Engineering Alumni Awards 2015

Lifetime Achievement

Dr. Amit Chakma

Dr. Amit Chakma has been President & Vice-Chancellor of Western University in London, Ontario since 2009. Dr. Chakma’s career has spanned the globe from his native Bangladesh to his undergraduate education at the Algerian Petroleum Institute, and from his graduate studies at UBC to the leadership roles he has played at major research universities across Canada.

Amit earned his MASc and PhD in Chemical Engineering from UBC, graduating in 1987. The author of more than 100 articles, he is an expert in areas related to petroleum research and energy management. Despite his senior administrative commitments as Dean, Provost and President, he received research grants until 2012.

After leaving UBC, Amit taught at the University of Calgary before joining the University of Regina, where he served as Dean of Engineering, Vice-President (Research), and International Liaison Officer. From 2001-2009, he served as Provost at the University of Waterloo. Throughout his career, Amit has been lauded for dreaming big, enacting change and galvanizing strengths. At Western, he has been a catalyst for increasing international student enrolment, raising the university’s research profile, and launching an ambitious fundraising campaign.

Amit has also been generous in sharing his expertise and passion for higher education at the national and international level. He currently serves as Chair of the World University Service of Canada, as a member of the Science, Technology & Innovation Council of Canada, and as a council member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities. He was the inaugural Chair of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities, and also served as Chair of the Federal government's Advisory Panel on Canada's International Education Strategy.   

For his many achievements, Dr. Chakma has been recognized with Canada‘s Top 40 Under 40 Award, and as a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering. He received the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 in recognition of his contributions to Canadian post-secondary education. In 2014, he was named among RBC's Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award winners, and became the first Canadian university president to receive the Michael P. Malone International Leadership Award, sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

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Dr. Indira Samarasekera

Over the course of her career, Dr. Indira Samarasekera has made major contributions to research, academia, industry, higher education in Canada, and international research partnerships. Her vision and leadership has not only boosted the University of Alberta, where she is currently president, but served UBC during her tenure as a faculty member and as vice-president, research.

Dr. Samarasekera’s contributions to research—specifically to heat transfer and stress analysis of materials—led to numerous awards and honours, as well as the adoption of her work in countries and industries around the world. She has been recognized for her research achievements by the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Engineering; her contributions have also resulted in her selection as an officer of the Order of Canada. She has received six honorary degrees.

Her contributions to engineering have not been solely through research: Dr. Samarasekera has also sat on numerous professional boards, both in industry and government, helping lead development of the National Research Council of Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Metallurgical Society of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, among many others. As vice-president, research, she spearheaded a number of initiatives still in place today, including “Celebrate Research”; during her tenure she increased research funding to UBC by more than 50 per cent.

Over the past 10 years, Dr. Samarasekera has led the development of the University of Alberta, launching a renewed vision and leading a successful $600-million fundraising campaign. Under her leadership, the university has expanded in facilities, faculty, programs, and international partnerships; has grown in international reputation; and has been recognized through international faculty and student awards. She has continued to work closely with government, industry, and academic partners through participation on national and international boards to advance innovation in higher education and the private sector.

Dr. Samarasekera has been widely recognized for her leadership, clear vision, diplomacy, intelligence, and determination—all of which have been shown to be the keys to her many achievements and innovations. 

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Community Service

Dan Bowditch

Dan Bowditch graduated from UBC in 1971 in Electrical Engineering, and spent the next 28 years building his career with BC Hydro. He worked in small communities across BC as a district manager before returning to Vancouver in 1980 to undertake senior positions in customer service, design and as an area manager. In 1987, he managed the province-wide GFIS computer mapping project and became responsible for all IT applications in Transmission & Distribution, notably the Power On outage management system. In 1999, he became vice president of GIS & Energy Business Solutions with Hydrosubsidiary Westech Information Systems, before taking early retirement in 2004. Two weeks later he started his own consulting firm, working with North American utilities in the GIS services arena. He finally retired for good in 2010.

Throughout his life, Dan has always given back through community involvement. As a student, he volunteered on the Applied Science curriculum committee and organized a major IEEE field trip. Over the course of his career, his volunteer work varied from obtaining the first ambulance for the Hazeltons, to building a museum in Skidegate, to co-founding three environmental organizations, to helping establish the Rediscovery outdoor youth program on Haida Gwaii.

