their field and whose innovation has made significant contributions to their community. This individual will have achieved excellence and distinction in their career. Learn more>>


  • International Career Achievement: recognizes a graduate whose international career accomplishments have brought distinction to themselves, credit to the university and real benefit to their communities. Learn more>>


  • Distinguished Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement: The highest honour awarded by the UCalgary Alumni Association, this award recognizes a graduate who, over the course of their life, has made a notable contribution that has improved their profession and community. Having reached the pinnacle of professional and personal success, they enrich the lives of others through their leadership, shared knowledge, creativity and innovation. Learn more>>

Nominations close on Feb. 28, 2019.

Congratulations to the changemakers!

The University of Calgary Alumni Association is proud to announce this year’s Arch Award recipients:

Distinguished Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement 

Dr. Sam Weiss, PhD’83 
Renowned neuroscientist and leader who is changing the Canadian scientific landscape.  

International Career Achievement

Dr. Debra Isaac, BN’84, MD’87
Cardiology champion who is strengthening the global pulse of heart health. 

Community Commitment

Lisa Dixon-Wells, BPE’84, BEd’87, MEd’97
Inspired advocate and facilitator of bullying prevention in schools and amateur sports.

Alumni Service

Rahim Sajan, BSc’01, BEd’03
Passionate educator and volunteer who creates learning environments for all.

Early Career Achievement

Dr. Rowan Cockett, BSc’11
Innovative problem-solver who focuses on enabling others to succeed.

Dr. Sam Weiss, PhD’83 

Distinguished Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement

  • Scientific director, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction (INMHA)
  • Founding director, Hotchkiss Brain Institute
  • Discoverer of two major neurological breakthroughs 

Dr. Sam Weiss says he’s “reasonably good at connecting the dots.”

This is undoubtedly an understatement for a researcher who made two major breakthroughs that revolutionized our understanding of the human brain, and who also founded and then propelled the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) into becoming one of the premier neuroscience and mental health centres in Canada. 

But these accomplishments are, more or less, the results of chance. 

For that, Sam credits his openness to the unknown.

“Anything of value that we discovered was unexpected,” he says. “I tend to believe if you keep your mind open and don’t over-focus on a predicted experiment, you’ll be more likely to make discoveries.”

This philosophy of avoiding tunnel vision has also worked for Sam outside the lab.

Case in point: when he met with HBI’s namesake — the late philanthropist Harley Hotchkiss — the two got sidetracked into a lengthy conversation about their common passion for hockey; there was just enough time at the end of the meeting for Sam to quickly make his pitch to support the creation of the institution.

Connecting the dots to create comradery around a common interest worked. The pitch was successful and the two men remained close up until Hotchkiss’s passing in 2011.

Today, Sam is at the helm of the CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addictions, where he is building a collaborative, interdisciplinary team across Canada to tackle some of the biggest problems around brain health and wellness.

And, much like every step along his career, he continues to coach his students and colleagues to not only look for, but embrace the unexpected.

“If something amazing and interesting comes across your desk, don’t leave it alone,” Sam advises. “Jump on it. Go hard. You never know what you might expect.”

The Distinguished Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement is the highest honour awarded by the UCalgary Alumni Association. It recognizes a graduate who, over the course of his or her life, has reached the pinnacle of success and, in doing so, has made a notable contribution that has improved his or her profession and community. Congratulations, Dr. Sam Weiss! 

Dr. Debra Isaac, BN’84, MD’87

2018 International Career recipient

  • Clinical professor, Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta
  • Co-founder, Guyana Program to Advance Cardiac Care (GPACC)

Dr. Debra Isaac believes knowledge is at the heart of effective health care.

“Machines do not improve health care if you don’t have the expertise to use them,” she says.

That’s why Debra was admittedly a bit skeptical when a colleague asked her to help secure a cardiac ultrasound machine for a public hospital in his native Guyana. 

Still, she travelled to the small, impoverished country in South America in January 2012 where she met with the nation’s Minister of Health to see what could be done to improve local cardiovascular health.

“When I talked to the Minister of Health and recognized the lack of the ability to use this equipment, I basically told him I wasn’t going to leave this piece of equipment there just for a photo op,” Debra says.

She left Guyana having committed to developing a cardiac ultrasound training program; this was the very beginning of the Guyana Program to Advance Cardiac Care (GPACC).

Six years and more than 30 trips later, Debra and her team have expanded GPACC to include a paediatric cardiac training program in partnership with the International Children’s Heart Foundation — to date, this has resulted in more than 150 life-saving surgeries on children — and has helped establish the first cardiology clinic in Guyana, including the development of training programs for nurses and doctors. 

Of all the things she’s accomplished in Guyana, Debra says she is most happy when she walks into the local hospital and sees patients living well and physicians and nurses who are confident in the knowledge they’ve gained.

The International Career Award recognizes a graduate whose global work has created real benefit to their communities. Congratulations, Dr. Debra Isaac!

Lisa Dixon-Wells, BPE’84, BEd’87, MEd’97

2018 Community Commitment Recipient

  • Founder and executive director, Dare to Care

Lisa Dixon-Wells says most people would describe her as a helper.

