Alumni Achievement Awards

Mount Royal University celebrates the remarkable accomplishments of its students and graduates through the Alumni Achievement Awards. Selected for their significant contributions to their profession and community, recipients embody the sense of citizenship and intellectual excellence for which Mount Royal stands.

Words by Collette Burjack
Photos by Chao Zhang and Michal Waissmann

Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award

Dr. Glen Edwards

Bachelor of Science — University Transfer, 1947

One of Canada’s most prestigious orthopaedic surgeons and educators has roots in Mount Royal University.

The first of his family to pursue post-secondary education, Dr. Glen Edwards came to Mount Royal in 1947 to study engineering. He remembers attending lectures in quonset huts —  structures built for soldiers during the Second World War. Despite these unconventional classrooms, he praises the instruction
he received.

“There were outstanding instructors at Mount Royal,” says Edwards. “I felt privileged to have them as teachers.”

Fortunately, for the thousands of patients and students who would be affected by Edwards’s work, he soon chose medicine over engineering. He become a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, as well as the American College of Surgeons, and went on to help found Calgary’s first medical training facility.

During a career spanning more than 50 years, Edwards lectured at universities across the globe and held numerous prominent positions, including the first Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Foothills Hospital and President of the Canadian Orthopaedic Association. He performed more than 20,000 surgeries — to name just a few of his many achievements. 

Perhaps most significant is his work as an educator. Leaving behind a career in the U.S., Edwards returned to Canada in 1961 to start a resident-training program in pediatric orthopaedic surgery at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

“I was raised here,” says Edwards. “I wanted to give something back to Alberta.”

Over the next four decades, Edwards continued to be a driving force for medical education and research.

He was instrumental in launching the University of Calgary Medical School, where he established a post-graduate training program in orthopaedic surgery.

Today, countless surgeons worldwide can trace their own beginnings back to Edwards and he hopes his work will continue to inspire future generations.

“I was just this kid from Bankview,” he says. “I hope by winning this award, students will look at me and say, ‘If he can achieve all this, anyone can do it.’”

Outstanding Alumni Award — Community Service

Karen Gallagher-Burt

Diploma — Social Work, 2006

Karen Gallagher-Burt is an advocate for social change and a champion for children’s well-being and mental health issues.

“I see my role as helping create a voice and opportunities for marginalized people,” says Gallagher-Burt, who is described by colleagues as a “real-life Wonder Woman.”

She first discovered her calling when she and her husband became an Alberta foster family in 1988.

“I wanted 10 children and my husband wanted two,” she says. “So we had two genetic children and I snuck in 44 more!”

As a foster parent, Gallagher-Burt saw first-hand how a broken system affected children, families and social workers. She vowed to make a difference.

Since then, she’s volunteered with numerous organizations, including Wood’s Homes, the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre, Inn from the Cold and, most recently, the Calgary Police Commission. She’s also served in a professional capacity with Calgary Reads and the Distress Centre, and is team manager for campaign engagement at United Way of Calgary and Area.

While Gallagher-Burt is a source of inspiration and mentorship in Calgary’s not-for-profit community, two early attempts at post-secondary education nearly derailed her ambitions. It was when she enrolled in Mount Royal’s Diploma in Social Work that she found a program that enabled her to achieve her goals.

“It was the instructors who made the difference,” says Gallagher-Burt. “They weren’t just academics; they had hands-on experience in the field and they expected the best of you.”

Gallagher-Burt went on to complete a degree and masters in social work through the University of Calgary and is considering pursuing a doctorate.

Despite receiving numerous accolades for her contributions to the community, Gallagher-Burt’s voice breaks when she speaks of the significance of winning Mount Royal’s Alumni Achievement Award.

“Mount Royal was where I first found academic success and realized I could make an impact,” she says. “It’s the root of my work and the root of my heart.”

Horizon Award

Emma Gilchrist

Bachelor of Applied Communication — Journalism, 2006

Fresh out of university, Emma Gilchrist landed a job that would be the envy of many journalism students — her own column at an established daily newspaper. Yet less than three years later, after her column had grown into an entire section, Gilchrist gave up her position to pursue an alternate path.

“Independent, nonprofit media are starting to find their voice,” says Gilchrist. “I wanted to see what other avenues there are for journalists to serve democracy and the public interest.”