Dan served his professional community through six years on the APEGBC committee reviewing experience of new electrical engineering applicants and six years on the board of the Geospatial Information & Technology Association, an international education non-profit based in Denver. Dan was awarded GITA’s Distinguished Service Award in 2010.

Dan has also followed his passion for the arts, serving many years as chair of the volunteer board of the non-profit Rogue Folk Club. In addition, since 2009, he has also dedicated his time to Social Venture Partners Vancouver, a venture philanthropy organization providing funds and expertise towards capacity building of non-profits that directly support youth and families at risk. Dan’s SVP Lead Partner role has included working with Can You Dig It, a community gardening initiative aimed at social and economic inclusion for people with developmental disabilities and Athletics For Kids, a non-profit that funds organized sport registration fees for low income families to help put kids in the game.

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Outstanding Young Alumnus

Colin O’Neill

Colin O’Neill is co-founder and engineer for Target Tape Inc., a business he created with partner Nick Seto – which had its genesis in the classroom at UBC. During his time on campus, Colin proved an exemplary student, impressing faculty with his technical proficiency and his drive to succeed. He graduated in 2010 with dual degrees in Integrated Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in Honours Economics.

In his final year of studies, he was planning on pursuing graduate work in Economics, when two experiences changed his path. The first was an opportunity to see surgery firsthand through a biomedical devices class at UBC; the second was enrolling in New Venture Design, where his epiphany from the OR – why can’t the surgeon translate the x-ray to the patient’s skin, to know where to make the incision – led to the invention of Target Tape. The idea for Target Tape, an adhesive that inks a patient’s skin with measured markings which then show up on scanning systems such as x-rays and CT scans, was enthusiastically received by surgeons. Since graduation in 2010, Colin and Nick have taken Target Tape from concept to business, winning “Best Pre-Revenue Company” and “Best Company Likely to be Acquired” at the fall 2011 Angel Forum in Vancouver, and raising a very impressive $500,000 in seed funding their first year.

Being a young entrepreneur has required Colin to quickly learn new skills necessary for leading a new business – taking on leadership, management, intellectual property, finance, technical development, engineering, communications, quality systems, and regulatory affairs which challenging for even the most seasoned entrepreneurs, but which Colin has mastered in a short time.

Colin’s involvement in building a new business hasn’t stopped him from contributing to a wide variety of other activities. He continues to be involved with UBC as an ambassador for the IGEN program, and to participate in other UBC events such as Alumni Weekend and e@ubc. He also, having attended the Shad Valley Programs in science, engineering, and technology while still a high school student, has since become a guest lecturer and mentor for the program to its current students. He has also contributed to the wider community through organizing fundraisers and volunteering for Easter Seals and the Vancouver Marathon. 

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Outstanding Future Alumnus Award

Andrea Palmer

Andrea Palmer is a BASc student in Mechanical Engineering, currently in the final year of her degree. In addition to being a highly capable engineer, quickly mastering classroom concepts, she has distinguished herself through the significant extra-curricular time she dedicates to her political, technical, and social welfare activities. She is highly regarded by Applied Science faculty members and her peers alike for the immense depth and breadth of her accomplishments, but also for her caring nature, dedication to her community, and her ability to energize those with whom she works and mentors. Her peers describe her as supportive, inspiring, and of exemplary character; she has been described by faculty as the “kind of student who comes along only…once a decade.”  

During her term as Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) President (2013–2014), she oversaw the final approvals for the Engineering Student Centre (a $5 million project), reshaped the EUS vision to foster a dynamic and engaging student experience, and championed an inclusive and diverse engineering culture.

Andrea has achieved great success in her student team leadership activities. In her role as UBC Thunderbots Technical Team Captain, she guided the team to top results in two international competitions and, through unprecedented outreach, recruitment, and mentorship work, helped grow the team into one of the largest at UBC. In addition to her Thunderbots activities, she also helped lead UBC’s team to a first place victory at the 2013 Shell International Engineering Competition.

Andrea has also volunteered with Engineers Without Borders since her first year at UBC and is now the UBC Chapter’s Global Engineering Co-Lead. In this role, she closely collaborates with faculty to better integrate global engineering values—of social, environmental, and corporate responsibility—into UBC Engineering curricula, with a focus on developing non-traditional success metrics for courses of all levels. She is also dedicated to furthering the presence of women in engineering and was a key organizer of the 2013 National Conference on Women in Engineering (NCWiE), where she recruited unusually distinguished speakers and built a program lauded as one of the strongest that NCWiE delegates had seen.