Yet, it’s a time when she didn’t help that has greatly influenced her trajectory — watching a classmate be bullied and never telling a teacher what she saw.

“To this day, I feel very guilty,” she says. “I can’t go back in time to fix that, so my goal is to make sure everybody knows the role they play in bullying prevention.”

Lisa wasn’t alone when she didn’t speak up; only four per cent of bullying in schools gets reported, she says.

That’s why Dare to Care — the anti-bullying program Lisa founded and launched in 1999 — focuses on “bystander training” to empower youth to speak up when they see bullying. 

“If we don’t mobilize those who are witnessing bullying, but staying silent, if we don’t give them the support and the tools to speak up, nothing is ever going to change,” Lisa says.

Dare to Care has facilitated workshops in more than 1,200 schools and youth organizations across the country, educating some 65,000 students, parents and teachers annually.

The program also expanded this past year to amateur sports, with the UCalgary Swim Club serving as the pilot group, a perfect fit for Lisa, who is a former captain of the university’s varsity swim team.

The Community Commitment Award recognizes a graduate who has made outstanding contributions to their community through their professional or volunteer service. Congratulations, Lisa Dixon-Wells!

Rahim Sajan, BSc’01, BEd’03

2018 Alumni Service recipient

  • Work-experience teacher at Discovering Choices High School
  • Co-founder and curator of TEDxCalgary
  • UCalgary senator
  • Advisor to the Cumming School of Medicine Dean’s Talks
  • Chair, UCalgary Honorary Degree Committee

Rahim Sajan continues to draw inspiration from something a UCalgary professor once said: If you have something worth saying, they’ll listen to you.

“That one comment sparked questions around what is worth saying,” Rahim says. “What is worth teaching? What is worth investigating? What is worth sharing with others?”

He keeps these questions in mind every time he brings a community together around ideas, be it through his work as an educator with the Calgary Board of Education or through his many volunteer roles with UCalgary and across the city.

No matter the stage — TEDxCalgary, the Cumming School of Medicine Dean’s Talks, the classroom or the UCalgary Senate — Rahim is always searching for ideas that will not only spark interest and generate big conversations, but, most importantly, lead to action and meaningful change.

“Conversations that have the power to move people — to help feed their imagination so they make wise decisions — these are very much the ideas that tend to intrigue me,” he says.

The Alumni Service Award recognizes a graduate whose philanthropy and/or volunteer commitment has advanced the University of Calgary and its alumni. Congratulations, Rahim Sajan!

Dr. Rowan Cockett, BSc’11

2018 Early Career Recipient

  • Director of Cloud Architecture, Seequent
  • Creator of Visible Geology
  • Co-founder, 3point Science (sold to Seequent)

Dr. Rowan Cockett, PhD, had two distinct experiences as a UCalgary geoscience undergrad that propelled his career.

The first was a challenge: using old 2D photocopied maps to solve a 3D problem as part of his structural geology assignments.

“I was a little disappointed by the quality of some of the educational tools we had at our disposal,” admits the 29 year-old. “I felt there was a better way to do this.”

The second was an opportunity: associate professor and eventual business partner Dr. Adam Pidlisecky, PhD, demonstrating the entrepreneurial side of science.

“He showed me that you can just take on the world, take on these ideas and do something different,” Rowan says.

Both experiences motivated Rowan to — while he was still a student — create a new tool to make complex 3D geoscience modelling more accessible.

The result is the web-based and interactive software Visible Geology, which has quickly become one of the most widely used educational modelling tools in the world.

Rapid interest in this tool from universities and industry led Rowan and Pidlisecky to launch their startup, 3Point Science Inc., in 2013; it’s since been sold to New Zealand-based Seequent, a global developer of visual data software. 

Of everything he’s accomplished as young professional, Rowan says the most satisfying experience has been hearing from students who are succeeding in their studies because of Visible Geology; it’s this that continues to fuel his future work.

“I think my career is always going to be around technical communications and really taking some of these complex ideas and simplifying and disseminating and communicating effectively,” he says.

The Early Career Achievement award recognizes the professional accomplishments or creative leadership of a graduate who is 30 years of age or younger. Congratulations, Dr. Rowan Cockett!

Who are the changemakers?

They are artists and doctors; business leaders and all-star athletes; advocates, and even an astronaut! 

See past Arch Award recipients.

Campus Arch

What’s the ‘Arch’ in Arch Award?

The “Arch” is the symbolic entranceway to the University of Calgary. Back in the 1980s, the Arch was designed to be a physical representation of breaking traditional values within academia.

Instead of a traditional gate and fence, the UCalgary’s entryway became an accessible archway.

Instead of a place of exclusivity and gatekeeping, UCalgary became a welcoming environment void of complacency.

The Arch was — and continues to be — an emblem of meaningful change within the UCalgary community. Now the 2018 Arch Award recipients will be celebrated by UCalgary for their bold efforts.


How it all began

The UCalgary Alumni Association Arch Awards have celebrated risk-taking and trailblazing alumni since 1985. The awards honour alumni who have sparked meaningful change in their professions and community through commitment, leadership and positive disruption.

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A special thank you to our presenting sponsor TD Insurance.