In 2009, Gilchrist decided to leave her newspaper career. She was then working at the Calgary Herald. This decision marked a leap into the unknown for the scribe, who has become a trailblazer in journalism. While traditional news outlets face falling revenues and declining readership, Gilchrist is using new media to reimagine how journalists can ignite public interest and engagement in social issues.

Most notably, she became a leader in reporting on environmental issues. As executive director at DeSmog Canada, an influential online magazine, she provides content on Canada’s energy and environment debate.

“I see it as a great privilege,” says Gilchrist. “So many people struggle just to survive the day-to-day, but I have the opportunity to tell stories about one of the biggest issues of our time. I can’t turn my back on that.”

Gilchrist credits Mount Royal University with launching her career. Not only did Mount Royal teach her the tools of her trade, but through a work semester abroad the University also opened her eyes to some of the gaps in Canadian media, including what she defines as a deficit of in-depth, public interest journalism.

“I’m honoured,” says Gilchrist of receiving an Alumni Achievement Award. “It means a lot to have my university recognize my unconventional path.”

Today, less than a decade after graduation, Gilchrist is a voice for change in Canada’s media landscape.

“There are a lot of different ways to tell a story and serve the public interest,” she says. “You only have so many heartbeats on this earth; make the most of them.”

Outstanding Alumni Award — Community Service

Kurt Pedersen

Business — University Transfer, 1990

From rock concerts and stand-up comedians to a legendary game of “Chicken Drop,” Kurt Pedersen’s annual charity events have become much-loved traditions, while raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for Calgary’s not-for-profit community.

“I see it as my responsibility to give back,” says Pedersen, senior vice president and investment advisor at Richardson GMP. “There are so many organizations and people doing good work, and that’s what makes our community a great place.”

While Pedersen has been instrumental in raising funds for The Kidney Foundation of Canada, Inn from the Cold, Alberta Children’s Hospital and Hospice Calgary, among others, it’s his efforts in support of kidney disease research that he sees as most significant.

After his sons were diagnosed with a rare kidney disease, Pedersen worked with The Kidney Foundation of Canada to launch a global competition to fund
medical research. Since its inception in 2010, the program has raised nearly $1 million and funded seven research initiatives.

“Through this research, we’re now confirming medicine that could extend kidney function by 50 per cent,” says Pedersen. “This is medication that doctors in Canada were not prescribing five years ago.”

A former player on the Cougars men’s basketball team, Pedersen remains a staunch supporter of Mount Royal University athletics. In addition to donning his Mount Royal blues to cheer on his team, he has helped raise more than $50,000 for Cougar athletes.

Pedersen continues to play alongside several of his former Cougar teammates as a member of the Fighting Tacos, a local senior men’s basketball team. For Pedersen, it is these lasting friendships that form the heart of Mount Royal’s legacy.

“I met some of my best friends there, including my wife. My career, my relationships, everything comes back to Mount Royal,” says Pedersen. “It’s hard to believe I owe so much to one institution.”

Outstanding Future Alumni Award

Cordelia Snowdon

Social Work Diploma — 2015

Growing up, Cordelia Snowdon loved listening to her father’s stories about his job in a group home. She remembers accompanying her dad, a Mount Royal alumnus, to class while he earned a Social Work diploma.

Now, a dedicated volunteer and burgeoning community leader, Snowdon credits her father for inspiring her to pursue a career helping others.

“He was always excited to go to work, even if he had had a bad day,” says Snowdon. “I knew that’s what I wanted.”

Following in her father’s footsteps, Snowdon completed her Social Work diploma in the spring of 2015. This fall, she returns to Mount Royal to begin
a Bachelor of Arts in Policy Studies, which she anticipates will enable her to make a tangible difference in people’s lives.

“I want to change policy on a bigger level, so that I can impact more people,” she says.

Snowdon is already driving change, having officially launched the Mount Royal Students’ Distress Centre Club in December 2014.

“I noticed a lot of students were hesitant about seeking help on campus because of a fear of stigmatization,” says Snowdon. “I wanted to create something that gave all students the chance to share their stories, while raising awareness about mental health.”

In addition to her work on student mental health, Snowdon dedicates countless hours to volunteering on campus. She has helped numerous students through her involvement with the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University Peer Support Centre and the Student Outreach and Safewalk Centre. She also serves on a variety of committees, including the Vice-President Academic Advisory Committee and the General Faculties Council. She is a longtime volunteer with Calgary’s Distress Centre.

“Much of my family has been involved in the helping industry,” says Snowdon. “It was ingrained in me from an early age to give back whenever I can.”