In 2012, Andrea was awarded 24 Hours Vancouver’s Top 24 Under 24 Award. She is also an athlete who formerly competed in water polo and now dedicates time to mixed martial arts and kickboxing.

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M. Hafizur Rahman

M. Hafizur Rahman is a PhD candidate in Chemical and Biological Engineering (CHBE) and served as the CHBE Graduate Students Club President in 2013–2014. In his time at UBC, Hafiz has distinguished himself as a dedicated, effective, and exemplary leader through his service to his department, his peers, and the greater university community.

Through his work with the CHBE Graduate Student Club, Hafiz led and participated in a number of initiatives that had a significant and positive impact on the CHBE department and students. Most notable of these initiatives was Hafiz’s founding and organization of the extremely well attended and received Professional Development Speaker Series, at which faculty and industry leaders shared their career stories to help students with career preparation. For his work on this series, the UBC AMS awarded Hafiz their Just Desserts Award in 2013. Hafiz also organized a number of very successful outreach, social, and wellness events to raise CHBE’s profile and to enhance its community and culture. He further contributed to CHBE by co-authoring a report to the Department Head on the program’s strengths and weaknesses, which was incorporated into a larger report to the Faculty and the University. For his leadership in CHBE and his years of dedicated service, the department awarded Hafiz their Graduate Student Leadership Award in 2014.

Hafiz’s work as a Teaching Assistant is regarded as nothing less than exceptional and his efforts were rewarded in 2014 with UBC’s Killam Graduate Teaching Assistant Award, for which he was nominated by faculty within his department. A highly knowledgeable educator, Hafiz has become a role model for his fellow TAs and has set a new standard for success in the role.

Hafiz’s research focus is hydrodynamics and modeling of a dual fluidized bed reactor for biomass steam gasification. As part of his research, he has made substantial progress towards the development of a novel device to monitor solids circulation rates and biomass gasification performance in dual bed systems. His research has the potential to make a significant impact on renewable and sustainable bioenergy systems and contribute specifically to an innovative dual bed technology currently under development at UBC.

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Outstanding Emeriti Faculty

Dr. Richard Kerekes

Dr. Richard Kerekes, one of the world’s leading pulp and paper engineers, is Professor Emeritus in UBC’s Chemical and Biological Engineering department, where he has taught since 1978. Although he is now retired, Dr. Kerekes maintains an active presence at UBC, mentoring new faculty, advising successive directors of the UBC Pulp and Paper Centre, assisting with the academic supervision of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and working to maintain and develop vital relationships between UBC and the pulp and paper industry.

Dr. Kerekes’s career with UBC began in 1978 when he joined the Chemical Engineering Department as an Honorary Professor to initiate the landmark collaboration between UBC and the Pulp and Paper Institute of Canada (Paprican), now FPInnovations—a collaboration that has advanced research and education for the pulp and paper industry of BC and Canada. In 1983, Dr. Kerekes was appointed the founding Director of UBC’s Pulp and Paper Centre, which he was instrumental in bringing into being. He served as Director from 1983 to 2005, during which the Centre established its world reputation and became a key resource for the pulp and paper industry that it remains to this day.

Dr. Kerekes’s world-renowned research is widely applied throughout the industry and he is esteemed as one of the foremost international authorities in pulp and paper engineering. He has published breakthrough papers in a number of interdisciplinary fields. Through his substantial research, he has pioneered major advances in fibre suspension rheology, papermaking, and fibre processing.

Industry, academic and collegial regard for Dr. Kerekes and his work is profound. His leadership and mentorship continue to have a significant effect in academia and industry, with many of his former students holding key leadership positions in both. For his significant achievements, outstanding research, and unparalleled service to the pulp and paper community, he has received a distinct number of awards and honours. In 1989, Dr. Kerekes received APEGBC’s Meritorious Achievement Award and, in 1993, he was elected a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering. He holds two gold medals, the John S. Bates Memorial Gold Medal from the Pulp and Paper Technical Association of Canada (PAPTAC) and the Gunnar Nicholson Gold Medal from the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI) of the US—each, the highest honour in its respective association.

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