A global poutine entrepreneur, an investment professional and a couple working to improve the lives of youth in Ghana. The recipients of the Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association's 2019 Awards of Excellence illustrate the far-reaching impact of Laurier graduates.
"The diversity of this year's Alumni Awards of Excellence winners is a testament to the positive contributions Laurier graduates are making in their home communities and around the world," said Laurier President and Vice-Chancellor Deborah MacLatchy. "Our 2019 recipients have brought honour to Laurier and played important roles in our university's continued development."
Laurier paid tribute to its Alumni Awards of Excellence recipients during the 2019 Awards of Excellence ceremony, held in March at the university's Waterloo campus. Meet this year's honourees:
The Forever Golden Hawk Award recognizes an alumnus or alumna for an outstanding ongoing contribution to Laurier through support, volunteerism or service to the university.
Bill Webb is paying it forward.
Strong Laurier supporters, Webb and his wife, Agnes Wong, have contributed close to $1.3 million to the university, including gifts to the Laurier Centre for Economic Research and Policy Analysis, Co-op and Career Services, a Bachelor of Business Administration entrance scholarship and a leadership-level gift of $1 million toward Laurier’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics.
Webb, who serves as partner and chief investment officer with Toronto's Waypoint Investment Partners, says he takes tremendous pride in his association with Laurier.
"Laurier has been my source for a wonderful education, both in and out of the classroom," says Webb. "The school has been the wellspring of so many lasting relationships: great friends, business partners, intellectual mentors and role models. I am forever a Golden Hawk and forever grateful."
The Honorary Alumnus or Alumna of the Year award is presented to individuals who have brought honour to Laurier and its community of alumni, students, faculty and staff through significant and often selfless contributions to the university or the local, provincial, national or international communities.
Mary Jo Fedy is a champion for purposeful learning.
A leader dedicated to Laurier, Fedy has facilitated a partnership between accounting firm KPMG, where she serves as managing partner of the firm's Waterloo office, and the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics. The partnership prepares students for careers in accounting through co-op placements, career development workshops, information sessions and networking opportunities.
KPMG has also donated more than $800,000 to Laurier that has helped fund scholarships, awards, professorships and other initiatives. Last year, Fedy announced KPMG’s continued support for Laurier’s accounting program through a $250,000 donation.
"The commitment to excellence shown by Laurier’s faculty and staff make the strategic partnership between KPMG and the university truly beneficial to the student learning experience," says Fedy. "I am honored to be named Honorary Alumna of the Year and accept the award on behalf of KPMG partners and staff, who are passionate about shaping and inspiring the minds of future leaders."
The Entrepreneurial Spirit Award recognizes an alumnus or alumna for work as a business founder or entrepreneurial leader with a demonstrated ability to generate business growth.
You could say Ryan Smolkin is driving the gravy train.
Smolkin is the founder and CEO, “chief entertainment officer,” as he likes to say, of Smoke’s Poutinerie, the world’s largest chain of poutine restaurants. There are more than 150 Smoke’s locations in Canada and 50 in the U.S., but Smolkin has plans to open 1,300 franchise locations around the world during the next five years.
One of those franchises will be operated by Laurier business students.
"Entrepreneurism is about spirit, drive, passion and hard work while staying positive, focused and excited to lead," says Smolkin. "I am pumped to receive the honour of Laurier’s Entrepreneurial Spirit Award."
There’s more to Smolkin’s success than potatoes, gravy and cheese curds. While a student, he established several successful business ventures, including a portfolio of rental properties that he built to more than $4 million in assets.
The Award for Community Impact is presented to honour outstanding achievement by a Laurier alumnus or alumna to foster a better world through local, national or international initiatives.
Children and youth living on the street in Ghana have a brighter future thanks to the work of TK Mawuli Azaglo.
While a student at Laurier, Azaglo founded Future of Africa, a non-governmental organization that provides aid to children and youth living on the streets in Ghana’s capital city, Accra. Each week, the Future of Africa team provides meals, literacy training and a sense of community to about 100 youth.
The work of Future of Africa can’t be done alone. Azaglo says his wife and Future of Africa partner, Nicola C. Horne, with whom he shares the Award for Community Impact, and students at Asheshi University College, where he served as associate dean of students and community affairs, are integral to the organization’s success.
"I am deeply humbled to share this award with Nikki and all of the young leaders who go into the streets with us every week," says Azaglo. "The award affirms our responsibility to bring hope to hundreds of children and youth living in the streets of Ghana. I am very grateful to Laurier for inspiring us to change our worlds."
Employing a led-by-locals approach, Nicola C. Horne is helping create change in isolated African communities situated along Ecuadaor’s Onzole River.
In addition to her work with Future of Africa, Horne is the co-founder and director of the non-profit organization the Onzole River Project. The project empowers people living along the Onzole to develop their communities and overcome generations of systemic racism and marginalization. With the help of local residents, the Onzole River Project operates Gaston Figueroa Primary School, providing culturally relevant education and skills development.
"Receiving this award means recognition for the underserved communities that I have had the privilege of living and working alongside: communities made up of individuals committed to making their corner of the world safer, stronger and filled with hope for subsequent generations," says Horne. "Loving your neighbour – that is true community impact."
The Young Alumnus or Alumna of the Year Award is presented to recognize outstanding achievement by a graduate 35 years of age or under who has brought honour to Laurier.
Matt Allen leads a sporting life.
In his position as chief innovation officer at PGA of Canada, Allen leads special projects and is a key contact for domestic and international golf industry stakeholders. Allen, 30, first joined the PGA of Canada in 2011.
The kinesiology graduate is also the head coach of Laurier’s women’s softball team and the assistant coach of the Dominican Republic men’s national softball team. Allen also serves on several sport development committees and is a founding member of the Canadian Collegiate Softball Association.
He attributes his success to the many lessons learned at Laurier.
"My time at Laurier has and continues to shape the person I am today and has led to countless opportunities," says Allen. "It is an incredible honour to be named Laurier’s Young Alumnus of the Year."
The Student Alumna or Alumnus of the Year award acknowledges outstanding achievements by a student in forwarding the objectives of the Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association.
Julia Pereira is making most of her Laurier student experience, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Pereira serves as director of marketing and communications with the Student Alumni Association at Laurier’s Waterloo campus and is a member-elect of the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union board of directors. She has also twice served as a students’ union delegate at the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance plenary and teaches dance at Laurier’s Athletic Complex.
"I am honoured to be recognized as Laurier’s Student Alumna of the Year and excited to contribute to Laurier’s alumni community for years to come," says Pereira. "Laurier has provided many meaningful opportunities to connect with the student and alumni network and expand my own learning."
Pereira is a double-degree honours student in the Faculty of Arts’ co-operative education program. She is also pursuing an enhanced minor in management.